Architectural Shingles vs. 3-Tab Shingles: An In-Depth Comparison

Comparison of 3 tab shingles and dimensional shingles

Asphalt shingles fall into two main categories: 3-tab shingles and architectural shingles. Both are constructed of similar materials but differ in many ways, including appearance, durability, cost, and method of installation.

This guide will compare 3-tab shingles to architectural shingles in order to help you make an informed decision as to which option is best suited for your roof.

Scroll down to view our quick comparison chart by clicking here.

Architectural shingles generally cost about 25% more than 3-tab asphalt shingles, but they also last 50% longer on average.


A Quick Summary: What are 3-tab shingles and architectural shingles?

Architectural shingle installation

First and foremost, both are types of asphalt roofing shingles, but they differ in appearance and construction.

Architectural shingles are also commonly referred to as 3-dimensional shingles because they are constructed of more asphalt and fiberglass materials. So, not only does this make architectural shingles heavier, but the shadows cast by the varying levels of the shingle give them a more three-dimensional look.

Architectural shingles are widely considered more aesthetically pleasing than the flat, square design of 3-tab shingles.

Not only do they have a more “premium” look, but architectural shingles are more durable and have longer warranties compared to 3-tab shingles, too. Some feature lifetime warranties; however, these warranties are typically prorated and diminish in value the older the roof gets.

On average, 3-tab shingle roofs need to be replaced every 15 to 18 years, while architectural shingles need replacement every 24 to 30 years.

3 tab shingle installation

3-tab shingles remain the most popular residential roofing choice in the U.S., with dimensional shingles coming in at a close second.

3-tab shingles are more affordable, easier to install, and are more effective at shedding rain on low-sloped roofs than architectural shingles due to their flat design.

Architectural shingles haven’t been around as long as 3-tabs, but they are quickly becoming the residential roofing material of choice. The durable design and premium look of these shingles are highly desirable, and prices have fallen in recent years, making dimensional shingles a more viable option for many homeowners.


Cost comparison

As previously noted, architectural shingles cost 25% more than 3-tab shingles on average. However, this price difference continues to shrink, making dimensional shingles a more attractive option for homeowners in need of a roof replacement.

It’s important to note that the cost of roofing materials can vary significantly. Who you buy from, the manufacturer of the product, and the quality grade will all affect the final cost.

It’s impossible to come up with exact figures, but we can gather some relatively accurate data by checking out some real world examples.

Average cost for shingles only (no labor, accessories, or other required roofing materials included):

  • 3-Tab Shingles: $18 - $23 (33 sq. ft. or 1/3 square)
  • Basic Architectural Shingles: $25 - $30 per bundle (33 sq. ft. or 1/3 square)
  • Premium or Specialty Dimensional Shingles: $35 - $45 per bundle (33 sq. ft. or 1/3 square)

Average expected costs for a shingle roof replacement including labor:

  • 3-Tab Shingles: $160 - $400 per square
  • Architectural Shingles: $250 - $600+ per square

(Prices vary by company, location, and quality of materials)

Labor makes up about 60% of the total cost of a shingle roof replacement, and although that’s a large percentage of the total cost, a roof installed by a certified roofer will generally last longer and be backed by long-term warranties.

When you buy a large quantity of roofing material, like 5 bundles or more, from a place like Home Depot, contractor pricing is sometimes available. This helps reduce the total cost, so be sure to ask when you buy your shingles.

TIP: For your reference, check out Hometown’s Roofing Cost Guide to see real costs of roofing repairs and replacements across the country.

Installing shingle roof on home

Other Cost Considerations:

Beyond the price-per-bundle, there are several other costs to consider with any roofing job. This includes the cost of labor, sheathing, vents, flashing, drip edge, underlayment, nails, roof caulk, dumpster, and miscellaneous expenses.

These additional costs are generally the same, whether you go with 3-tabs or dimensional shingles. However, one instance where these miscellaneous costs may differ is when installing the new shingles over top of the existing roof. This is called a “roof-over.”

While it’s often possible to install a new layer of shingles over top an existing layer of 3-tab shingles, the same can’t be said for architectural shingles. Because 3D shingles have a textured design, the surface isn’t flat enough to support a new layer of shingles on top of it.

If you’re replacing a roof that currently has architectural shingles, these shingles must be removed prior to installing new shingles. This can add to the total cost of labor, as it may take the roofing company a full day or more to remove the old shingles before laying new ones.


Difference in durability

You get what you pay for with roofing shingles. The most durable shingles on the market will most likely be the thickest and most expensive option. Of course, there are some exceptions, like specialty shingles, which cost more due to their unique designs but are not necessarily more durable.

Close-up shot of dimensional shingles

Because architectural shingles are thicker and more heavy-duty than 3-tab shingles, they will typically last longer. This is also the reason for the difference in warranty length. Most 3-tab shingles come with 10- to 30-year warranty periods, while dimensional shingles come from the factory with 30-year to lifetime warranties.

Today’s roofing shingles are better than ever at withstanding the damaging effects of the sun, rain, and wind. Both types of shingles are susceptible to damage from large hail, standing water, or large tree limbs, but architectural shingles’ increased thickness is likely to provide slightly more protection.

The biggest factor determining how long your roof lasts—no matter which type of shingle is used—is proper installation. A poorly installed roof is at greater risk of leaks and premature failure.

How long do roofing shingles last?

  • 3-Tab Shingles: 15-18 years
  • Architectural Shingles: 30 years

A “lifetime” shingle is a durable option that will last longer than an economy shingle, but in reality, will have a usable lifespan of not much more than 30 years.

Manufacturer warranties generally outlast the usable lifespan of shingles, so don’t expect a shingle with a lifetime warranty to actually last a lifetime.

Interested in a roof that will last longer than that? Look into metal or slate roofing, both of which can last 50 to 100 years or more when properly maintained.


Top shingle manufacturers and where to buy

A few of the largest manufacturers of roofing shingles in the U.S. include:

  • GAF
  • CertainTeed
  • Owens Corning
  • IKO Production
  • TAMKO Building Products

Roofing products from these and other manufacturers can be purchased from most major home improvement stores, including Lowes and Home Depot. You can also request a specific type of roofing shingle from your roofing contractor.

Roofing contractors are usually certified by a specific manufacturer (e.g., 'GAF Master Elite Certified'), so search for a local roofer who specializes in the type of roofing product you prefer.

While “Certified” roofers may charge more in some cases, it’s an investment well worth the extra cost. Why? These are factory-trained roofers that pass rigorous standards, including providing a proven track record of excellent customer service, in order to earn “Certified” status.

A roofer certified to install any of the roofing systems available from the manufacturers above will be able to offer the best and longest warranties. Going with a Certified roofer for the job means you’ll get added benefits, which may include lifetime product warranty, labor warranty, non-prorated coverage (for a portion of the warranty terms), transferability of the warranty, and more.

Going with a non-certified roofing company may save a few bucks upfront, but in the long run, it could end up costing you much more should you have problems with the roof in the future. Be sure to always ask roofing contractors if they’re certified with any major roofing manufacturer.

Start your search for verified local roofing companies here at HometownRoofingContractors.com.

Compare 3 tab shingles to architectural shingles

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