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Choosing the Right Roof

A summary of your options to top off your home.
by Peter Lobred
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For future timber home owners exploring their roofing options, the choices are many. Of course, the decision itself often comes down to what is practical from a budget and geography perspective. And, there is always the consideration of what appeals to you aesthetically.

It may surprise some consumers to hear that the material that will top off your home should be considered early in the design phase, says Joan P. Crowe, director of technical services for the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA). Like other steps along the way to completing your dream home, the process begins with fact-gathering and consulting the experts.

“I usually suggest that consumers visit our web site for information on hiring a contractor as well as understanding the different roof systems,” Joan says, referring to www.nrca.net/consumer.

Other organizations also boast helpful web sites to inform potential consumers. “We always invite consumers to visit our web site (www.metalroofing.com),” says Bill Hippard, president of the Metal Roofing Alliance. “Then the first question we ask is what style they’re interested in, and the answer we most often get is ‘unknown.’ I don’t think people know the huge number of different styles available.”

But it isn’t just the styles of metal roofing that can be overwhelming. Whatever your initial preference of material may be, you have plenty of options to choose from and numerous decisions to make. If you haven’t already done so, check out online photo galleries, clip pictures from home magazines, and envision just exactly what you want to top off your home.

Now you’re ready to consider the characteristics and benefits of each material. A closer look at three of the top roofing options—asphalt, metal and cedar—may reveal what’s right for you.

Tried-and-True Asphalt
Chances are your timber home is not the first dwelling you’ve lived in, and odds are pretty good at least one of your previous homes featured an asphalt shingle roofing system. It’s the stand-by for conventional homes, and justifiably so. Asphalt is relatively affordable, and current options make it durable in most climates. But there are areas where its limitations might be revealed and you may wish to consider an investment in one of the more expensive and potentially more durable materials.

“Asphalt shingles degrade faster in regions with high solar load, which is why you see a lot of clay tile in the Southwest regions or Florida,” Joan says.

Still, if asphalt works for you aesthetically and fits your budget, it’s a solid option in most locations. Today’s thicker shingles and wide range of colors mean asphalt shingles can provide a look you’ll like. And if down the road, perhaps even 25 or 30 years with today’s materials, you wish to take a look at re-roofing, that option always exists.

Testing Metal
“According to our market survey, metal roofing continues to steadily climb in popularity,” Joan says of industry trends witnessed by roofing contractors.

Indeed, metal roofing is hot right now, and with good reason. Metal roofing systems have been around for centuries, sometimes literally thanks to the durability of the material, says Hippard, whose organization is constantly teaching more and more roofing contractors the nuances of metal systems.

According to Bill, the growth in metal’s popularity in recent years is simple. “What’s started to attract people is aesthetics,” he says. “We have simulated products to look like clay, tile or even asphalt to match standards of a home-owners’ association if necessary.”

What’s come on the market over the past few years has only increased the options for those interested in metal roofing. Bill points to factory painting processes that can give metal the look of an aged cedar shake or produce what is known as “cool pigments” to reflect rather than absorb heat. Bill estimates that cool pigments can save 25 percent in electricity bills. And if you aren’t selecting metal as your primary roofing material, certain metals can be used to accent the remainder of the roofing system (think copper bay windows).

As a material that can be reused, metal is considered green: “One hundred percent recyclable,” Bill says, adding that such roofing systems are relatively lightweight, too. “Where you have seismic activity, it is especially important for a roof not to be too heavy or bear down on any drywall,"” he says.

For existing homeowners, the relatively light weight of metal makes it an ideal choice when re-roofing, another growing trend when it comes to metal’s booming popularity. “About 1.5 million new homes may go up every year, but 7 million homes in the United States and Canada are re-roofed in that same time,” Bill says. “In a lot of cases, you can put metal roofing right over asphalt because the metal is so lightweight.”

But for metal, it all comes back to its durability. Metal roofing systems consist of either panels or shingles, and few roofing materials last longer than metal shingles. Fifty-year warranties are not uncommon, and metal can be a perfect choice for severe climates. “Metal has a tremendous ability to withstand high winds, so it’s great in coastal areas,” Bill says. “It’s also perfect for firestorm areas because metal doesn’t burn.”

Metal is generally considered among the upper-end in initial costs, just below slate, though professionals will point to a number of variables to be considered when assessing overall pricing. “That is why you should obtain multiple proposals,” Joan says.

Wood Options
For many potential timber home owners, there is nothing more appealing or appropriate than a cedar roof to add the finishing touch. If cedar pleases your eye, you shouldn’t be discouraged by some of the myths you may hear. One common myth, according to the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau, is that fire-resistance classifications differ for cedar roofs. In truth, Certi-Guard pressure-treated cedar shakes feature a Class A rating, signifying they are among the most fire-resistant materials available. (Class B and Class C fire ratings are respectively less fire-resistant.)

Still, the NRCA points out that some wood shakes and shingles have a Class C rating or no rating at all. This is just an aspect you’ll want to examine closely as you consider your options in wood roofing systems—but by no means should fire-resistance be an immediate deterrent. Lynne Christensen, director of operations for the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau, sums it up this way: “When you’re looking at a roofing product made of cedar, you’re looking at a product that’s lightweight, beautiful, fire-resistant and has a high-insulation value, made from a renewable resource.”

And it’s long-lasting. Industry standards for cedar warranties range from 30 to 50 years as it weathers to its traditional gray coloring. It can be a surprise to many consumers to learn just how durable cedar is, Lynne says, citing the material’s high resistance to impact and wind. “The insurance industry likes this," she says. “We meet the Dade County, Florida, wind-resistance standards, which are among the most stringent.”

Like metal roofing, cedar is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, leading to more and more consumers inquiring about the basics as well as the intricate details—and leading to another myth. “There is no such thing as a ‘shake shingle,’” Lynne clarifies. A wood shingle is typically machine-sawn and not as thick as a shake, which can be hand-split and given a somewhat rougher appearance. And wood shakes and shingles do come in materials other than cedar, including redwood and southern pine.

If you’re interested in cedar, Lynne says, a great first step is simply to phone the association directly. “We can refer people to approved installers and free technical assistance worldwide,” she says.

Though considered by many consumers to be an upper-end material, cedar shakes and shingles generally are less expensive than tile, metal or slate, Joan Crowe says. And a word about some of the other materials: Tile (either clay or concrete) is extremely durable and heavy, so much so that you’ll need to verify beforehand that your structure is capable of supporting the material. Slate, though tough to work with unless you find the right contractor, is generally the most expensive roofing material—and “virtually indestructible,” according to the NRCA.

Whether you choose slate, tile, cedar, metal or asphalt, the key to a successful roofing job is to find exactly the material you like and exactly the installer you like. “Be well-informed and be sure to hire a reputable, professional contractor,” Joan says, pointing out that for a new home you may often be relying on your general contractor to hire the most-qualified roofing contractor. “Also keep in mind that there are two warranties to be aware of: the workmanship warranty from the contractor, and the material or product warranty from the manufacturer.”

With the right material and the right personnel, you’ll finish your timber home with a roofing system that’s truly over the top.

For more detailed information, contact a roofing professional or roofing association including the following:

www.asphaltroofing.org, www.cedarbureau.org, www.metalroofing.com, www.nrca.net/consumer, www.tileroofing.org

Building professionals can find more information about metal roofs by visiting: www.metalroofingmag.com

Published in Timber Homes Illustrated
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One Response

  1. I wouldn’t ignore green or vegetative roofs. On the right type of structure, they can provide excellent insulation, help with water runoff, and provide other benefits (see e.g., http://www.epa.gov/hiri/mitigation/greenroofs.htm). If properly constructed, they will outlast many other types of roofing systems. The initial cost can be higher, but one can recoup this in lower heating and air conditioning costs and in less maintenance and longer life. As part of a renovation, I had an opportunity to install a flat green roof over part of my log house, although vegetative roofs can also be put on modest slopes if the structure can support the additional weight and the right type of system is used.



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