With increasing focus on green remodeling as well as low maintenance, interest is swelling in alternative roofing products — especially those that realistically capture the texture, color variation, and appearance of natural materials while delivering superior performance.

EcoStar's Majestic Slate Colonial roofing tiles exemplify features common among synthetic roofing products: they are made from a formula that includes recycled rubber and plastic; they are rated for Class 4 impact resistance and Class A fire resistance; and they come with a 100-mph wind warranty.
EcoStar's Majestic Slate Colonial roofing tiles exemplify features common among synthetic roofing products: they are made from a formula that includes recycled rubber and plastic; they are rated for Class 4 impact resistance and Class A fire resistance; and they come with a 100-mph wind warranty.

According to manufacturers, advanced materials and manufacturing technologies give synthetic products better resistance to weathering, greater durability, and longer life spans than real slate or cedar. Though all synthetic roofing products are polymer-based, their formulations vary greatly among manufacturers, says Brian Eberle, vice president of marketing and sales for Wellington Polymer Technologies, maker of Enviroshake. Some are manufactured using recycled content and some are not, but most synthetic roofing products can be recycled at the end of the roof's life span because they are polymer-based.

The majority of synthetic shakes, however, are backed by 50-year warranties and are UL-certified for Class 4 impact resistance; many, but not all, also achieve a Class A fire resistance rating and are rated to withstand uplift in high winds.

Compared with natural shakes and slate, synthetic roofing products are easier to install and generate less waste; they come in several sizes to minimize the need for cutting and can be cut using standard wood or stone-cutting saws. Because they are of consistent quality, no pieces have to be culled.

Without firsthand experience of the product, however, some homeowners may be reluctant to select it. Architect Wayne Visbeen of Grand Rapids, Mich., found a simple solution: “I wanted to use this particular roof on several projects this year, but it's very hard to recommend that a client use an unproven product,” he says. “So I put it on my house.”

A version of this story first appeared in BUILDING PRODUCTS magazine.