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Last edited 15 Oct 2020
In its broadest sense, ‘shingle’ is a catch-all term used for any roof covering consisting of discrete overlapping elements. However, the term is often used more specifically to refer to thin, tapered pieces of material, traditionally wood, used as a roof and wall covering. Shakes, which are a variation of shingles, are always made of some kind of wood, such as pine, cedar or redwood.
The regions that use shingles tend to feature distinctive patterns determined by the size, shape and application method. Special characteristics such as combed ridges, decorative butt ends, patterning, and swept valleys can also be seen.
The introduction of steam-powered saw mills in the early-19th century, made it possible to manufacture large numbers of uniform shingles. This coincided with the emergence of architectural styles such as Carpenter Gothic, Queen Anne, and Shingle style architecture; although traditional hand-split shingles continued to be favoured over machine-sawn shingles in many places. In the 20th century, wooden shingles were often used in the Arts and Craft Movement, Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival styles.
Traditionally, shingles were sawn from a wooden block, while shakes were hand-split using a mallet and froe. Shingles, being sawn on both sides, are thinner than shakes, with a less obvious taper and a more even appearance. Nowadays, shingles are more precisely milled than shakes, and provide a more refined classic aesthetic which is suited to a wide range of styles.
Shakes, due to the additional thickness, have a heavier shadow line than shingles, and have a more rustic aesthetic with varied sizes and rougher faces. Shakes are more common in conservation projects and listed buildings, whereas wooden shingles are more likely to be used for general purposes.
Shingles are installed in three overlapping layers without felt interleaving. They can also be laid flat. Shingles provide a highly-weatherproof roofing system with good thermal insulation properties.
Shakes are laid with the split (rougher) side facing up. This tends to mean that they lie less flat than shingles, making the gaps between them more susceptible to penetration by the elements. To accommodate this, a breathable layer of felt paper is laid between courses of shakes.
Some of the advantages of wooden shingles and shakes are as follows:
- Interesting and diverse appearances.
- Organic and eco-friendly.
- Can be very energy efficient if installed correctly.
- Very durable with excellent weather-resistance.
Some of the disadvantages of wooden shingles and shakes are as follows:
- Can be more expensive in material and installation costs.
- More susceptible to fire.
- Can be more difficult to install.
- Require careful maintenance to ensure durability.
- Susceptible to infestation, rotting and mold.
Asphalt shingles are a popular modern alternative to wood, and can be manufactured to many different specifications. They are relatively cheap compared to wood, tile and other types of roofing materials, and there isn’t necessarily a compromise in terms of durability, with a life expectancy ranging from 20 to 50 years. They are also relatively easy to install and maintain.
However, asphalt shingles are not particularly suited to variable climates, as this can cause them to wear, crack or break. They are also not as strong and may suffer damage in heavy winds, hail storms or snow. Another limitation is that they are only suitable for installation on steep roofs, and cannot be used on flat or shallow roofs.
Fibreglass can be used to create shingles of reliable strength and durability. They are from plastic backed by fine fibres of glass. This is bonded with urea-formaldehyde resin before going through a process of coating with asphalt and mineral fillers which provide waterproofing properties.
Slate is one of the longest-lasting roof materials, sometimes lasting more than 100 years. It is a natural rock that is mined and cut to become shingles. Other advantages of slate include that they are strong and have very good weather resistance and have a low water absorption, meaning they withstand freezing temperatures well.
Solar shingles are a new development that has been used on new house builds, mostly in the US. Unlike solar panels, solar shingles are part of the roof (rather than being fixed onto it), installed in the same overlapping way as traditional tiles. They are less obtrusive than solar panels, however, they are not yet as cost-effective, unless they are fitted as part of a new build. Properties with a listed status or within a conservation area can opt to use solar shingles instead of solar panels.
Organic shingles were manufactured with materials such as paper, recycled cardboard, rags and wood chips, before being saturated with asphalt. However, these fell out of favour as they were less durable than fibreglass shingles and often contained more asphalt. They stopped being widely manufactured around 2005.
NB, The term 'shakes' can also refer to; 'A separation or breaking of the wood fibres caused by stresses in the standing tree or by felling and log handling. Shakes are not caused by shrinkage during drying.' Ref A guide to the use of urban timber (FB 50).
See also: Shingle style architecture.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- A guide to the use of urban timber (FB 50).
- Domestic roofs.
- Fibre cement.
- Flat roof.
- Roof coverings.
- Roof slates.
- Roof tiles.
- Roofing defects.
- Roofing repairs.
- Shingle style architecture.
- Thatch roofing.
- Types of roof.
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