An Exploration of Asphalt: Past, Present, and Future 

It is ubiquitous. We find it where we play, where we drive, where we rest. That’s because it constructs our highways, airport runways, car parks, racetracks, tennis courts, basketball courts, and, of course, the shingles that form our roofs. Asphalt is a mixture of aggregates; it could be crushed rock, sand, gravel or slags. We thought we’d take a look at the history of asphalt and how it came to form part of the most widely-used roofing material in the United States. 

In order that the asphalt is properly mixed and to bind the aggregates, a binder is used. These binders can be constructed out of several different materials. Today, many binders reduce the environmental impact that occurred with earlier versions of binders. 

A Material of Many Faces

Because asphalt is used for a variety of applications, there are many different mixes that can be used. For example, asphalt used for roadways needs to consider traffic, weather conditions, temperature and more. 

Hot asphalt mix: These mixes are usually produced between 150 degrees and 180 degrees. 

Warm asphalt mix: These are produced at a temperature of 20-40 degrees Celsius. Less fumes are produced and there is significantly less energy involved. 

Cold asphalt mix: These are produced without heating the aggregate. Cold mixes are recommended for light trafficked roads. 

Asphalt in Roofing 

Most of the asphalt in the United States ends up being utilized for paving or roofing. When it comes to roofing, asphalt plays an important role. The industry of asphalt roofing, of course, has changed throughout the years. A fiberglass-based asphalt shingle developed in the 1970s resulted in a higher fire rating. 

There are different grades of roofing asphalt. They include:

  • Saturant-grade: used to manufacture saturated felt piles used in Bur systems, roll roofing, and more. 
  • Coating-grade asphalt: This is an oxidized asphalt used to manufacture roofing materials for many roofing systems. They include asphalt shingles, polymer-modified bitumen roofing and more. 
  • Mopping grade: This is an oxidized asphalt also used in BUR systems modified bitumen systems. 

The Beginnings of Asphalt Shingles

The first composite shingle was used in England around the 1840s. It was covered in a tar-like substance like pine tar and sand. Then roofing was made of coal tar. Then, the idea of creating asphalt shingles is often credited to Henry M. Reynolds from Michigan. The story goes that he was a roofing contractor that arrived at the idea of cutting the roofing materials into individual shingles. 

A big reason for the elimination of wooden shingles or other poorly constructed material around this time, had to do with the lack of fire resistance this material possessed. The asphalt shingles began to mimic the previously used wooden shingles. That is, cut into 8 by 12 ½ pieces.  The National Board of Fire Underwriters pushed to end the use of wood shingle roofs in the first decade of the 20th century. This, of course, served as the final transition for the use of asphalt shingles in roofing. 

Roofing Today

The modern consumers today can find more types and styles of asphalt roofing than ever before. Thanks to technological advancement and the improvement in materials, consumers have some choices in the kind of shingles they end up choosing. And yes asphalt shingles continue to be the dominant roofing option in North America. A roofing shingle is made out of a couple of main things:

  1. Fiberglass: Before you apply the asphalt, you need a foundation on which the materials will be added. There is a thin fiberglass mat that reinforced the shingle. It was in the 1970s and 80s where the change to a fiberglass matt was made. 
  2. Asphalt: This is an asphalt that is processed to a higher degree of toughness from regular asphalt. It has to be oxidized to increase its viscosity.The process of the quality of the asphalt is very important. Otherwise, it can be brittle or too soft. 
  3.  Granules: Then there is the stone granule surfacing. These granules are made of crushed hard rock pulverized to a specific size. The granules can then be processed into a variety of colors with ceramic firing. That’s the color tone that you see in the choice of shingles you’ve seen that might come in a slightly bluish tone or red. 

The reason asphalt roofing has become so dominant with roofing materials, it’s because it works. Its popularity is based on proven product performance; it not only provides a protective layer. It also has several benefits including: 

  • Durability against all weather
  • Fire resistance 
  • Wind resistance 
  • Easy to install/apply
  • Aesthetically simple and appealing
  • And more

Get Your Roof Right With El Paso Roofing 

There is not a whole lot of room for error on your roof. A badly installed or repaired roof will have its consequences and quickly. A leak. Tear. Wind damage. It’s all things that can happen when you cut corners with your roof. Here at El Paso Roofing, we focus on quality and never cut corners. Give us a call today!


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