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Staying on Top of Roofing Options

There's a lot to consider when choosing a new roof: cost, durability, aesthetics and local building codes. Here's a look at how to choose the right one for your home.


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."

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