Constructing Dreams: The Roof of a Home

Whether you plan to build or buy a home, remodel a room or seek ideas to expand your “green” footprint, we are all in the beginning stages of constructing our dream. Each month, this column will invite you to look beyond the usual ideas and consider alternative cost-effective and eco-friendly options. With so many topics to explore from top to bottom, room to room, inside and out, the goal of a vision is to take a firm step forward and begin living the dream.

Ah, to think we once believed asphalt shingles were the best roofing option. Today, there are natural materials such as wood and slate, and manmade products spanning from asphalt and metal to plastic polymers.   While the price tag matters, the expected life span of the material is often what leads us to make a decision; yet, the slope of your roof plays a significant role in many aspects of your home, from your attic space to your drainage options. Ask yourself, “How difficult would it be to repair or annually check for damages?” (Before you choose a material, have a contractor provide a detailed inspection including video or pictures, which feature damaged shingles, pipe boots, vents, gutters, and the drip edge.)

Types of Roofing Materials:

  • Asphalt shingles are widely used simply because they offer the most inexpensive price for a life span of 15 to 25 years; however, asphalt shingles cannot prevent water from seeping within. With an underlying layer of tar paper, which is water absorbent, most roofs will receive a maximum 15 years of protection. An alternative, despite a 6x greater expense, from roughly $15 a roll to $85, is synthetic felt, which is 100% water proof, durable, and offers a higher degree of protection from weather and ultraviolet rays.)
  • Architectural or laminated shingles are three times as thick as traditional shingles, and can weather 100 MPH winds and hail. Combined with synthetic felt paper, a roof can last 30 to 50 years.
  • Wood shakes and shingles are made from either redwood or cedar. They are available in a variety of types and grades and categorized according to their level of resistance to wind, impact, and fire.   (The life expectancy is 30 to 50 years; however, this type of material requires periodic maintenance.)
  • Slate shingled roofs are common in the northeastern states. From old farmhouses to barns, structures that were tiled with slate shingles 50 years ago still have their original roofs, and they can last up to 75 years.   As a durable material resistant to both wind and fire, the roof requires a reinforced roofing structure to support the heavy weight of the shingles.
  • Plastic polymer is molded from a high-tech plastic polymer material and resembles either wood shakes or slate. Companies have taken recycled plastic and created a lightweight, durable composite roofing system. With little to no maintenance, the polymer surface is smooth, making it another system well suited for rainwater collection. The life expectancy may exceed 50 years.
  • Metal has become a sought after solution to roofing. While aluminum and steel are the most popular due to its affordable cost, copper, tin, and zinc alloy are considered premium metals.   With a life span of 50 years, the metal presented as a watershed system, termed a “standing seam,” is lightweight and resistant to fire, mildew, insects, and rot. It can survive high temperatures, reflect heat to save on energy and cooling bills, seal out water, and easily shed snow. Available in sheets or shingles, and the fasteners can be hidden through a standing seam, or exposed. Installation can be applied over an existing roof.


As soon as you are handed the estimate and contractor’s invoice, begin a new file marked “Roof.” (You’ll need these receipts to file a claim.) Before the installation of your roof, ask about the warranties. You should be provided two.

  1. The manufacturer’s warranty, which covers defects in the roofing material. (Please read the warranty carefully, including the fine print, to know what it covers and excludes.   You may need to perform an inspection of your roof to validate the warranty; therefore, keep all receipts. Additionally, some warranties may not be transferable to a new owner, or the materials could be prorated over time.)
  2. A roofing contractor’s warranty to cover problems arising from improper installation.   (Make sure the product and the contractor are both reputable.) You’ll also want to have someone you trust to be available should a problem arise in the future!

Next month: Insulation is More Than Just Pink and Itchy!