How to choose the best roof for your house

Roofing or reroofing your home is no simple task. Every roof is different, whether it’s the style, shape, or the underpinning. Location, materials, local building codes, and which direction your home faces also must be taken into consideration. And it’s not inexpensive; costs for labor and materials have increased as much as 200% since 2019, says Mark Graham, vice president of technical services for the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA).

In addition, he says, the roofing industry isn’t immune to supply chain issues and transportation delays. “Nails, fasteners, screws, shingles — maybe you can get some product, but not all at the same time.”

There are many factors to consider when choosing materials for a new roof. “Are you in the Northeast with a ton of snow, or Southwest and sunbaked?” says Sherri Miles, president of Miles Roofing in Chesapeake, Va. “Do you live in a fire area? What kind of roof do you want? Is this your forever home? Do you want to go with a basic 20-year shingle or more expensive lifetime material, or spend even more money on metal or slate?”

As you start to get bids, be mindful that, in the case of roofing, you can gain a lot in the long run by spending a bit more. Graham, who had his own home reroofed recently, says the difference between a bid with the basics and another with upgrades such as algae- and impact-resistant shingles, as well as color choices, was only 5 to 10 cents more per square foot.

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And patience is key. Kyle Thomas, incoming NRCA chairman and executive vice president of Thomas Roofing in Mobile, Ala., ordered materials in December for a roofing job and was told his delivery date would be in the first quarter of 2023. He advises clients who don’t need an immediate replacement to hold off, banking on a resolution to supply chain issues and a stabilization in prices. In the meantime, you can start your research at the NRCA’s consumer website, everybodyneedsaroof.com.

Here are some of the basics to keep in mind when choosing materials.

All roofs are designed to shed water, but they are categorized as either low-slope or steep-slope. If you want to sound knowledgeable, don’t use the term “flat roof”; every roof has some slope to it, even if it’s less than a half-inch. There’s no consensus on what qualifies as low-slope vs. steep-slope, but roofers use inches of slope per foot as a benchmark. For the most part, a roof that slopes less than four inches over every 12 inches of length (“4 on 12” in roofing lingo) is considered low-slope. The majority of residential roofs are steep-slope.

Roof slope determines which materials are used to cover it. There is no “best” material; consumers should instead focus on the quality of the construction and installation.

“A roofing system has to be designed so it works and needs to be installed properly,” says Nick Sabino, president of Deer Park Roofing in Cincinnati. “A roof is only as good as all the components: underlayment, shingles, flashing, vents and, in cold-weather locations, ice and water shield.”

Material options for steep-slope roofs include asphalt shingles, wood shakes, tile, slate, or metal.

These are the most popular, are relatively simple to install and, generally speaking, are the least expensive. Shingles are made of a fiberglass mat topped with asphalt and mineral granules. They are engineered to withstand high winds, some up to 130 mph. You can’t tell by looking at them, but shingles are categorized by fire resistance (Class A, B, or C, with A being the most resistant) and resistance to hail impact (Class 1 to 4, with 4 being the best). A good asphalt roof should last 20 to 30 years.

Homeowners have more options these days when it comes to the appearance of asphalt shingles. “Even five years ago, your choices were black, white, or brown. Now there’s an entire color and texture palette,” Graham says.

In addition, zinc or copper-coated ceramic granules can be applied to shingles to help with algae resistance (AR). “An AR shingle is a good way to eliminate dark brown or black streaks that may appear three to five years later,” he says.

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These are typically made from cedar, redwood, or southern pine. Shingles are made by machine; shakes are handmade. Because of the surge in lumber prices, the cost of wood shakes has risen about 40%, Sabino says. Although the natural look of wood appeals to many, it can’t be used everywhere, and it may be prohibited under local building codes because of fire-resistance concerns.

These are made of clay or concrete and are extremely popular in the Southwestern United States because of their look and durability. Tile comes in a variety of colors, shapes, and styles. The caveats: Tile is heavy, and the installation is labor-intensive. Also, if you previously used another type of roof covering, you need to verify that your home can support the additional weight before choosing tile. Concrete has the same look as clay and costs two to three times more than asphalt shingles; clay is four to five times more expensive than asphalt.

This is quarried in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia. Miles says slate is virtually indestructible and can last several lifetimes. She notes that, because slate is salvageable, people installing a new roof often only need to replace the underlayment and can reuse the slate tiles. The downside: Slate is more expensive than other roofing materials, and its application requires special skills and experience, Thomas says. And, as with tile, your roof’s infrastructure must be able to handle the extra weight; slate is often three to four times heavier than traditional shingles.

Though primarily thought of as a low-slope roofing material, residential metal roofing is one of the fastest-growing segments in the industry.

“I love the look, and it lasts a lifetime,” Miles says.

Metal comes in both panels and individual shingles, and it often mimics the look of wood shake or slate. Homeowners can choose between aluminum, galvanized steel, copper, tin, or zinc in a rainbow of colors. Many homes in coastal communities use corrosion-resistant aluminum with a painted finish, Thomas says. In addition, a metal roof is relatively lightweight and outperforms other materials in fire, hail, and wind. The cost is comparable to that of tile.

Low-slope roofs are more about waterproofing than water shedding. According to Sabino, a low-slope system has one to two layers of insulation made of rigid foam and maybe a cover board of gypsum or fiberglass. These days, most roofers then apply a single-ply (white or black) watertight membrane resembling a thick pool liner. The seams adhere with tape or, if a thermoplastic membrane is used, seams are heated so they meld together to create a seal.

Thomas says low-slope roofs have become more expensive than steep-slope, not because of the membrane, which is close to asphalt in cost, but because the removal and installation of materials is so labor-intensive. “Removing and installing asphalt shingles is easier and more efficient,” he says.

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