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Choosing the Right Roof

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Life spans and costs vary dramatically by the job and location. Figures here are based on tearing a 3,200-square-foot roof off an uncomplicated 1,900-square-foot house, adding bracing where needed, and using solid 1/2-inch plywood decking and #30 roofing felt.

Check with local building officials about codes and necessary permits. Proper installation is critical to performance, appearance, and life span. – Barbara Boughton with Gary Kruse

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Life span, cost to install
Fire rating (A = most resistant)
Advantages and disadvantages

Torch down
10–20 years
Two layers, with a modified fire-resistant base sheet, should secure an A rating

Variation of built-up roof: an asphalt-and-gravel roof laid down in one roll. Smooth or granular surface; white, grays, browns

Usually made in factories under controlled conditions, unlike standard built-up roofs. Reflective coatings are available that protect them from ultraviolet deterioration


metal panel
20–40 years
Class A

Painted metal panels with raised seams 18 to 24 inches apart. High-tech or industrial look

Installation is simpler than with metal tiles, but also difficult to seal around perforations

Metal tile
20–40 years
Class A if old roof removed; B if installed with heavy roofing paper between old roof and new; C if applied directly over roof
Designed to have a shake or tilelike look. Wide color range

Lightweight, durable. Difficult to seal around perforations. May require gypsum-board base

Wood shake, pressure-treated
10–20 years
Class A only if you install a 72-pound mineral surface capsheet underneath

Classic wood roof that many synthetics try to mimic

Must be kept clean: Moss, mildew, and debris speed deterioration. In dry climates, untreated shakes (even those treated with spray-on coating) are essentially kindling

7–10 years
Class A

Sprayed at least 2 inches thick. Must have protective coating. Appearance varies from slightly pocked (like orange peel) to bumpy (like popcorn)

High insulation value. The coatings are highly reflective, which protects against UV deterioration. Must be recoated every 5 to 10 years if covered with acrylic. Fairly easy to damage. The most attractive and durable roofs use high-density foam and a more expensive coating

Fibrous cement shake
20–40 years
Class A (B if not installed over plywood; also may not meet seismic codes)

These synthetics can often look like shake or slate

Lightweight and durable; generally requires no roof reinforcement. In wet climates, rain can cause the fibers to expand and contract, causing premature failure

Fiberglass composition shingle
20–50 years
Class A

Most common for moderate-slope to steep roofs. Crushed, uniform mineral surface

Easy to apply and economical. Some homeowners' associations won't allow these roofs. Some now available thicker and more textured, considered more attractive

Concrete tile
50 years
Class A

Synthetic shakes, slate, Spanish tile look-alikes, in many colors, textures

Same weight and framing challenges as clay tile; a bit less prone to breakage. New lightweight concrete becoming available

Clay tile
50–100 years
Class A

Classic red Spanish roof. Other colors available

Long-lasting and attractive; meets same breakage strength requirements as concrete tile. Very heavy, but lightweight clay tile is also available

Built-up roof
10–20 years
Varies. With 3 to 5 layers of fiberglass felt and gravel covering or mineral surface capsheet, should secure A rating

The standard asphalt-and-gravel covering for flat and low-slope roofs. Surface can be rock, slag, or colored capsheet

Inexpensive. But if poorly installed, may be messy-looking and may leak

Copyright 2003 Sunset Publishing Corporation


Contact T-CEP:    310-455-3000   email:
P.O. Box 1708    Topanga, CA 90290