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The Evolution of Asphalt Shingles

Posted by Northface Construction  - Owner & Founder

An interesting look into the history of shingles and how we got to modern shingles today.

Research has helped to provide the technology to produce high-quality serviceable asphalt shingles

this article was written by William C. Cullen for Professional Roofing Magazine in 1992. 

How long do asphalt shingles last? The answer to this question could be from a few years to approximately 30 years. It all depends on how the state-of-the-art asphalt shingle technology is applied during manufacturing and application.

Research has helped provide for the technology to produce high-quality, serviceable asphalt shingles. It is up to asphalt shingle manufacturers to incorporate this technology in their selection of raw materials and in the manufacturing processes to produce quality products for consumers.

Only then will the designer and applicator have a significant impact on the product’s performance. This article offers highlights of the 100 year history of asphalt shingles.

It emphasizes the role that researchers have played over the years to create today’s technology and describes some projects of the 40-year-old National Bureau of Standards (NBS- now the National Institute of Standards & Technology) and the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association’s (ARMA) comprehensive research program and its influence on today’s asphalt shingles.

Asphalt Shingles

ASTM defines asphalt shingles as small units of prepared roofing designed for installing with similar units in overlapping rows on inclines normally exceeding 25 percent (3 -in-12)

In my opinion asphalt shingles are the roofing material of choice for residential dwellings in the United States. NRCA’s Annual Market Survey reveals that contracts for the application of asphalt shingles totaled $2.73 billion or 64 percent of the 4.26 billion total in the 1991 residential roofing market. The market share for fiberglass-based shingles accounted for 87 percent (of the 64 percent) of those applied.

Several reasons can be cited for the predominance of asphalt shingles in the residential market-place: availability, ease of application, attractiveness, cost and a history of acceptable performance.

The desirable characteristics of asphalt shingles did not occur by change. Research played a vital role not only in the development of shingle technology, but also in the solution of performance problems that occasionally faced the shingle industry. In addition, research provided, and still provides, the technical basis for voluntary standards for product and test methods.

The First Shingles

The forerunner of asphalt shingles, asphalt prepared roofing, was first marketed in the United States in 1893. The material consisted of a felt base that was impregnated and coated with asphalt. Four years later, in 1897 mineral surfacing was applied for additional weather protection.

The first asphalt shingles appeared in 1901; slate granules were used as surface protection. Asphalt shingles did not come into general use until about 1911. During the ensuing years these products continued to grow in quality, use, and popularity. By 1939, 32 manufacturers produced over 11 million squares of shingles, enough to cover about 45 percent of U.S. residential homes.

Organic Felts

Asphalt shingles are a composite of three essential components: reinforcing felt, asphalt and surfacing granules. The performance of the shingles depends upon the quality, quantity and compatibility of these components.

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