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Roofing Materials

Aside from keeping your house dry, the roof contributes greatly to the look of the house, so when building a new house, adding on, or re-roofing, it may pays to consider your options. Currently there are more options than ever.

Roofs range from asphalt shingles to wood shakes and clay tiles, from steel panels to rubber lookalike slate. The as is with home-construction materials in general, there is an increasing move towards engineered roofing materials.

This change is being driven by; the high cost of wood, building codes mandating the use of fireproof construction materials and people wanting to build with materials that are long-lived and also look good.

Asphalt Shingles:
The roofing material we see the most of these days in America is the standard three-tab asphalt shingle. Asphalt Shingles are the least-expensive roofing options and are available in a dozen or so different colors. The asphalt shingle products being made today are usually guaranteed for 20, or more years making them an excellent value. The principal advantage of this roofing material is value. The disadvantage, if there could be said to be one, is the fact that it is so common.

You can also upgrade from the standard three-tab to a thicker variation called an architectural shingle. These shingles are about twice as thick as a normal asphalt shingle with layers staggered to give them a heavier, more substantial look. With some colors they resemble slate and other colors wood shakes. With a modest upgrade in cost and a 30-year guarantee, architectural shingles represent an excellent value with an added touch of style.

Shingles (Shakes & Wood): 
Shingle roofs look great. Over time they weather to a gray or soft silver that seems help the house blend into the landscape. Several species of wood are used: Western Red Cedar, Yellow Cedar and White Cedar. Shingles are relatively smooth and cut to a uniform thickness, though they can vary in width. Wood shakes are thicker and rougher. They are split rather than sawn from logs.

Wood roofs need to breathe and should be laid over a substrate that allows air to circulate behind. Skip sheathing (wood strips) or battens nailed directly to the roof rafters are the traditional method of installing wood shingle roofs.

Wood shingles and shakes are expensive to install and do require periodic maintenance, in the form of washing to remove mildew or moss, then re-oiling with a clear wood finishing product. A properly installed and maintained wood roof should last 30 to 50 years.

Because of fire danger, local codes now require all roofing materials to be fireproof. The use of fake shakes (cement shingles manufactured to look like a wood shake) is rapidly increasing, because they satisfy the strict fire codes in the West and because they are long lived and require no maintenance.

Slate and Fake Slate:
In some areas slate was used as a roofing material for high-end houses and municipal buildings. Its beautiful, lasts for generations, sheds ice and snow and is very expensive. Because of its weight, which requires a beefier roof structure for support and cost, slate is not often used these days. In its place an "engineered" product, a slate lookalike fabricated from recycled rubber and plastic. At about one-third the weight and cost of slate, these shingles can be installed using standard tools and techniques. From the street, the average person would not be able to tell the difference between engineered and real slate. And, some of these shingles are guaranteed to last for as long as 50 years.

Metal roof pricing, can run from cheap to expensive depending on the material used. A cheap example would be in the form of corrugated, galvanized sheets, which have been a standard feature of barns, sheds and other agricultural and utility buildings for many years. They are cheap, rugged, long-lasting and easy to install, perfect for a utility application.

An expensive example would be a copper roof. They grace the country's finest mansions and public buildings. Bay and bow windows are often roofed with sheet copper soldered at the seams. Larger expanses of roof are covered using the "standing-seam" method, in which one sheet joins with its parallel mate via an interlocking water-tight seam.

There are many products to choose from between the galvanized low-end and the copper high-end. There are a variety of powder-coated steel roof "systems" on the market, some very cost-effective variations on the galvanized sheet-steel. Others are factory-built standing-seam roofs, custom made to your structure and installed by a roofing contractor. The advantage of these is that they require no special fabricating equipment and can be installed by any qualified contractor.

In addition to standing-seam roofs, there are several types of metal shingles available. One, an interlocking tin shingle. Another variation commercially available nationwide is an interlocking copper shingle.

A properly installed metal roof should last at least 50 years.

Ceramic tile roofs are found throughout the Mediterranean as well as Florida and California. Barrel tiles, the most common type of ceramic tile, resemble half cylinders about 16 inches long. Tile roofs are quite heavy, so the roof framing must be stout to support the load. Waterproofing is achieved via a membrane laid directly on the roof sheathing. The clay tiles are then laid one by one in a pad of mortar. Tiles turned upside down form a trough, which is then covered by tiles laid right side up. The process is quite labor intensive, which makes a tile roof quite expensive, about three times the cost of a standard three-tab shingle job.

There are a number of variations of clay roof tiles. Some shaped like thick shingles and some like slates. In the long run the most expensive roof might be the most cost effective, since you can get 60 to 80 years or even more out of a well installed tile roof.

Your Choice:
Choosing roofing materials can depend on your locality, and your personal taste. Local styles and codes can also dictate which type of roofing shingle you choose. Above all, when choosing roofing shingles look at: features, cost, fire retarding ability, and wearability.

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