Staying on Top of Roofing Options

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The roof over your head may well be the most expensive component of your home. But if you're like most homeowners, you've probably given very little thought to your roof's composition, age or likely remaining useful life.

When the time comes--as it inevitably will--to choose a new roof, you'll need to educate yourself about the relative costs, aesthetics and durability of various roofing materials. After all, the shingles, shakes or tiles you select will represent easily 40% to 50%--or even as much as 60%--of the total cost of re-roofing your home.

The most popular choices for roofing materials in the Los Angeles area are fiberglass composition shingles and concrete tiles.

"Fiberglass shingles are the most economical choice and they are very durable. Today, they are manufactured in many different colors, and they're thicker than they were years ago, so they are more aesthetically pleasing than the thin or papery [shingles] most people picture them as," says John Massey of Secure Roof of Los Angeles County Inc. in Agoura Hills.

Next on the popularity chart are the somewhat more expensive synthetic or simulated shake tiles, which resemble the traditional wood shake roofing now banned in most areas as an unacceptable fire risk. Synthetic shakes are a "premium-roofing product," says Massey, and are more durable than concrete tiles.

Another option are metal (e.g., steel, aluminum or copper) roofing products, which are very durable and are commonly installed on commercial buildings. Metal roofs also are lightweight and advantageous in high-wind areas, but many people don't find them aesthetically pleasing for a single-family home, unless it has very modern architecture. And metal roofs are more expensive than other options.

"If a composition shingle roof costs $10,000 and a metal roof costs $18,000, I would tell you to spend the $10,000 and put the $8,000 in your pocket," says Robert McKennon, sales manager of Culver City Roofing in Los Angeles.

A good resource for consumer information about roofing products is a local roofing supplier's showroom or outlet where roofing materials are sold to contractors. These suppliers can give you product samples, updates on the latest colors and designs and manufacturers' product literature, which should include fire ratings. Before you settle on your new roof, make a trip to your contractor's supplier and check out what's available.

Life expectancies for roofing materials range from as short as a decade to as long as a century, depending on the type of materials, the slope of the roof, the extremities of hot and cold weather in the area and other factors. Manufacturers typically describe roofing products as "20-year," "25-year," "30-year" or "40-year," which means the product carries a manufacturer's warranty of 20, 25, 30 or 40 years.

Unfortunately, these terms are all but meaningless because no standards regulate manufacturers' use of them. It is reasonable to conclude that a "40-year" product from a given manufacturer will be more durable than, say, a "25-year" product from the same company, all else being equal, but beyond that, these so-many-years designations aren't all that helpful. Manufacturers are discontinuing the so-called 20-year shingle, for instance, because a number of so-called 20-year products installed years ago aren't lasting that long, according to McKennon.

Most warranties for roofing materials are written principally to protect the manufacturer from product liability risks.

The manufacturer's warranty "usually says the material will still be there for the [number of] years it's said to last. That doesn't mean [the roof] won't leak or fail, it just means [the material] will still be there, unless you get mad and tear it off. Guarantees and warranties [exclude] so many things that what they really do is reduce the manufacturer's liability," says Johnny Zamrzla, president of Western Pacific Roofing Corp. in Lancaster. And incorrect installation of the materials can void the manufacturer's warranty.

More valuable than the manufacturer's warranty on the roofing product is the contractor's warranty on the workmanship of installing the roof.

"I would not base my choice of a residential sloped roof on the manufacturer's product guarantee," says Dave Stefko, senior vice president of Eberhard Roofing in Van Nuys. "I would select a product that would look good on my house, would fit into my neighborhood, that I liked and that was in my price range. Then I would choose a quality contractor to install it, and I would pay attention to the contractor's guarantees."

An often-overlooked factor in selecting roofing materials is the weight of the materials. Heavier roofing materials are more difficult to install, which increases labor costs, and lighter roofing products are--at least theoretically--safer for the home and its occupants during an earthquake. Although an entire roof isn't likely to collapse unless the home is at the epicenter of a major shaker, the structural damage to the home could be more extensive if it has a heavier roof.

"It's a sobering realization when people think about [the equivalent of] parking 15 or 16 cars on their roof. That is why people start exploring lighter-weight alternatives," Massey says.

Another top consideration is the roofing materials' fire-hazard rating. Virtually all roofing materials widely available on the market today are class-A fire-rated.

Generally, you should be able to rely on the say-so of your roofing contractor insofar as fire safety is concerned; however, a call to the local building department is excellent for your peace of mind.

Your contract with the roofing company should state the specific type of roofing materials being installed and that the materials are class-A fire-rated. One exception: class-B fire-rated materials can be used for barely sloped or flat roofs, perhaps over an addition to the home, an unattached garage, a patio or another type of outbuilding. Most metal roofs are class-A fire-rated, but some are rated class-B because they tend to transfer heat to the rest of the home.

'Wind Uplift Rating' Is Worth Considering

If your home is in a high-wind area, the "wind uplift rating" on various roofing materials can be worthy of consideration as well. Some newer shingles have a more advantageous wind uplift rating thanks to a wider nailing pattern, which indicates where the installer is to place the nails affixing the shingles to the home, according to McKennon. The wider nailing patterns allow less margin for error, making the installment of the shingles more secure in a high wind.

Heavier roofing materials are the main reason the practice of installing multiple new roofs over existing roofs is no longer common. Many Los Angeles-area communities still permit the installation of one roof over another, unless the first roof is wood shingle or wood shake, in which case it typically must be removed.

Some contractors argue against the wisdom of even one "roof-over." "The [old] roof should be removed because [without it] the ventilation will be better and the [new] roof will perform better, lay flatter and look nicer. And putting on a new roof adds quite a bit of weight," says Brad Coyne, president of Culver City Roofing.

Adding a third roof is definitely a dicey proposition and typically requires special dispensation from a city inspector. The issues are the extra weight, whether the old roofing pattern will show through the new roof and whether the top roof can be attached to the home with sufficient sturdiness.

The more personal factors in selecting roofing materials are cost and aesthetics. If you expect to move within a few years, you might not want to incur the cost of an expensive roof. On the other hand, if you're planning to pass your home along to your great-grandchildren or are aiming to enhance your home's resale value, you might view a top-quality long-lasting roof as a sound investment.

Aesthetics naturally are in the eye of the homeowner. Nevertheless, you should take into account the style and appearance of the roofs on your neighbors' homes.

"If your home is in a tract of homes that all have composition shingles, you really need to think twice about putting a bright-red tile roof [on your own home]," Stefko warns. And it's probably not a wise resale strategy to put an expensive luxury-line tile or slate roof on a moderate-value home in a moderate-priced neighborhood. The goal is for your home to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood.

A Building Permit Is a Must

Regardless of the roofing product you select, don't discount the advantages of making sure your roofing contractor obtains a city building permit for your re-roofing job. The marginal additional cost is well worth the protections afforded by having a permit.

"[A permit] makes the legitimacy of the transaction more complete because it means the contractor has to prove to the city that he [meets certain requirements]. It is a very small amount of money in comparison to [the total cost] of the job," Zamrzla says.

Requirements vary from city to city, but such issues as workers' compensation insurance, contractor's license standing, details of the roofing job itself and the like usually are part of the process. Obtaining a permit also evidences the contractor's intention of performing the work according to local building code regulations, Zamrzla adds.

Other roofing contractors concur with the notion that obtaining a permit is wise.

"Once that permit is pulled and checked by an inspector, the homeowner is well-assured that the roofing system being installed conforms to the city's requirements," McKennon says.

Be sure to keep a copy of the permit with your other homeownership records.

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Comparing Types of Roofing Material

Asphalt

There are two main types of asphalt shingles: organic base and fiberglass base. They cost about $40 to $50 per square (a square is 100 square feet of roofing) for standard-grade shingles and $50 to $80 per square for premium-grade.

Wood

Wood shingles are usually sawed and have a smooth, finished appearance. Shakes are usually split first and then sawed to a taper on their backs. Because they are split, the face has a rough texture. Wood roofing costs about $60 to $100 per square.

Tile

Tile roofing made from clay and concrete runs about $50 to $90 per square. It's heavy, and your roof framing must be strong enough to support its weight.

Slate

Slate costs from $275 to $370 per square. It also requires strong framing.

Metal

Aluminum or steel panels range from $50 to $200 per square.

Source: Popular Mechanics

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Marcie Geffner is a Los Angeles freelance reporter.

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