Roofing Buying Guide – Forbes Advisor

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Roof installations remain one of the most costly home improvements. All over the U.S., homeowners use asphalt shingles to roof and re-roof homes—the most common type of residential roofing material. Asphalt shingles are durable, inexpensive and easy to install. Other common roof materials include tile, metal, wood and slate. Make sure to check for signs of roof damage regularly to prevent costly issues. If a roof is damaged, determine whether simple spot repairs are needed before opting to do a complete reinstallation.

How Do I Know When I Need a New Roof?

It’s important to conduct regular visual inspections of a roof to look for signs of damage. Natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes or fires are obvious indicators of roof damage, but more common signs may be ceiling stains or drips, signs of wear like cracked or missing shingles, rust spots, moss or lichen growth, discoloration or peeling paint under eaves.

Asphalt shingles are made up of granules that tend to disintegrate over time. Granules found in a house’s gutters may be a sign that the shingles are breaking down and need to be replaced.

If a ceiling has a leak spot, homeowners can determine the source of the leak if the home has an unfinished attic or pitched roof that’s accessible. Remedies for simple leaks include filling a crack with caulk, replacing a few shingles or installing flashing to redirect water away from the home. It’s often easier to call a professional to find the source of a leak and determine the next steps, especially when leaks occur in a home without an unfinished attic or above-ceiling crawl space.

Even without obvious signs of damage, if a roof is more than 20 years old or out of warranty, then it may be time for the roof to be replaced by a professional roofer. Proactively replacing a roof will help prevent major damage to the roof structure and other parts of the house later on.

Types of Roofs

There are several types of roofs that suit different needs, costs, climates and labor. Read on to find an option that works best for you.

Asphalt Shingles

Asphalt shingles remain the most popular type of roof material. According to the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association, asphalt shingles make up the roofs of four out of five homes across the U.S. Their durability, inexpensive cost and ease of installation mean low labor costs when hiring professional contractors. Asphalt shingles are made up of fiberglass, asphalt and ceramic granules. Lightweight and available in a variety of colors, shingles are also waterproof and provide decent insulation.

Not only do asphalt shingles require little to no maintenance, they also perform well in extreme temperatures where heavy winds, rain and ice are frequent. There is a range of textured and architectural styles that allow homeowners to achieve nearly any desired look at an economical price. On average, asphalt shingles last for 20 years, but warm humid climates may reduce the lifespan to as low as 10 years. Amateur DIYers can learn to install shingles themselves if the roof isn’t too steep.

Slate

Slate roofs are commonly found in the Northeast where hundred-year-old Gothic and Victorian-style houses are the norm. Colors include dark grey, green, and red. Slate is virtually indestructible and can last for up to 100 years, even with extreme weather. Slate roofs are often considered a deluxe option for homeowners because the material is expensive and heavy.

Common roofing professionals are not equipped to handle slate roofing jobs. Specialized masons are usually the only qualified professionals who can install slate properly. We do not recommend DIYers attempt a slate roofing install or repair.

Tiles

Tiles are a durable option for homes in Florida and the Southwest. They reflect heat and resemble Mediterranean or Spanish-style architecture. Tiles can be difficult and laborious to install, so hiring a professional is recommended. There are two types of tiles commonly used in U.S. homes: clay and concrete.

Clay tiles usually have a barrel shape and are reddish-brown in color. Because tiles are durable but heavy, roof structure should be evaluated before making a switch to clay tiles. Clay tiles can last for up to 75 years, but chipping or breaking from pressure is a common concern.

Concrete tiles are strong, fireproof, insect-proof and resistant to hail damage. Although more costly than asphalt shingles, concrete tiles can resemble more expensive barrel-style clay tiles, slate roofs or wood shakes at a fraction of the cost. The roof structure should be evaluated before switching to concrete tiles because they are heavy.

Metal

Metal roofs are often made up of long strips, panels or tiles. Common types include steel, aluminum, copper and alloy. They can be found across the U.S. in different climates. Depending on the skill of the roofer, metal roofs can last much longer than asphalt shingles (up to 50 years, generally). They often have ridges or textured surfaces that offer more variety for style. Factory paint finishes can also improve the overall look of a home by using different colors and combinations.

Metal roofs are strong, lightweight, resistant to rot, fireproof and recyclable. They are effective in reflecting sunlight which makes them a viable option for homes in warm climates. However, metal roofs can be slick, especially in cold climates where it frequently snows. Snow guards installed to the edges of a roof are recommended to prevent heavy snow from falling to the ground and injuring passersby.

If there is no risk of injuring passersby, metal roofs’ smooth surfacing may be of considerable benefit when clearing snow from roofs. Metal panels can also be loud when it rains or hails. This can make cheaper metal prone to denting, but textured surfaces can help mask the appearance of dents, and higher quality metals shouldn’t dent easily.

Hiring a professional roofer is recommended to ensure the effectiveness and longevity of metal roofs, as well as evaluate the quality of product purchased.

Wood Shingles and Shakes

Wood shingles or shakes are premium materials that offer a traditional, natural look. They tend to turn a soft gray over time, which makes a home have a subtle rustic look. Wood shingles or shakes are not recommended for amateur DIYers. It’s also imperative to review local regulations to ensure that wood shingles are allowed. Some parts of the U.S. do not allow wooden roofs because they can be a fire hazard. When done right, wood shingles or shakes can last for up to 50 years.

Rubber Composite Shingles

Rubber composite shingles are an effective alternative to asphalt shingles. They are made from a blend of plastic and recycled rubber, making rubber shingles an environmentally-friendly option. They resemble slate and wood shakes which make them an affordable material with an attractive style. Rubber shingles are tough, durable, resistant to rot and insects and can last for up to 50 years.

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Popular Roof Styles

Whether a homeowner’s roof has a gabled, hip or flat roof style, asphalt shingles offer homeowners the opportunity to achieve a sophisticated look at a fraction of the cost. Standard 3-tab shingles allow a homeowner to create a textured look depending on the number, shape and alignment of the strips.

Architectural shingles can add a layer of depth that makes a roof look custom-made with non-repeating patterns. Interlocking shingles are fastened to each other, which can improve wind resistance in an extreme climate. Most types of shingles also come in a variety of colors. The potential designs are nearly endless depending on the homeowner’s desired look and the skill of a hired contractor.

Remember that the steeper the slope of the roof, the more visible it will be from the ground. Consult with a professional roofer to determine which type of design will best suit your home.

Roofing Shopping Tips

Homeowners should shop for the best roofing material and find the most reliable contractor to install it. The first step in the shopping process is to determine which type of material is desired and then shop around for different manufacturers. Estimate and compare the cost from each manufacturer before making a purchase. Many contractors will provide recommendations, though beware, many contractors likely receive sales commissions.

How to Estimate Cost

Manufacturers price roof materials by the square (a square is equal to 100 square feet). To estimate the cost, measure roof sections in feet, then multiply the length and width together to get the area in square feet. Sum up the areas, if measuring multiple sections, and add about 10% of the square footage to the total area to account for potential waste during installation. Divide the total by 100 to determine how many material squares are likely needed.

Materials are often sold in bundles, which means it’s important to look at how many square feet each bundle can cover. Consider buying extra material to have on hand in case of future damage. Within a 20- to 50-year lifespan, manufacturers may stop producing a specific material and having extra bundles on hand will make it much easier to perform spot treatments over time.

Get Bids From More Than One Contractor

Installation costs can vary based on the roof style, the amount of labor involved and the roofing materials. Check the manufacturer’s website to see which contractors they recommend. Homeowner insurance policies may also have a list of certified contractors located in your area. Look for a contractor who has at least a few years of experience and a decent reputation. Get local references and ask for local or state licenses to make sure they are accredited.

When asking for bids, ask for a cost breakdown that includes labor, materials, warranty options, any extras they can bring to the table and a contingency budget in case there are unexpected issues. We recommend soliciting bids from at least three contractors before signing any agreement to conduct work.

Review the Warranties

Make sure to read the fine print on lifetime warranties for roofing materials. Although warranties are sometimes marketed as lasting for a lifetime, they may only last up to 10 years. If a warranty is still active, the manufacturer will replace defective shingles at no cost. After a warranty has expired, roof materials will depreciate in value over time. A homeowner will only be reimbursed for the lesser value.

Manufacturer warranties often don’t cover extreme unpredictable weather. Homeowners insurance can protect the homeowner in this scenario.

Check to see if a manufacturer warranty is transferable to a new owner. If a homeowner chooses to sell a house before the roof warranty expires offering a transferable warranty will be an extra perk for the buyer.

Things to Consider Before Purchasing Roofing Material

Consider the following before making any final purchase.

  • Cost: Estimate costs of the roof materials and get bids from contractors before making a final decision.
  • Extent of installation: Does the entire roof need to be replaced or only a portion of it? Discuss options with a professional roofer before making a decision.
  • Whether the old roof needs to be torn out: Check with local regulations and a professional to see whether it’s possible to place new shingles over old ones. It’s less expensive than tearing up the old roof to replace it with a new one.
  • Quality and experience of contractors: Double-check a contractor’s level of experience before hiring them. Read reviews online or ask around to get an idea on the quality of their work.
  • Check local building codes or homeowner’s associations for guidance: Before making grand plans to design a unique roof, check with local guidelines before shopping around.
  • Review the fire rating scale of roof materials: Fire ratings range from Class A to C, with Class A having the greatest fire resistance. This may be important depending on the home’s location.
  • Double-check the roof structure and ensure there’s proper ventilation between the roof deck and ceiling: This is especially important for new homeowners who wish to install a new roof. Always check the integrity of the roof structure and make sure there’s enough ventilation before changing the roofing materials.
  • Choose colors that complement the home: Speak with a designer or ask friends or family what their thoughts are on color choices.
  • Make conscious choices if the roof has solar panels: Some manufacturer warranties become void if solar panels are installed on a homeowner’s roof. Always read the fine print and research the best types of roofing materials to use in conjunction with solar panels.

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