Today's homeowner can choose new roofing materials
Q: My old dark shingle roof is leaking again after only about 18 years. When I have it replaced this time, what are my options for a roofing material that lasts longer?
A: Eighteen years is a short life for even the least expensive asphalt shingles. Inspect the condition of the shingles. If the edges are not curled up and you do not see any breaks, the shingles may still be fine. Have a roofer inspect for other sources, such as the flashing, of the leak.
There are several alternative roofing materials that will last much longer than asphalt shingles. Many also reduce your air-conditioning costs during summer. From an energy efficiency standpoint, there really is nothing worse than your dark asphalt shingles.
Asphalt shingles get very hot in the summer sun and this heat radiates down into your house well into the evening. This heat also causes the degradation of the shingle base material and shortens its life. Although it may not look as good, white is the best choice for shingles.
Metal roofs are probably the most durable and energy efficient. I have a simulated wood shake roof on my own house. It is made from recycled aluminum beverage cans. It looks great, will have a longer life than I will and blocks the summer heat. Its only drawback, as with many alternative roofing materials, is it costs substantially more to install.
Other durable and attractive roofing materials are slate and tile. These materials will literally last forever. Both are relatively energy efficient because they are not attached tightly against the roof surface. This allows air flow underneath them to carry away some of the sun's heat.
Have an experienced roofer check the roofing structure before installing slate or tiles. These materials are very heavy and common trusses may not be designed to handle the weight including a snow load. These materials are typically used on houses with a fairly steep roof pitch.
If the weight is an issue but you really like the appearance of slate or tile, lightweight plastic simulated roofing is available. It is produced in panels so the installation is quick on the existing roofing structure.
Fiber-cement is another durable and attractive alternative to asphalt shingles. This compound can be molded into almost any contour to simulate other roofing materials. With the fibers in the cement, it is much lighter than real slate or tiles.
High-quality real wood shakes can have a long life. They are pressure treated for durability and fire resistance. Check your local fire/building codes. One final new option is solar shingles. The shingles are covered with solar cells to produce free electricity.
The following companies offer alternative roofing materials: Anglo-American Cedar, (800) 826-7185, www.angloamericancedar.com; Boral America, (800) 669-8453, www.boralamerica.com; EcoStar, (800) 211-7170, www.ecostarllc.com: Huber & Associates, (800) 327-8115, www.huberandassociates.com; and Ludowici, (800) 945-8453, www.ludowici.com.
Q: We are leaving for a three-week vacation. We have an electric water heater and it seems wasteful to keep the water hot while we are gone. Is it OK to flip off the circuit breaker to the water heater?
A: You are correct about it's being wasteful to heat water when you are gone. As long as a house does not get cold enough to freeze the water, there is no problem switching off the electricity to the water heater.
Many newer electric water heaters have a vacation mode which sets the temperature down, but protects the pipes from freezing. If you travel during winter, this is a wise choice just in case the heat goes off.
• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit dulley.com.