Quest for Authenticity
As far back as the 1700s, some of the
nicest American homes were topped with metal roofs. Architects
say the recent resurgence stems from high-end clients' desire
for materials that are somehow more historically authentic than
asphalt, yet are less apt to induce sticker shock than slate,
tile or wood shakes. "There's a tremendous appetite for
traditional, high-quality materials well applied. Metal roofs
fall into that category," says Dale Overmyer, a Washington,
D.C., architect and principal of Dale Owen Overmyer. He most
often uses metal roofs on residential projects in historic
Barb and Edward Nilson couldn't agree on the roof for the house
they built 20 years ago in the Seattle suburb of Renton. Mr.
Nilson wanted metal because it would last; Mrs. Nilson said it
looked too "tinny." They settled on asphalt for the main house
and cedar shakes for the guest house. But when it came time to
replace the roofs last year, Mrs. Nilson was all for metal. "The
new ones look wonderful," she says. "They're more finished." The
couple spent $50,000 for the two roofs that they believe will
last 50 years.
But they offer limited resistance to fire and high winds, and
they usually need to be replaced after about 20 years.In an era
when custom-built countertops, cabinetry and woodwork are
routine, more homeowners want their roof to make a statement,
too. "It used to be that a roof was a roof was a roof. People
didn't care," says Diane Gola, marketing manager for GAF
Materials Corp., which makes asphalt roofing and recently
expanded into slate.
Materials used on neighboring houses often influence a
homeowner's roofing decision. Many developments restrict the use
of materials, and in California, some counties disallow
wood-shake roofs to contain the potential spread of wildfires.
And then there's social pressure. "If you're in a suburb where
everyone else has an asphalt roof, you'd look silly with metal,"
says Jim Haughey, chief economist for Reed Construction Data, of
Metal roofs have other drawbacks. They are slippery, so snow
slides off -- but so do people who might venture onto a wet roof
to clear off debris. (The Nilsons had trouble finding someone to
clean the leaves and pine needles off theirs.) Rain and hail
sound louder. It is important to find experienced contractors,
since metal roofs are harder to install than asphalt. These
shortcomings aren't lost on competitors. "We're aware metal
roofing is being used more now, but we're not sitting around
chewing our fingernails over it," says Joe Hobson, spokesman for
the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association.
Metal roofs still tend to cost about twice as much as even the
most expensive fiberglass-asphalt shingles, with prices varying
by metal type -- steel, aluminum, copper or a combination.
Still, asphalt roofing prices are rising, too, along with prices
of petroleum, from which the roofing is made. Mike Iannone,
product manager for Marjam Supply Co., in Farmingdale, N.Y.,
says asphalt-roofing makers have raised prices 10% since
September and are expected to do so again soon.
Historically, big slate quarries in
Virginia, Pennsylvania and Vermont meant more slate roofs in the
Northeast and mid-Atlantic. Abundant forests in the West made
wood shakes the cheaper option there. The emergence of low-cost,
mass-produced asphalt shingles in the 19th century changed the
economics of the U.S. building industry and helped erase some of
the distinctions in regional architecture.
Asphalt shingles dominated for most of the 20th century. In the
1970s and '80s, the industry took steps to make a less
oil-dependent product, reducing the asphalt content and
increasing fillers. The result is a fiberglass-asphalt product
known as laminated architectural shingles. Thicker and with more
definition, they are supposed to look more like slate, tile or
wood. But not all of them are convincing.
This year, Tommy Oswalt considered his options when it came time
to replace the asphalt shingles on his 1,500-square-foot 1877
farmhouse in Heflin, Ala. The house is his retreat for hiking,
hunting and fishing, and he liked the idea of never having to
reshingle or repair the roof again. Metal would certainly cost
more than asphalt, but what finally sold him was style. "Metal
seemed more historically correct," he says.
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So what do you know about re-roofing your home? Unless you’re a
roofer, builder or architect you probably don’t know too much.
Before we go too far, here’s an interesting tidbit that you need
to know right up front: Of all of the complaints filed with the
BBB and other reporting agencies for home improvement remodeling
trades, one of the highest (if not THE highest) number of
complaints are lodged against roofing contractors. Not to worry,
this report provides you with what you need to know (except
specific pricing data) to make a sound decision. Your roof is
responsible for keeping everything underneath it (your largest
single investment) dry and safe. Many times it is the roof that
dresses up your home and sets it apart as a more desirable piece
of real estate. You would be well served to give it proper
attention when it comes time to replace it. There is no reason
to be fooled or intimidated.
Sticking around or, moving soon?
This is not a cliché—every situation is different but almost
everyone’s buying decisions revolve around these factors:
Staying or Leaving.
How long are you planning on living there/owning the property?
If you are just looking to “pretty-up” the home quickly for
sale, and all you want to do is put a new roof on at the minimal
cost, go with as cheap an asphalt shingle roof as possible doing
the minimum to get the house sold and then let the other guy
worry about it after you’re gone.
On the other hand, if you plan on living there longer than 5
years then there are other factors you must consider. These
would include the “street appeal” of the roof itself, its cost,
warranty, cost of utilities and insurance. All of these factors
will have an impact on the price you will pay for your new roof.
A new car purchase can range from $7,500 to over $100,000. Let’s
say that the car was for your son or daughter to take to school.
or for basic personal transportation. You would focus on an
inexpensive, small, 4-cylinder compact with cloth seats and
with few bells and whistles. You could find something to satisfy
them at a very low cost. As long as they didn’t drive it too
hard for too long, you would expect to get 5-10 years usage. No
frills. But then it was not designed to be a limousine.
For your own personal or family use, the car would be better
than your kid’s — say a mid or full size, or maybe an SUV. It
would be a workhorse that would carry bigger loads, provide more
comfort, and it would at least look as nice as the other cars on
the block. Naturally, you would expect to pay more.
You would buy the finest car that money could buy because you
are into status just as much as function.
Glossary of Roofing Terms
Let’s get a basic understanding here. A typical roof is built
with the following components:
Rafters/Trusses — the main beams under it all and
supporting what is on top of it.
Decking/Sheathing —normally plywood which provides a
flat surface covering your home.
Underlayment — a layer of moisture protection between
the decking and exterior roof covering. In northern climates
an ice and water shield helps to minimize ice damming
Roof Covering — most common are asphalt shingles,
wood shakes, metal, tile or slate.
Flashing —materials used to prevent leaking/seepage
at certain vulnerable spots like valleys, endwalls and
Drainage — shape, layout and slope of roof for the
purpose of shedding snow and water.
Venting — proper venting is necessary for maintaining
air-flow and overall roof “health.”
A Good Foundation
Your roof may need some minor structural repair such as new
plywood decking in certain areas. Or you may need major repair
work due to “dry rot” in your support structure. Unless your
roof is bowed or has a gaping hole, it is not possible to detect
this damage from the ground. Unless there is a tear-off done
(removal of all covering materials down to the bare plywood),
you can’t see what your decking looks like. In most instances,
the cost of a tear-off is minor compared to overall costs of
replacement. These issues must be dealt with before your
covering material can be applied. Most local codes throughout
the Midwest allow for 2 layers of asphalt shingles before you
Your decision will come down to looks, price and performance.
There is a wide selection to choose from. You will get what you
pay for. A longer term, eye-appealing solution will generally
cost more initially but is a much better value over time. So
consider for a moment what is important to you. If price alone
is all that matters, then get as many asphalt shingle bids as
you can. Accept the lowest bid and be done with it.
Your Roofing Choices
Asphalt Shingles—on the low end of roofing materials are
asphalt shingles. They are on more homes across North America
than any other product. Primarily, the reason for this is their
low entry price and availability. The shingle usually carries a
pro-rated warranty from the manufacturer. The replacement cost
provided to you rapidly decreases in the first 7 years and does
not normally cover the labor costs involved to repair or
replace. It is not uncommon to experience deteriorating shingles
after only a few years. Often it is less of a hassle to buy a
whole new roof rather than go through the warranty
People continue to buy asphalt shingles because they are usually
the least expensive short term solution and folks often assume
they will not be living in the house long enough to worry about
a future replacement issue. Consequently, if you are looking for
a longer term solution (beyond 15-20 years), you need to look
at solutions other than an asphalt shingle roof.
Wood Shakes—Who does not like the striking appearance of a
newly-installed wood shake roof? Wood shakes do provide the next
step up in your roofing experience. It is an upscale look.
Unfortunately, it is not much more of a longer term solution.
Wood deteriorates in the elements much like asphalt shingles do.
It is said that today’s wood shakes are less durable because
they come from predominately “new growth” trees. This means that
wood shakes made in older times came from trees that had been
growing a long time. Every year a tree grows it adds another
ring and typically becomes denser and more compressed. For the
last 50 years, farming trees in the lumber industry has utilized
technology for the tree to grow more rapidly in size but not
necessarily with more density. Thus, newer growth trees tend to
be more porous than “old growth” trees.
To gain maximum life you need to treat and maintain the wood on
a regular basis. As the wood ages it certainly does change
colors. Some people like the change. Some do not. It’s your
home. You decide. But know this going in: If your roof has a
lower slope and you live in an area that gets snow, your wood
shakes will deteriorate faster because the snow will accumulate.
When it does melt the wood will get wet. Leaking, mold, mildew,
rotting, splitting, cracking, fire resistance, bugs — these are
all maintenance and safety issues you will be dealing with over
the life of the roof.
As to the difference between wood “shakes” versus wood
“shingles,” the shingles are normally more machine-sawed while
the shake is usually hand-cut.
Metal Roofing—Most everyone can remember driving past a farm
and seeing the old tin roofs. The farmer didn’t put them on for
their good looks. It was strictly a matter of practicality . . .
he did not have time to keep repairing and replacing his
roofing. Metal roofs are designed to be a no-maintenance, long
term solution. Many historic and artistic buildings were capped
with aluminum or copper over 100 years ago.
Fast-forward to today. Metal roofing is no longer an ugly
duckling. It represents your next step up the price and
performance ladder. Most people are familiar with the “standing
seam” look found on many commercial buildings. However,
technology has brought many different styles and colors to the
residential marketplace. For instance, metal roofing has been
available in configurations that closely resemble the shake and
shingle “look.” Tile and slate “looks” are also available. The
colors can be matched to your liking. High-tech coatings provide
fade-resistance and energy efficiencies. By its nature, you
don’t have the mold, mildew, rotting, cracking and fire issues
to worry about. Snow usually slides right off. It will not
increase your chances of a lightning strike. It is no noisier in
a rainstorm than your existing roof. Most metal roofing products
available today offer the highest fire and impact (hail)
resistance ratings available. This can mean a discount to you on
your homeowners insurance.
Typically, metal pricing goes from steel on the low end, to
aluminum (mid), to copper (high end). Steel is heavier than
aluminum. Some steel roofs offer stone granules for a nice look.
Aluminum has been called the “miracle” metal. It is rugged yet
very light and has been used to build airplanes for years.
Worldwide demand for aluminum has caused the price of this metal
to rise in recent years. Nevertheless, its properties are such
that it is an ideal building material in many industries. Like
steel, it is available in the most popular styles (shingle,
shake, tiles and slate) and colors. Before you dismiss metal
roofing as too expensive, contact Argo for a quote.
As a semi-precious metal, copper is at the high end of the metal
roofing market. Nowadays you can see copper flashing being used
in the valleys of upscale homes. However, it is rare to see a
new copper roof being installed today. As nice as it looks, the
price of copper makes it prohibitive to the average homeowner.
Also, as copper ages it turns green (patina) . I have seen a
simulated “aged copper” color on an aluminum roof. It is a
Clay tile and Slate—While they are definitely “high end,” few
people will choose this option to reroof their home. Other than
price, the main reason for not choosing this option is that both
clay tile and slate are very heavy. They may be long term
solutions but your home needs to be reinforced to hold all that
weight. Not a good option for re-roofing.
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on a Hot Metal Roof
The Wall Street Journal, February 22, ‘08
By: Nancy Keates
Edited for space consideration.
More home builders and renovators are saying no to
asphalt-shingle roofs, heralding a revival of interest in slate,
clay tile, wood shake and other historically popular materials
that we considered both aesthetically pleasing and less harmful
to the environment.
But most of these options are impractical. Slate and clay tile
are heavy and may require structural reinforcement. Wood isn’t
durable and offers limited fire resistance. And next to mass
produced asphalt shingles, all of them cost a small fortune,
even on a moderate-size home.
There is one asphalt alternative whose resurgence is on a fast
track metal. Most often associated with quaint New England tool
sheds, metal roofs are increasingly appearing on new homes and
renovations because of their style and relative affordability.
Some even mimic the look of slate and wood shakes.
Architectural metal roofs in new-home construction reached a
projected 30% of the market in 2007, up from 23% in 2004,
according to the National Roofing Contractors Association’s
latest member survey. Meanwhile, fiberglass-asphalt shingles
were used in a projected 44% of new residential projects in
2007, down from 50% in 2004. Slate roofs slipped slightly in
that period to a projected 5.1% of new homes, while clay-tile
roofs grew slightly to a projected 4.6%, and wood shakes slipped
to a projected 2.1%.
Metal roofs can boast of a number of advantages. They are
regarded as more fireproof than wood shakes and traditional
asphalt shingles, and they last as much as twice as long,
contractors say. They can withstand high winds. And when treated
with coatings and finishes. they reflect heat, helping keep the
house cool and utility bills down in hot climates. As concerns
mount over used asphalt shingles clogging up landfills, many
consumers like having a roof that is often both recycled and
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