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Special to The Times

UNLESS it leaks or blows off, a roof doesn’t get much attention.

“If you took a survey and asked most people what type of roof they have ... most people don’t know,” said Wade Woodward, general manager for Old Country Roofing in Vacaville, Calif., who, for the record, has a concrete tile roof.

With the average life expectancy of a residential roof in Southern California about 15 to 20 years, and the average home selling every five to seven years, it can be ages before owners need to think about roof replacement.

However, when it is time to re-roof, durability, weight, style and budget should be carefully considered. After all, depending on the material -- shingle, tile, wood, metal or slate -- the cost to re-roof a 2,500-square-foot house can run from $8,000 to more than $20,000.

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A typical Southland home is roofed with composition asphalt shingles carrying a 30-year warranty, said Ruben Lomeli, owner of Van Nuys-based Lomeli Roofing Co. This is not your father’s roof. Gone are the flat composite tiles of the 1970s. Today’s options include fiberglass- and asphalt-based shingles, which are sophisticated-looking, heavier, more durable and available in an array of designs. They cost about $3.50 to $4 per square foot installed, can be easily replaced and are practically maintenance-free.

Manufacturers’ warranties on such roofs range from 15 to 30 years to the life of the home and relate to the weight of the shingle. A 50-year roof, for instance, will be heavier, thicker and more costly than a 30-year roof. The warranty simply means the manufacturer will provide some reimbursement if the product fails during this timeframe.

Building codes allow for 600 pounds of roof material per 100 square feet without having to strengthen the roof framing. Asphalt shingles that weigh 2.4 to 3.2 pounds per square foot are light enough that they often can be installed over an existing composition shingle roof. On the other hand, many of the roof materials carrying lifetime warranties, such as clay and some concrete tile, can weigh 10 pounds or more per square foot, requiring that the framing be reinforced.

It’s a consideration not to be overlooked. “A house is built to have a certain weight on it,” Lomeli said, “and if you exceed that weight, you’re playing with fire.”

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Nevertheless, both clay and concrete tile are frequently used in Southern California.

Corona resident Bill Larsen wanted fire protection and a man-made material that looked like real wood when he replaced the shake roof on his 2,800-square-foot home in October. He went with a shake look-alike from Naturals Rustic Shake (at www.naturalsroofing.com) that carried a 50-year warranty.

The dual-color tiles, which took about four days to install, were worth the $30,000 price tag, Larsen said. “We could have put in a composite roof for one-third the price. But we wanted a roof that was more upscale, visually appealing and with a longer life.”

Fireproofing, durability and a variety of weights and colors have increased the popularity of concrete, which can be made to look like Spanish tile or wood shake ($4 to $5 per square foot) and clay tile ($6 to $8 per square foot).

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And although some companies no longer insure wood roofs in high-fire areas, they are still found in Southern California.

A quality wood shingle, generally made of cedar or redwood, with a class-A fire rating, costs about $6 per square foot and lasts about 20 to 25 years.

Metal roofing, which can weigh one-tenth as much as clay, is becoming a popular alternative in areas subject to severe weather and earthquakes.

Corrugated roofs of aluminum, copper or steel and stone-coated steel roofs, stamped and covered with granules for color, are among the options.

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Modern metal shingles and panels -- durable, fire retardant, low maintenance and energy efficient -- can be designed to resemble wood shake, clay and slate, cost about $4 to $6 per square foot and have a life expectancy of about 30 years.

Slate is mostly found in new construction on the East Coast or locally on high-end homes and in beach communities. The slate is often color-specific to the region from which it comes, such as Brazil, China, South Africa or Vermont.

Depending on thickness, color, installation and style, prices for this quarried stone range from $12 to $20 per square foot. Durable and heavy, Woodward said, “This is not a disposable roof. In theory, it’s going to be on a church that was built” in the 16th century.

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Research materials

Before settling on a specific product, consumers should do some research, experts advise. Make sure the material meets current underwriting standards with the insurer that carries the homeowner’s policy. Check for any conflicts in color and material with the homeowners’ association.

Planning to move in two years? Consider a less costly material. Want to match neighboring residences? Choose a material to complement their roofs. And if regular maintenance will be required for a rooftop heating or air-conditioning unit, skylight or satellite dish, select a product that’s able to withstand foot traffic, such as composition asphalt.

If a roofing contractor recommends a product, make sure the material has a solid reputation.

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“A lot of products have come onto the market -- and a lot of them that have exited the market” have done so under less than ideal circumstances, Woodward said.

Fire-rating requirements can vary in areas designated as high hazard, in new construction, with additions or repairs and for detached garages and spaces not designed for living quarters. Check with the local building department.

But proper selection and a lifetime warranty don’t mean there will be no maintenance.

“The most costly mistake homeowners make is thinking that once they have put on the roof, they don’t have to do anything else,” said Joe DePinho, owner of DePinho Roofing in Orange. The valleys, where two roof planes meet, and rain gutters should be kept free of pine needles, leaves and other debris that can cause damage by diverting water under the shingles or onto the eaves.

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Whatever the material, DePinho said, the best way to extend the life of your roof is to stay off it. Because a homeowner walking on a roof can do more harm than good, DePinho recommends paying the $100 to $350 fee for a professional roof inspection.

When selecting a roofer, ask whether the manufacturer offers a better warranty for working with a preferred contractor.

Most roofers are well-versed in several products. But that doesn’t mean they can install every type. Get referrals from manufacturers, the Better Business Bureau, family, friends and satisfied neighbors. And talk with those homeowners about the installation and product. Visit www.cslb.ca.gov to check the contractor’s license status.

“And make sure the workers comp policy is current,” Lomeli stressed. Otherwise, if someone is injured on the property, the homeowner is liable, he said.

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Woodward cautioned against buying a less-expensive roof today and worrying about it tomorrow.

“Begin with the end in mind,” he advised. Think about “how long you intend to use it. And that will ultimately bring you to the right product.”

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Michelle Hofmann can be reached at michelle hofmann@earthlink.net.

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How they stack up

Among the commonly available options in Southern California, from top:

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* Asphalt shingles come in a variety of colors and patterns. They can be walked on, making repairs easy.

* Cement composite tile, such as slate replica, is a cheaper and lighter alternative to quarried stone.

* Durable cedar shakes come pressure-treated with fire retardant and are known for their insulation value.

* Clay tile, available in many colors and styles, requires no maintenance and should not be walked on.

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* Fireproof concrete tile patterns can capture the look of hand-hewn shakes.

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Raising the roof

For more information on roof options, visit:

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* www.nrca.net/consumer/fyi.aspx

* www.asphaltroofing.org

* www.cedarbureau.org

* www.tileroofing.org

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* www.metalroofing.com


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