Sustainable Roofing Materials: What to Know

Sustainable roofing has become an increasingly popular option for environmentally-conscious homeowners and builders alike. Investing in a green roof allows you to reduce your environmental impact, while still protecting your home or building. When it comes to sustainable roofing, the materials you choose make all the difference.

There are now many eco-friendly roofing materials to select from. Understanding the pros and cons of each will allow you to make the most informed decision for your specific needs. We will explore the various sustainable roofing material options available, looking at cost, durability, installation, and more.

What Are Sustainable Roofing Materials?

Sustainable or green roofing refers to roofing materials that are environmentally-friendly over their entire life cycle, from production to end of use. This includes materials that:

  • Are made from recycled content
  • Can be recycled at end of life
  • Are locally and responsibly sourced
  • Have minimal processing for production
  • Are biodegradable or compostable
  • Have long lifespans to avoid frequent replacement

The most sustainable roofing solutions will tick multiple boxes when it comes to these considerations. Durability is also an important factor, as materials that last longer avoid the embodied energy and impacts of frequent roof replacements.

There are many roofing material options that can contribute to a more sustainable roof, from traditional choices like metal and tile, to newer innovative products using natural materials.

Benefits of Sustainable Roofing

Choosing eco-friendly roofing materials has advantages beyond minimizing your environmental footprint:

Energy efficiency – Reflective, light colored sustainable roofing can reduce cooling costs by up to 15%. Solar roof tiles also generate renewable energy.

Stormwater management – Permeable roofing materials absorb rainfall, avoiding stormwater runoff. Some materials filter and compost rainwater.

Fire resistance – Natural and recycled roofing products are often more fire-resistant than standard materials.

Durability – Sustainable roofs made from metal, clay tile, slate and concrete last 40-70 years, avoiding repeated reroofing.

Aesthetics – Green roofs with plantings provide appealing visual contrast to standard shingles or tiles.

LEED points – Eco-friendly roofs can help projects achieve points toward LEED green building certification.

Lower costs – While initial cost may be higher, the long lifespan and energy savings of sustainable roofs make them cost-effective. Maintenance costs are lower too.

Installing green roofing allows you to put your environmental values into tangible action, while gaining practical benefits.

Common Types of Sustainable Roofing

There are a variety of roofing materials available that offer sustainable benefits. Some of the most popular eco-friendly options include:

Metal Roofing

  • Extremely long-lasting – 60-70 years
  • Contains recycled content
  • Reflective surface reduces cooling costs
  • Can be installed over existing roof
  • Aluminum, steel, copper options

Cool Roofing

  • Uses reflective paints or membranes
  • Can reduce surface temperature by up to 50F°
  • Lowers cooling costs by 10-15%

Green Roofs

  • Planted roof system with vegetation
  • Provides stormwater management
  • Can last 40-50 years with proper installation
  • Extensive and intensive system options

Solar Shingles/Tiles

  • Integrated photovoltaic cells generate electricity
  • Feed power back to the grid
  • Increased shingle longevity avoids re-roofing

Natural Slate or Tile

  • 100+ year lifespan avoids replacements
  • Inert and recyclable at end of life
  • Natural aesthetic appeal

Composite Slate/Shingles

  • Typically made from recycled plastic/rubber
  • Durable and lightweight
  • Lower cost than natural slate

Wood Shakes

  • Use responsibly harvested wood
  • Biodegradable and compostable
  • Naturally insulating properties
  • 30-50 year lifespan

This covers some of the most common and accessible eco-friendly roofing materials available. Many provide the resilience and longevity of traditional roofing, with added sustainability benefits.

Key Considerations When Choosing Sustainable Roofing

If you’ve decided to opt for a greener roofing solution, there are several factors to take into account to select the right sustainable material for your specific needs:

Climate and weather – The climate you live in will impact the performance and suitability of different roofing materials. For wet climates and heavy snow, certain materials perform better.

Slope and roof style – Consider the slope, pitch and style of your roof and select appropriate materials. Some are not suitable for low-pitched or flat roof designs.

Lifespan – How long the roofing will last before needing replacement is crucial. Longer lifespans of 40-100 years reduce environmental impacts.

Upfront cost – Sustainable roofs often have a higher upfront cost but save money long-term. Weigh up this trade-off.

On-going maintenance – Low maintenance options avoid repeated disruptive work. Some materials need occasional sealing or treatment.

Fire rating – In bushfire zones especially, opt for roofing with a high fire rating that offers protection.

Weight – Some green roofs have heavy soil and planting layers requiring structural support. Opt for lightweight styles if load-bearing is an issue.

Stormwater management – Permeable and rain-catching materials help manage stormwater runoff in wet climates.

Energy efficiency – Lighter colored reflective roofing bounces back solar energy for passive cooling savings.

Aesthetics – Ensure the look aligns with your vision. Some sustainable materials mimic conventional roofing, while others offer visual contrast.

Installation requirements – Factor in complexities of installation and whether specialist skills are needed.

LEED points – If seeking LEED certification, select roofing that contributes points to your goal.

Considering all these aspects will help you zero in on suitable sustainable roofing materials for your specific project.

Comparing Pros and Cons of Top Options

To dig deeper, let’s compare the pros and cons of some of the leading sustainable roofing material contenders:

Metal Roofing


  • Extremely long lifespan – 60-70 years
  • Contains recycled content
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Naturally fire resistant
  • Lower maintenance than other roofs
  • Highly reflective to lower cooling costs


  • Higher upfront cost
  • Condensation can be an issue in some climates
  • Requires careful installation for leak prevention
  • Some find the look industrial

Green Roofs


  • Provides building insulation for energy savings
  • Manages and filters stormwater runoff
  • Long lifespan of 40-50+ years
  • Visual appeal and biodiversity benefits
  • Contribute to LEED and other eco-certifications


  • Higher installation complexity and cost
  • Require intensive on-going maintenance
  • Load-bearing capacity needs assessment
  • Leak risks if poorly installed

Natural Slate Roofing


  • Extremely durable at 100+ years
  • Natural aesthetic appeal
  • Can be recycled end of life
  • Requires minimal maintenance
  • Withstands extreme weather conditions
  • Naturally fire and moss resistant


  • Expensive roofing option
  • Heavy and fragile so requires skilled installation
  • Limited supply depending on quarry locations
  • Longevity claims require quality slate grade

Composite Slate/Shingle Roofing


  • Made from recycled content
  • Lower cost than natural slate
  • Durable at 30-50+ years
  • Lighter for easier installation
  • Mimics look of natural slate
  • Fire and impact resistant


  • Shorter lifespan than natural slate options
  • Contains some petroleum-based materials
  • Color fading can be an issue long-term
  • Higher cost than standard asphalt shingles

This comparison shows some of the unique pros and cons to weigh up when choosing the most fitting green roofing material for your particular home or building.

Innovations in Sustainable Roofing

Sustainable roofing technology and materials continue advancing through ongoing innovation. Some key innovations to look out for include:

  • Perovskite solar cells – New solar cell material that is highly efficient at capturing solar energy. Being integrated into solar roof tiles and shingles.
  • Cool roof coatings – Advanced reflective coatings allow any roof to be turned into an energy-efficient cool roof.
  • Algae-resistant membranes – Improved coatings prevent algae and moss growth on eco-roofing like wooden shakes.
  • Recycled plastic/rubber – Manufacturing advances allow greater recycled content to be included in composite slate and shingles.
  • Green roof mats – Pre-cultivated, pre-grown green roof mats allow instant installation of plant layers.
  • Synthetic slate & shingles – Durable polymers like polypropylene are being used to mimic natural slate roofing.
  • Nanotechnology coatings – Nano-scale coatings provide enhanced UV resistance, longevity, and permeability.
  • Solar-integrated roofing – Flexible solar sheets allow solar power generation to be retrofitted to existing roofing.
  • Cool color technology – Pigments maximize light reflection while avoiding dull whitewashed aesthetics.

These innovations will continue to expand the sustainable roofing options available to suit any style of home or building.

Cost Comparisons

One key consideration with any roof is upfront cost and long-term value. Sustainable roofs often have a higher initial investment cost, but save money over time through their extreme durability, energy efficiency and lower maintenance needs.

Here is an overview of cost comparisons for different green roofing materials:

  • Asphalt shingles – $100-300 per 100 sq.ft
  • Wood shingles – $200-1000 per 100 sq.ft
  • Metal roofing – $200-1000 per 100 sq.ft
  • Slate shingles – $400-1000 per 100 sq.ft
  • Clay/concrete tile – $450-1100 per 100 sq.ft
  • Green roofs – $15-40 per sq.ft for installation
  • Solar shingles – $150-400 per sq.ft installed

While upfront cost is higher for most eco-roofing, the dramatically longer lifespan avoids repeated re-roofing costs. When viewed over a 50-100 year period, sustainable roofs often work out similar in average cost per year of use.

Their premium durability, energy efficiency, lower maintenance, and avoided environmental impacts make green roofs a sound long-term investment for most homeowners.

Sustainable Roofing Materials: What to Know

Opting for an eco-friendly roof is one of the most impactful steps you can take to reduce the environmental footprint of your home or building.

With many sustainable roofing materials now available offering longevity, performance and aesthetic appeal, the options cater to all preferences and budgets.

Key considerations when selecting materials include climate suitability, roof style, lifespan, weight loading, fire rating, maintenance needs and upfront cost.

Weighing up these factors will allow you to select the perfect green roofing for your particular requirements. From natural slate and metal, to composite shingles and green roofs, there are now sustainable solutions available for any home or application.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a roofing material sustainable?

Roofing materials are considered sustainable if they are responsibly sourced, contain recycled content, are recyclable, have low processing impacts, are durable and long-lasting, and provide energy efficiency or stormwater benefits. The most eco-friendly options tick multiple boxes across these sustainability criteria.

How much more expensive is sustainable roofing compared to standard materials?

Many sustainable roofing materials do come at a moderately higher upfront cost, typically 15-30% more than conventional options. However this premium cost is recouped over time through dramatically longer lifespans avoiding repeated re-roofing, as well as through energy savings and lower maintenance costs.

How long do sustainable roofing materials last compared to standard roofing?

Whereas conventional roofing like asphalt shingles last 15-25 years, sustainable options like metal, clay tile, slate and composite shingles last 40-70+ years. Some materials like natural slate last over 100 years if properly installed and maintained. This extreme longevity offsets their higher initial cost.

Can you install solar panels over sustainable roofing?

Most sustainable roofing materials like metal, slate, tile and composite shingles can accommodate solar panel installations. Solar attachment racks can be directly anchored through the roofing or attached using standing seam clips. Green roofs may need additional structural support.

Are cool roofs suitable for cold winter climates?

Cool roofs with reflective membranes are suitable for cold and wet climates as they allow snow and ice to melt and shed faster after winter storms. The reflective properties prevent roof surfaces getting too warm which can cause ice dams. Cool roofing increases resiliency.

What are the main pros and cons of a green roof?

Pros of green roofs include insulating properties for energy efficiency, improved stormwater management, visual appeal and biodiversity benefits. Cons include higher installation and maintenance costs, the need for load-bearing assessments, potential leak risks and finding experienced installers.

How often does eco-friendly roofing need to be replaced compared to standard materials?

Whereas asphalt shingles typically need replacing every 15-25 years, metal roofs last 60-70 years, slate/tile roofs last 70-100+ years and high quality composite shingles last 40-50 years. This avoids repeated roof tear-offs and replacement.

Do cool roofs lower air conditioning costs?

Studies by the EPA and others consistently show cool roofs lower air conditioning demand and energy bills by 10-15%. These passive cooling savings are thanks to the highly reflective membranes bouncing away over 90% of solar heat gain.

What sustainable roofing materials offer natural fire resistance?

Slate, clay tile, metal, and green roofs offer inherent fire resistance advantages. Metal roofing cannot ignite or transfer heat. Slate and tile have non-combustible stone composition. The soil layer of green roofs provides protection from sparks and embers.


Installing eco-friendly roofing allows you to put sustainability values into practice in a meaningful, tangible way. With the wide range of durable, high performing options now available, it is possible to find green roofing to match almost any aesthetic or functional requirements.

Your roof is a major structural component that will endure for decades. Opting for sustainable materials here prevents ongoing environmental impacts over the roof’s long lifespan. The investment offers excellent long term value through dramatically reduced maintenance and roof replacements.

If you are considering a roof refresh, assess the range of sustainable materials available and weigh up the options that best align with your needs and vision. There are now green roofing solutions to suit any home or building that will provide protection and performance for generations to come.