How to Choose a Pitched Roof
Budget doesn't have to be the only consideration. Home style and the makeup of the materials are important, too.
Although roofing doesn't wear out all at once, its demise does have a way of sneaking up on you. Then you're faced with the big decision: What kind of replacement roofing are you going to use? Deciding doesn't have to be an ordeal — even inexpensive roofing will keep the rain off your head if it's installed properly. And there are so many material and price options available, you can get just about any look you want from a number of different products.
How can you tell if you need a new roof? The safest way is to check its condition from the ground using binoculars. Although a leak here or a missing shingle there often can be repaired, curled shingles or cracked, broken tiles are warning signs your roof is at the end of its life. Asphalt shingles that are losing their coating of protective granules also indicate a roof on borrowed time. Call in a professional for an inspection if you spot any of these symptoms.
Once you know you're headed for a new roof, the easiest course of action is to have a contractor replace what's there with the same stuff. But easiest isn't always best. There are some compelling reasons to change the color, style, and even the material of your roof. For instance, if the siding on your home has changed, the original roofing style might not look good.
Then there's cost. For a 2,000-square-foot roof, you can pay anywhere from $2,000 installed for good-quality asphalt shingle to $10,000 and beyond for slate. Considering the investment — and how long the roof will stay up there — it pays to look at all the options.
If it's been a while since you had a home reroofed, you'll find some new products on the market, including many that suggest the look of costlier materials without the high price. The smartest way to choose a new roof is to pick the basic style and color first. Then choose a material based on any technical requirements and your budget. In most cases, you'll be able to duplicate the look you want in different price ranges by using different materials.
Historically, most roofing choices were regional: slate for the Northeast; wood shingles and metal for the South; wood shingles and shakes for the Midwest and West; and tile for the Southwest. All that changed with the introduction of asphalt shingles, which are cheap to make and can imitate the look of natural materials.
The result is asphalt shingles that provide some of the crispness of slate or the heavy shadows of split-wood shakes at a fraction of the cost. Concrete and fiber-cement tiles can also be made to look like Spanish-mission tile and slate.
When making your selection, consider the style of your home and that of the other houses in your neighborhood. Also look at siding styles and materials. Then tour the area to see what types of roofs enhance the homes you like. Some roofing shows an affinity for specific home styles and siding types:
Where to Find It
Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Assn.
6000 Executive Blvd., Suite 201
Rockville, MD 20852-3083
Cedar Shake & Shingle Bureau
515 116th Ave. NE, Suite 275
Bellevue, WA, 98004-5294
750 Swedesford Rd., Box 860
Valley Forge, PA 19482
GAF Building Materials Corp.
1361 Alps Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
National Roofing Contactors Assn.
Chicago, IL 60680
National Tile Roofing Manufacturers Assn.
Eugene, OR 97404-0049
1 Owens Corning Pkwy.
Toledo, OH 43659
TRADITIONAL TILE looks great on stucco buildings. This Spanish-tile design includes three colors for a distinctive appearance. A smaller home would probably look better with only one color of tile.
Natural roofing materials, such as slate and wood, offer the colors of nature. Manufactured materials can imitate those colors and also provide homeowners with a variety of other shades. Choose colors for your roof based on what you like and what works best with the siding and trim colors on your house.
Many manufacturers have color samples and videos that help match roof colors to siding. For example, Wayne, New Jersey-based GAF Building Materials Corp. has developed the Smart Choice computer program, which allows contractors to show customers how various GAF products will look on their home. The Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association, a Rockville, Maryland-based trade group, also offers a guide for combining asphalt shingles with siding and trim.
The color of the roof can affect the energy efficiency of your home. White or light-color roofs tend to reflect sunlight, mitigating some heat buildup in sunny, hot climates. Conversely, a heat-absorbing dark-color roof is a good choice in cold-weather climates.
Color can also produce visual effects to improve the proportions of your home. A light-color roof can make a low-slung ranch look taller or a contemporary-style home seem airier. And a dark-color roof can help an unusually tall or steep-roofed building appear less overwhelming.
A new roof typically requires a building permit and must adhere to local codes. In most cases, that means using roofing materials that have at least a Class C fire rating. These ratings are issued by independent testing agencies, such as Underwriters Laboratories. A Class C rating signifies that the material will not ignite in the presence of a small fire or burning embers. The top rating is Class A, which means the roofing material will not combust even in the presence of a large fire or help spread a fire over the roof area.
You'll find fire ratings listed in product literature. Generally, materials that don't burn, like slate, have a Class A rating. Asphalt shingles-the most common roofing material-can have a Class C or Class A rating. Check requirements in your area and review your homeowner's policy to see if the higher rating is necessary.
The weight of the roofing material can also be a concern. Products range from about 250 lbs. per square (100 square feet) for an economy line of asphalt shingles to 2,000 lbs. per square for some types of slate. Anything over 600 lbs. per square typically requires you to beef up standard roof framing. Check with your local building inspector or a structural engineer to determine what's involved for your roof.
Perhaps the question asked most often is whether the old roof has to come off. If it's slate, tile or wood shakes, the answer is yes; it's impossible to apply new roofing directly over these materials. However, a layer of asphalt shingles or thin wood shingles can have new roofing applied over them. Most municipalities allow for two layers of roofing in place at a time.
But there are some good reasons to remove even a single layer of old roofing. Maybe most important, it allows the contractor to inspect and repair damage on the roof deck. What's more, the warranty backing the new materials sometimes requires stripping away the old ones. In fact, the argument for leaving the old roof in place is a strictly financial one: A tear-off adds $25 to $45 per square to the overall cost of the project.
These products account for as much as 80 percent of the residential market. Usually called asphalt shingles, they're split into two broad categories: organic and inorganic. The terms refer to the base mat of the shingles, the part that holds the asphalt and mineral granules. Organic shingles have a "felt" base mat made of cellulose fibers, wood chips, or recycled corrugated cardboard. Inorganic shingles have a fiberglass base mat.
Characteristics. The differences in base mats affect fire rating and how the shingles will perform under certain conditions. For example, the fiberglass in inorganic shingles allows them to earn a Class A fire rating. It also tends to make these products the stronger of the two. Organic shingles have a Class C rating, but they tend to be easier to install and provide better tear and wind resistance in extremely cold weather. Some manufacturers offer a fiberglass shingle with a special polymer-modified asphalt, making the product more pliable and stronger in cold weather.
Styles. You'll hear standard asphalt shingles referred to as three-tab, because they come in a strip with notches that create what appears to be three separate shingles. Premium products are called "architectural" or "dimensional" shingles. These thicker, often laminated shingles cast shadow lines like a thick wood shake. The result is a rich, textured appearance rather than the flat surface of standard three-tab shingles.
All asphalt shingles are coated with a layer of mineral granules that protect the shingle from sunlight, add color and, in some cases, help resist algae and fungus growth. Manufacturers can discourage unwanted plant life by adding copper or zinc to the granule mix. If you live in a hot, humid climate, look for algae-resistant shingles.
Cost. Asphalt shingles are at the low end of the price scale. Good-quality asphalt products backed by 20- to 30-year warranties are available for $25 to $30 per square. Architectural shingles run to about $60 per square and come with 40-year warranties. Figure on an installed cost for midlevel shingles of $50 to $100 per square.
Clay and Concrete Shingles
Tile roofing is made of either clay or concrete. Along with the traditional barrel-shaped tile associated with Spanish-mission and West Coast architecture, you'll also find tile that looks like slate or hand-split wood shakes.
Climate caveats. Tile is associated with warm, sunny climates, but it can be used in colder areas if you choose the proper material. In general, tile is porous and will absorb water, but some are more porous than others. The lower the porosity, the less likely the tile will be damaged during freeze/thaw cycles found in cold climates. Clay tile has a porosity of 2 to 10 percent; concrete tile ranges from 3 to 20 percent. If you live in a cold climate, look for the lowest porosity available. And make sure the manufacturer will honor the warranty in your locale.
Cost. Clay tile is the high-end choice here. It's molded, fired and, in some cases, glazed. It comes with up to 75-year warranties and sells for $200 to $500 and up per installed square. Weight starts at about 600 lbs. per square, though most weigh more.
Concrete tile is an extruded product that looks like clay from the ground, yet costs half as much (about $100 per square to start). A variation of concrete tile is fiber-cement. It's made of cement reinforced with either wood fibers or inorganic fibers for added strength. Though early formulations used asbestos, current products use safer substitutes. Fiber-cement tile costs a little more than concrete-about $200 per square. But at 260 to 580 lbs. per square, it is significantly lighter.
Wood Shakes and Shingles
Western red cedar and Southern yellow pine are commonly used for roofing. Both are available as either shakes or shingles. Shakes are thicker at the butt than shingles and their faces are hand-split for a rougher, more textured appearance. Shingles are sawn on both sides for a thinner, more even surface. Both are tapered (thick in the front, thin at the back) and come in various grades and thicknesses.
Fire resistance. If you live in the West or Northwest, you probably see a lot of wood roofs in your neighborhood. However, there is a growing concern with using this material in dry, fire-prone areas. A number of municipalities in California, Colorado, and Texas have banned wood roofs because of the danger of brushfires spreading from one roof to the next. These same fire concerns have popularized fire-retardant shakes and shingles, which are pressure treated with chromated copper arsenate.
Cost. Wood shakes and shingles cost about $100 to $175 per square, with installed costs ranging from $200 to $300.
Although not usually associated with homes, metal roofing was once a staple of the South. It's available today in standing seam-where the raised seam of metal panels run perpendicular to the edge of the roof-or as shingles. The metal can be copper, aluminum, steel, galvanized steel, zinc, terne (an alloy of lead and tin), or terne-coated stainless steel.
Characteristics. Although metal is unusual in many areas and might be a bit too distinctive for some homeowners, it does have its advantages. It's lightweight, and it doesn't crack, split, warp, rot or burn. It's also terrific at shedding snow. As you would expect, these long-lived features give metal roofing products 50-year warranties. And while most other materials have special requirements for roofs that are under 3-in-12 (that's 3 inches of rise for every 12 inches of horizontal run), metal can typically be used on roofs with very little slope.
Cost. Metal prices also tend to be reasonable. Some of these products start at around $200 per square installed, although they can go much higher. Because metal roofs are not commonly found on homes in many parts of the country, some contractors might not be experienced with the material. Before deciding on a metal roof, be sure the contractor you choose has experience installing metal-roofing systems.
Slate is a dense, hard, fine-grained metamorphic rock that's easily split into thin slabs. Its natural colors include varying shades of greens, reds and grays, depending on where the material was quarried. You'll also find slate roofing available in a variety of thicknesses, from 1/4 to 1 inch, and corresponding weights.
Characteristics. Besides offering a classic look, this naturally fire-resistant stone material has also been known to last as long as 100 years on roofs.
Cost. The major drawback to slate is its significant price. It starts at $300 per square of material with installed costs running as high as $800 or $900 per square. Part of the problem is finding craftsmen who can properly handle and install this long-lasting material.
Choosing a Contractor
No matter which roofing material you choose, you'll need a qualified contractor to install it. Follow these tips as you set out to choose a contractor: