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Architectural Roofing Shingles vs. 3-Tab: Which is Better?

There are two main asphalt composition roofing shingle styles: 3-tab and architectural laminated.  You’ve probably seen both of these styles on houses you drive by.  But what are the differences and which is best?  These are answers you’ll need when it comes time to replace your roof.

While there are many differences between the two, only some of them are important.  We’ll discuss those in this article so you can make the most informed decision.

Performance at high winds

 

3-tab performs poorly in high winds.  Each shingle consists of 3 smaller pieces of shingle stuck together (hence the name).  This makes every shingle have 6 exposed corners that can be blown up by the wind.  Each tab is small and relatively light.  Powerful winds can break them off.

Chances are that you or somebody you know has experienced a 3-tab roof with missing shingles.  It can be an ugly eyesore.  A blown-off 3-tab piece will reveal the top portion of the shingle below it that is not meant to be exposed.  It won’t look right and it’s not meant for weathering and will result in a leak sooner than later.

Some people may point out that average wind speeds vary greatly in different parts of the United States.  That is true, but it is irrelevant.  Rare high speeds are what matter, because those are what will cause the damage.

Our service area is the south Puget Sound, and the highest wind speed recorded in the Sea-Tac area is 67 mph.  This is higher than the typical wind-rating of 3-tab shingles (60 mph).  For a region that typically has lower wind speeds than the rest of the United States, even here a heavy storm can wreck a 3-tab roof.

Architectural shingles have substantially higher wind ratings, usually between 80 – 130 mph.  GAF’s WindProven warranty is the first to offer warranty with no upper limit to wind speeds.

Instead of consisting of three separate pieces to make up one 3-tab shingle, each architectural shingle is one whole piece.  This provides significant resistance to wind uplift due to weight and fewer corners for wind to catch.

Wind uplift and shingle blow-off might be the most obvious problem with 3-tab shingles.  Architectural laminated shingles also can suffer blow-off, but it’s not nearly as bad as with 3-tab.  In addition, when conducting repair, it can be pretty hard to pull architectural shingles up but 3-tab often takes minimal effort to pull apart.

Longevity

 

The longer your shingles last, the more money you save.  All roofing shingles wear out over time.  The sun and weather elements will render any asphalt composition shingle roof useless given enough time.  The goal is to make sure your roof has the longest-lasting technology for the most competitive price.

Some roofers who have been in the industry for several decades have seen some 3-tab roofs last for 30+ years.  That’s rare, and the older design of 3-tab was different.  They were thicker with more asphalt.  These days shingles are lighter and have more fiberglass and other non-asphalt components.  Longevity of shingles has increased overall, but the industry focus has been on innovations with architectural laminated shingles, not 3-tab.

If you dig into the warranty details, you’ll notice that roofing manufacturers typically warranty their architectural shingles for about 50 years, while 3-tab warranties are about half that.  Given that nobody knows the true longevity of any type of roofing shingle, one of the best tools you have to find longevity is knowing the warranties.  Manufacturers try to make their warranties as strong as possible while keeping the amount they lose from warranties as low as possible.  You can triangulate onto how good the manufacturers think their own shingles are by knowing how good their warranties are.

This is why the main roofs we install comes with the GAF Golden Pledge.  It’s the best warranty in the industry.  Most roofing warranties aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, but the Golden Pledge is different.  GAF has put their money where their mouth is, and they have built reliable infrastructure to make sure that any homeowner with the Golden Pledge roof is taken care of.

Many other manufacturers’ warranties can be thought of as in-name-only.  If your roof gets a leak and you’re under warranty, it might take an arm and a leg to get it fixed, and even then you’re probably still going to pay for most or all of the fix.  Not so with GAF Golden Pledge.  Our experience as Master Elites who perform repairs for Golden Pledge customers is that GAF is diligent about making sure the roof is repaired in a timely fashion and cost is not pushed onto the customer.  Not only does this show that GAF believes in their shingle quality, but it means less hassle for GAF customers.

Appearance

 

Architectural shingles are the modern look.  Where 3-tab is flat and uniform, architectural shingles give dimensionality and depth to roofs.  If you’ve ever noticed how some roofs don’t look that good while others pop and look excellent, it’s largely due to the difference in dimensionality.

3-tab doesn’t hide imperfections well.  Misaligning shingles is not the most uncommon mistake roofers make, and it shows up badly on a 3-tab roof.  But on an architectural roof, a small misalignment is not noticeable.  A good roofing contractor knows how to keep shingles aligned, but if you’re taking a chance on a contractor who doesn’t have a long track record, 3-tab is more likely to not have been installed correctly.  This is especially true since most roofers don’t know how to install 3-tab in the first place because the industry has moved to architectural.

Cost

 

You might be thinking that if 3-tab doesn’t perform as well as architectural, doesn’t last as long, and doesn’t look as good, then it must be cheaper?  That certainly makes sense, but it’s not the case.  3-tab is often more expensive than architectural shingles.  This is especially true if you account for longevity, where any new 3-tab roof would need to be replace earlier than an architectural roof.

For most contractors, 3-tab is more expensive due to it being a more labor intensive installation.  The material price is typically about the same or architectural is lower.  The cases in which you see 3-tab being cheaper are because a contractor wants to offload some of his old product, or it’s builder grade material.

The demand for 3-tab is not high and it’s declining over time.  This means that manufacturers and supplies sometimes need to offload older product, and they do so at a discount to the buyer.  3-tab is more likely to end up in this overstocked scenario than a higher demand material, like GAF Timberline HDZ.

When that happens, a contractor can sell it for cheaper, but that also means the product might not be in the best shape.  Some amount of information always gets lost on the pipeline from manufacturer to supplier to contractor, and the reason a supplier is offloading low demand material may be different than the reason the contractor thinks he’s getting it.

It’s typically smarter to stick with high demand material.  They get the most turnover and the most attention to quality because they’re the bread and butter.

Some home builders still use 3-tab because it’s the cheapest shingle they can get because they move a lot of product and they’re a reliable source of turnover for the supplier.  Unfortunately, a lot of home construction is about getting the job done as cheap as possible.  So the fact that you may see 3-tab on newly built homes doesn’t mean 3-tab is better.  The amount of care that custom home builders and homeowners themselves put into roofs is usually substantially higher than large developers who sell the homes and don’t have relationships with the buyers.  3-tab use by builders has mostly been phased out in the western Washington area, but it’s still common in other parts of the country.  Ironically, many of those areas get faster winds, and phasing out 3-tab completely would be best.

Conclusion

 

Architectural laminated shingles are better than 3-tab in nearly every way.  3-tab’s biggest weakness is poor wind performance.  Architectural looks more modern and hides imperfections better.  Warranties on architectural are longer and more reliable.  And both architectural shingles and 3-tab cost about the same.

If you live in the south Puget Sound of Washington State and need a new roof, give us a call!

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