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Felt vs Shingles vs Steel: Which roofing material is best for a summerhouse?


You’re up to your eyeballs in the many decisions required to sort out a summerhouse project. What size should it be? What kind of base does it need? What colour should I paint it? Will I fit my ping-pong table inside? And of course, how could we forget –  What’s the best roofing material for a summerhouse? It’s that classic stand-off: felt vs shingles vs steel.

What? You weren’t wondering about that at all? You didn’t even know there were options?

Join the club, Sheddie. When our sales team ask customers what sort of roofing material they want – it’s a sea of blank stares. You mean I have YET ANOTHER decision to make? 

But decisions are only difficult when you don’t know your choices. Here in our Learning Centre, we have all the information you need to decide on all the many questions involved in setting up your summerhouse dreams. 

After 30 years of building summerhouses, we know a thing or two about roofing materials, you see. So let’s look at the pros and cons of the three most common choices, so you can cross this question off your list.

Is felt the best material for a summerhouse roof?

Felt is the cheapest of the three roofing materials we’ll discuss here.  

felt summerhouse roof

Roofing felt is a tar-like substance, tacky to the touch and covered in chippings of slate, which gives it that rough flaky texture. Typically felt comes in different weights. You can tell the quality of felt by its weight and texture. If the chippings are more like fine dust and the thickness of it seems more paper than cardboard, then it’s likely the felt is not great quality. Most likely it’s actually a roof underlay specification (which is a completely different conversation). 

Other than the cost, one benefit of felt is that it’s breathable. It repels rainwater, so if moisture manages to penetrate then it can get back out again rather than being trapped.

Felt roofing materials generally have a lifespan of around 10 years. Replacing roof felt doesn’t need any special expertise, but be careful on that ladder! 

The felt can become brittle or shrink as it ages through continued exposure to temperature changes, and when this happens it may not stay attached to the roof of your summerhouse. You may see “saggy” felt – this is when the felt loses its composition and bows between fixings.  

When the pitch of the roof (Apex or Pent) contrasts with the weight of the felt it can pull at the tacks which fix it to the roofing boards. This is where it becomes the most susceptible to leaking and can cause a whole world of problems. 

Ultimately, we don’t think felt is good enough for the Scottish climate and after years of trying to improve the design and engineering, even limiting it to very small Apex buildings, we at Gillies & Mackay now have a NO FELT policy. It’s over, move on. Thank you, NEXT! 

Are shingles the best material for a summerhouse roof?

Then we have bitumen shingles. That’s right – more asphalt! 

Shingles are tile-shaped fibreglass mats with a bitumen coating. They have a layer of adhesive that keeps them in place. This adhesive is heat-activated, and once a shingle is bonded on, it’s pretty well on. 

The shingles are in rows of three and unless we’re talking 120mph winds in Shetland, the likelihood of them becoming detached after bonding is very slim. 

This does, however, massively depend on the quality of Shingles – Again much like the felt, this is to do with weight. 

And like felt, shingles are breathable, but their fibreglass construction means they’re more durable than felt and because they’re in strips of three and their fixing technique is different – they do not succumb to the same failings as felt.  Good-quality shingles have a life expectancy of around 15-20 years.

Shingles are the most expensive of the three options we’re discussing here. As well as the cost of the shingles, they take more time and expertise to attach them properly to a roof. This additional labour contributes to their cost. 

Another factor to consider with shingles is their appearance. Whether they’re rectangular or hexagonal, shingles provide a classic, beautiful finish, which is particularly appropriate for a summerhouse. They’re definitely the prettiest option.

Is steel the best material for a summerhouse roof? 

When it comes to durability, steel is the top of the roofing material pops. The steel box profile roofing that we use on our sheds and garages has a 20-year manufacturer’s guarantee. The Steel Box Profile is coated in a plastic paint material and the 20-year guarantee covers the longevity of the paint, which can be re-painted/sprayed after 20 years. However, the expectation is that it’ll last a further 20 at least. 

steel roofing

Any downsides? Well, steel box profile roofing isn’t to everyone’s taste aesthetically. Also, steel sheeting can’t be used on shaped summerhouses – shingles are your best bet when you’re dealing with a hexagonal or pentagonal building. But the low-maintenance durability of steel box profile roofing makes it a fantastic choice of roofing material in any other case.

Which roofing material is best for a summerhouse?

So there you have it! Felt is the cheapest but the least durable. Shingles are the prettiest option but also the most spendy, and the steel box profile lasts pretty much forever!

The roofing options available for a summerhouse may well depend on the shape and design of the building. There’s also your personal preference to take into account. But now that you’re clear on the advantages and disadvantages of each material, you can confidently choose the perfect topping for your summerhouse!

Still have decisions to make?

Maybe these can help:

Why Gillies & Mackay Don’t Use Roofing Felt.

Roofing felt isn’t a bad option for your shed. In fact, we have built many, many sheds with felt as their roofing material. But these days we no longer offer felt as an option. 

Why not?

Gillies & Mackay build products designed to last in the Scottish climate. Invest in a G&M, look after your building carefully, and you’ll never have to buy a replacement.

Of course, maintaining your building involves a certain amount of work and attention. Sometimes bits and pieces need to be painted, replaced, or repaired.

When we offered felt as a roofing option, we weren’t just thinking about keeping the price down. Felt is the cheapest option for roofing a shed or summerhouse, guaranteed for 10 years. Sometimes you might even get away without replacing your felt for 15 or so years; it very much depends on the weather. But your G&M will last much longer than 10 years if you care for it well.

When our sheds and summerhouses had felt roofs, the felt needed replacing as time passed. If not oor Sheddies reported problems like water ingress. Of course, as responsible shed doctors, we did our best to sort out these problems.

But what we found over the years was that problems from felt roofing couldn’t always be solved by just replacing the felt. Despite our best efforts, sometimes the water still got in. We tried modifying our design – more strips of felt, fewer strips of felt, and different placement of the strips. But this didn’t always make a difference. 

What’s the best alternative to roofing felt?

Finally, the very best solution we found was replacing the felt with steel box profile roofing. With a manufacturer’s guarantee of 20 years, a steel box profile roof is a great fit for your G&M. A long-lasting roofing material for a long-lasting shed.

Any time we had to replace felt with steel, we found ourselves wishing that we’d just used steel in the first place. Felt just wasn’t holding up as a reliable option.

So in 2022, we decided to ensure that none of our future Sheddies would ever face problems with a felt roof again. That’s why our sheds now come with steel box profile roofs as standard. 

We build reliable timber buildings designed to last a lifetime, and we’re always learning. Our 30 years of experience didn’t come from building perfect sheds on day one. True experience is built on an honest assessment of our products, acknowledgement of any problems, honest conversations about how to improve these problems, and a genuine desire to find solutions. That’s how you build really brilliant sheds, summerhouses, garages, and garden rooms. That’s the Gillies & Mackay way.

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