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Roof with leaves

Choosing a Roof


May 24, 2020 by Marc Rapport

We have a drop-dead competent, reliable handyman who's done everything from change stubborn light bulbs to build a screened-in porch at our South Carolina home. He's one of those guys who's not afraid to charge you a pretty penny but is worth every one of them and he knows it, and I rely on his advice.

So, I asked said handyman if he thought I should replace my ugly, stained roof, something he or one of his trusted subcontractors would do.

He asked, "You know when it's time to replace a roof, right?"

I ventured, "When it leaks?"

"Bingo," he said.

Fortunately, mine doesn't. At least for now.

But, if you're buying or selling, aesthetics might override such pragmatism, and there are multiple roofing materials to choose from, after you carefully vet the installer. A good place to start looking, besides the obvious review sites and personal recommendations, is at the website of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA).

Multiple roofing materials

Most homes in our neighborhood have architectural shingles thanks to a spectacular hailstorm six years ago that resulted in new roofs for nearly every house around us but the one I bought a couple of years later. Mine are still the ones that lie flat side by side and show every curl, especially at the edges.

HomeGuide (NASDAQ: ANGI) pegs the average cost to replace an asphalt shingle roof on a 2,000-square-foot home at $7,211. The prices range widely with materials as well as size and difficulty of the job, such as steeply pitched roofs and taller houses.

For this piece, let's just look at your choice of materials. By far, the most common is asphalt shingles. This piece on HGTV.com lists these other options: clay and concrete tile, metal, slate, wood and shake, and synthetics.

Shakes and Shingles

I can't recommend a contractor, but I can recommend reading, and that HGTV piece plus this NRCA blog titled Everybody Needs a Roof are quick, easy looks at the pros and cons of each of those roof material options.

Here's a summary of what they say about each:

Asphalt shingles: They're typically the least expensive option and come in multiple colors and architectural styles. And, while they're not as long-lasting (20 to 25 years if properly maintained) and they can stain, there are coatings available that will help fight against that, especially in warm, humid areas where algae can be a particular problem.

Wood shingles and shake: Their natural look makes them especially popular in California, the Northeast, and parts of the Midwest, the NRCA says. Fire resistance is a consideration here, and while that varies among the make and model, so to speak, fire codes in some areas limit their use. They also are more inclined to rot and split, something to consider in the humid South. Lifespan: 25 to 30 years.

Slate: Real slate is a natural material the NRCA says is typically quarried in Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. It's more expensive and requires specialized skills and experience to professionally install. It can also be pretty much indestructible. (The house I grew up in Ohio had an original slate roof from about 1885. Last I saw, it was still there.)

Tile: Typically made from clay or concrete, these are the roofing materials of choice for that Spanish-influenced mission look so popular in the Southwest and Florida. While also long-lasting (40 to 50 years if well maintained), it's a heavy load, and you'll need to make sure your house can support that before going this route.

Metal: Rain on a tin roof has an evocative sound, and they're very weather resistant. They can come in panels or shingles, in multiple colors, and are made of aluminum, copper, zinc, or stainless steel. A lifespan of 40 to 75 years is typical, and they are one of the more costly choices.

Synthetics: These are the newest to market and can be made of polymers, plastic, or rubber. They look like natural materials, but they don't necessarily have the same properties in the long run as the traditional roof coverings they simulate. That can be a plus or minus. They can be fire resistant, long-lasting (up to 50 years, depending on the product), and easy to maintain.

The bottom line about the top of your house

Regardless of the material you choose, consider what's involved in installation and ask an expert whether your house is suitable. Consider local fire codes and maintenance requirements. Plus, will it complement your house's style?

Make sure to look at full-size samples of what you're considering and check out warranties and other manufacturers' specifications. Plus, look around your neighborhood to see what's there now and maybe at older installations of those same materials in other areas, and ask questions.

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Marc Rapport has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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