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Keeping the Outside Out: Roofing Materials

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by Allison Gunkel

Dark and blustery weather outside usually results in a wonderful day inside, curled up with a book and something warm to drink, paying no attention to the storm outside.

Florida style house plan with clay tile roof

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That is, until you notice water dripping from the ceiling, and the howling of the wind growing ever louder, definitely coming from inside your home rather than outside where it belongs. Upon further inspection, your fears are confirmed – the roof needs repaired. Preferably sooner rather than later if you plan to enjoy the next rainy day peacefully lost in your favorite book.

Quality roofing lasts quite a long time, some materials even lasting the entire lifespan of a home. However, improper installation or severe weather damage can decrease your roof's integrity. When looking at roofing materials it is key to keep in mind your region's climate, the slope of your roof and of course, your budget.

Asphalt Shingles Roof

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Asphalt Shingles

  • Options of either composition (base mat of organic felt) or fiberglass (base mat of fiberglass); both mats are soaked in asphalt compound and embedded with mineral granules.
  • Resists water absorption and weather induced cracking; Good fire rating
  • Little maintenance required (may need repairs/replacement sooner than some other materials)
  • Good protection for steep roofs
  • Economical choice


  • Options of:
    • Aluminum – lightweight, rust proof, commonly used
    • Steel – heavier and sturdier than aluminum, rust proof, very expensive
    • Copper – less expensive than other metals, popular/attractive option, natural weathering creates a green patina that provides high corrosion resistance, intense longevity
  • Lack of horizontal seams allows rapid shedding of snow and ice; to prevent this from being a hazard, installing snow guards may be necessary.
  • Well-insulated attics and special sheathing under metal reduces rain noise and over-heating concerns.
  • Maintenance free, typically lasts the life of the home
  • Good protection for low pitched roofs
  • More expensive material
Tile Roof

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  • Many options in style and color
  • Can be used in any climate (installation methods will vary), on many roof designs
  • Resistant to sunlight; can help reduce heat transfer in and out of attic spaces
  • Can last incredibly long (multiple decades) with minor weathering
  • Little maintenance necessary; individual tiles can be replaced if damages occur
  • Preventative measures can be taken: extra fasteners protect from high winds, new designs prevent snow sliding and ice damming, water drainage systems to combat high rainfall and moisture issues


  • Installed as either shingles or shakes; popularity is diminishing in favor of asphalt, however, the rustic appearance of wood roofing is ideal for some homes.
  • Protecting from decay is the primary concern; different installations can influence the moisture condition and may require specific barriers, venting, finishes or treatments.
  • Some woods have natural durability and resistance to decay; however, additional preventions may be taken.
  • Wood weathers naturally, changing color to silver, dark grey or dark brown.
  • Extremely flammable – risk increases if certain finishes or treatments are added.
  • Weigh risks of having wood roofing in your area with a professional.

Sustainable Roofing

  • Varying materials made of recycled vinyl or wood products ground to a fine sawdust
  • UV inhibitors, fire retardants, and coloring are all added to materials.
  • Suitable for all climates; materials can withstand all conditional extremes, whether temperature or moisture induced.
  • Solar paneled roofing is also a sustainable option that will further benefit your home beyond protection from the elements.
Wood Roof

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A new marvel in roofing technology is that of green roofing. Green roofing is a rooftop that is partially or entirely covered by vegetation and soil layered over a waterproof membrane. These roofs are also referred to as living, eco, or vegetated roofs. Originating in Europe, this unique option has slowly taken root in some large American cities and surrounding areas.

The primary advantage to green roofing is the aid it provides in reducing the heat island effect. Many traditional building materials soak up sunlight and re-emit heat, increasing the city's temperature significantly. With green roofing, the vegetation utilizes the direct sunlight, warding off absorption by the building. This also directly decreases the heating and cooling loads on buildings.

Other advantages of green roofing include:

  • Additional amenity space (similar to yards or patios)
  • Growth of vegetation that can be decorative, functional (fruits and vegetables), or useful in attracting and providing habitat for animals and insects with limited space
  • Reduction of storm water runoff and filtering of pollutants are positive environmental impacts

While the green roof system is quite advantageous, it is not a perfect system. Not every design allows walking through the roof like a garden. The use of non-native plants can attract unwanted insects or animals, so it is necessary to be mindful of what is planted. Buildings with green roofs demand different structural standards, as repairs can be difficult and expensive. The more labor intensive the green roof is, the greater the structural standards will have to be.

All roofing needs to comply with local regulations and possible government fees. Some areas may offer incentives for particular roofing that could be considered green or sustainable. Note that many roofing materials are being altered in order to decrease their environmental footprint. Considering recyclability, thermal and moisture barriers, the overall energy efficiency of the building, and pollution emissions will enable you to choose a material suitable for your home.

Also be prepared to talk to a number of contractors before making a decision; you want to ensure that what you are paying for is quality work rather than insufficient roofing for "a good value." A little extra money invested in your roof the first time around can save you immense expense and frustration in avoidable repairs or replacement down the road.

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