5 Roofs That Will Last a Lifetime
These premium products offer time-tested longevity, so your choice depends on price, appearance, and installation requirements.
Synopsis: A house’s roof won’t necessarily last forever, but if it’s installed properly, it can last for a lifetime. Architect Harrison McCampbell offers a guide to five roofing options with long lives: wood, metal, slate, tile, and yes, even asphalt. Each variety of roofing includes noteworthy details and specification information. McCampbell also discusses the ins and outs of roofing warranties.
I’m an architect specializing in moisture problems and solutions. Unfortunately, much of my consulting work involves roofing failures. To me, this is lunacy; we’ve been building roofs that don’t leak for a long time, starting with thatch about 30,000 years ago. Clay-tile roofing appeared around 10,000 B.C., followed by copper (3000 B.C.), slate (2500 B.C.), and wood shakes (12th century A.D.).
Today, these ancient roofing materials are overshadowed easily by asphalt shingles, which are used on about 60% of houses. But asphalt shingles don’t satisfy the needs of all homeowners. Historic homes often require traditional materials, and extreme climates can narrow roofing choices. And some people just don’t like the look of asphalt.
Consider regional style and the house’s scale
If price is your only consideration, then 15-year three-tab asphalt shingles beat any other material hands down. If durability is most important, then a permanent solution such as standing-seam copper might bubble to the top of your list. But these things aren’t the only considerations.
Think about the style and structural integrity of your house. Clay tiles are common along the southern tier of the United States, but less common in New England. Also, the scale of the roofing material ought to match the scale of the house. Small roofs look goofy with large concrete tiles. The existing roof structure might dictate what you can and cannot do easily. Some old houses have 2×4 roof framing on 2-ft. centers. This framing simply isn’t strong enough to support a heavy roof. But a lighter material, such as metal, often can be installed directly over existing shingles.
Climate matters, too. Traditional choices typically evolve in an area because they work well. Tile roofs do well in hurricane-prone areas (with proper detailing). A standing seam terne-coated stainless-steel roof resists the corrosive salt air of a coastal climate. A lifetime roof might not be worth the investment if you’re planning to move within a few years. And depending on your roofing choice, you could get a break (or take a hit) on your homeowner’s insurance. Finally, think about repairing the roof. If a large branch falls on your roof after a storm, will you need a total reroof? Can you actually walk on it to make the repair? Clay tile and slate are brittle, so repair can be a challenge; metal roofs can be slippery to walk on.
Installation matters because warranties are relative
Proper installation is critical with any type of roofing material. Improperly installed roofs can leak. Sloppy installation details can void the warranty. Installation details are specified according to how a material is developed and tested in the manufacturer’s lab, and the warranty is written according to this research to provide a consistent product that the manufacturer can stand behind.
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