Roofing options offer style, durability

A roof is a roof is a roof?

Or is it?

While homeowners often may not think about what's above their heads until it needs to be replaced, the expense and investment of doing so may motivate you to contemplate what's next for your roof.

And while asphalt shingles dominate the market - they're sturdy, they're reliable and perhaps most important, they're affordable - your roof can look stylistically different and even last longer with different materials.

It really depends on how much you're willing to invest in your roof.

"Slate has been around forever, and there's metal roofing and wood shakes," says Joan Crowe, director of technical services at the National Roofing Contractors Association. "These are expensive roofing systems that last longer than asphalt shingles, but people don't want to spend money on them."

And while asphalt shingles may take up more than 50 percent of the market, according to an NRCA study cited by Crowe, the rest of the market is a mix of new and alternative materials on which people are willing to spend money because of the stylistic and longevity benefits.

So if you'd like your roof to look a little different from those capping your neighbors' homes, consider these materials:

Synthetic slate tiles are being made now to replicate the durability of older slate products.

Synthetic slate

Don't knock a rubber roof until you've tried it. Or plastic. Or recycled products.

A newer product on the market, synthetic slate, has been gaining in popularity, according to Nick Sabino, president of Deer Park Roofing in Cincinnati.

"The good thing about the synthetic slate is the material is very lightweight," Sabino said. "That allows people to have a slate look without the weight of the slate bearing down on a structure."

A slate square can weigh up to 1,500 pounds per square - the equivalent of 100 square feet - while asphalt weighs about 250 to 300 pounds per square, according to Sabino. Synthetic slate weighs about a quarter of what real slate does.

Another advantage is the customization available with synthetic slate.

"People really like the look, and it comes in a number of colors," Sabino says. "One of the things about natural slate, you can't really control the color, whereas synthetic slate, you can control what the roof system looks like."

One disadvantage to consider is that because synthetic slate is relatively new to the roofing marketplace, the warranty, even though it could be 50 years to a lifetime, is unproven. (If you do opt for real slate, your roof could last as long as 80 to 100 years, or more.)

"A manufacturer can make a lot of promises as to how long they're going to last, but we don't have any historical data say how long a synthetic roof will last," Sabino says.


Metal roofs are not just reserved for Home Depot stores and International House of Pancake restaurants.

People are attracted to them because of the durability, as they can last more than twice the life of asphalt shingles, which typically are good for about 30 years.

"Metal is very, very popular," says Sabino. "Standing seam metal roofs, consumers get really excited about them, but they're a lot more expensive than asphalt shingles, so they're excitement usually turns into, 'Well, maybe the asphalt shingles weren't so bad after all.' None of the alternatives on the market today are going to be as inexpensive as asphalt shingles."

A metal roof will cost you about $10 per square foot, he says, versus $3.50 for a square foot of asphalt shingles.

Michael Giese, a project manager in residential roofing based in Highwood, a suburb of Chicago, praises metal roofs for their durability.

"Metal roofing doesn't degrade," he says. "They're not affected by the sun, they're not affected by rain. They'll last just about forever until something just comes along and hits it. So they have a great durability factor."

He points to steel and copper as especially popular materials.

The metal, Sabino says, comes out, sometimes pre-painted in a factory, on a coil of a couple of hundred feet. Companies like his will put the coil through a roll former that will create the different shapes of a standing seam, manipulating such aspects as the striations and ribs.

The other thing to consider with a metal roof, he adds, is that some companies are limited by labor, as the installation must be exact for the durability to last.

Cedar shingles are a popular alternative to asphalt, but they will cost more. CTW Features photos


As is the case with metal, cedar proves much more expensive than asphalt shingles. However, Sabino says, there's "much greater resistance to wind. So the cedar is a very durable product, but again, it's gotta be done correctly to reach the life span seen on other roofs."

Cedar, he says, needs to breathe and needs room to dry out, adding that Western Red Cedar, often found in Northwestern states like Washington, tends to be the most popular.

Cedar shingles and cedar shakes make for a good alternative to asphalt shingles, he said, but one thing not to neglect is flammability.

"They're very resistant to wind," he says. "Not so resistant to fire." A fire treatment, however, can be done on the shingles.


It's OK to go back to asphalt shingles. It is, after all, what most Americans, do.

Crowe, of the National Roofing Contractor's Association, does point out that laminate shingles, which usually are two or three layers (as opposed to a three-tab, which is a strip shingle) have gained in popularity, especially as they offer "more of an architectural flavor."

"Here's the thing about roofing," Crowe says. "Roofing is a lot of money. You really want to pick something that is going to perform well, and that's why asphalt shingles are the predominant steep-slope roof covering. For the price that you're getting and the service life, it's the biggest bang for your buck. So that's why they pretty much why they dictate the market share."

The National Roofing Contractor's Association has a consumer website,, that suggest the following things to look for when deciding whether you need to replace your roof:

• Look for shingles that are buckling, curling or blistering. This indicates the end of the shingles' life expectancy.

• Look for loose material or wear around chimneys and pipes.

• Look for excessive amounts of shingle granules in your gutters. Granules protect shingles from ultraviolet rays.

• Crowe says it's imperative to ask for multiple estimates from various contractors. She says to rely on referrals and on ratings from reputable agencies like Angie's List and the Better Business Bureau.

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