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The History of Asphalt Shingles

Clay roofing was used in China over 5,000 years ago. In the 18th century, most roofs were made of wood and slate. In the 1850s, bituminous and metal roofing systems were common, as were pine tar coatings. Wooden roofs were not ideal because they didn’t hold up well to weather and had to be replaced often. Asphalt shingles were invented by Henry Reynolds around the turn of the 20th century and were first used in 1903 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They revolutionized roofing because of their natural waterproofing qualities. They were also far more resistant to fire than wood and much cheaper than contemporary options, such as felt. Felt is composed primarily of cotton rag, which became prohibitively expensive in the years leading up to and during the Great Depression. Asphalt shingles were already in use at this time, and their much lower cost helped them take over the roofing market almost completely. Today’s asphalt shingles are usually classed into two categories: organic or fiberglass. Fiberglass shingles are the most commonly used type, likely because they are coated with asphalt, which makes them particularly resistant to water. They are also relatively low-maintenance, affordable, and fire-resistant, so they’re often used for homes and commercial buildings alike, although they usually need replacing roughly every 20 years. Because of their practicality and relative affordability, asphalt shingles remain one of the most commonly used roofing materials today.

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