Choosing the Best Materials to Roof Your Home

Replacing a home’s roofing is an experience shared by many Canadians.  Damp spots on attic insulation and crumbling shingles are indicators that roofing needs attention.  Broken roof tiles must be replaced to prevent water damage.  There are many types of roofing from which to choose, and this article will help you select the best type for your house and pocketbook.

The earliest known roof tiles (from China and the Middle East) date back to about 10,000 B.C.  These tiles were made of clay, and their use subsequently spread throughout Asia and to Europe.  The buildings of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans were roofed with clay tiles.  Europeans brought clay tiles to the New World in the latter 1500’s.  Massive fires in London in 1666 and Boston in 1679 resulted in municipal requirements for clay tiles because of their fireproof quality. 

Wood shingles were often used outside of cities.  Compared to clay roof tiles, wood shingles were less expensive, and because of their lighter weight, they required less roof framing.  In many countries during the 19th century, slate, copper, iron, tin-plate, zinc, or galvanized iron were used.  Most metal roofing weighed a fraction of clay tile and costs significantly less to install.  Many homeowners today choose wood shingles or metal roofing for the same reasons.

When your roofing needs to be replaced, there are a number of factors to keep in mind, including budget, location, type of roof, framing, and style and colour.  Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors:

Budget
You may love the Spanish look of clay roof tiles, but their cost may be beyond your budget.  The expense of roofing is comprised of two elements: installation cost and lifetime cost.  The installation cost of composition (i.e. asphalt) shingles tends to be the least of all types of roofing, but they last only 10 to 30 years, depending on the grade/quality.  Clay tiles cost much more to install, but have minimal lifetime costs since they last for 50 years or more.  Obtaining quotes from roofing contractors will give you a good idea of what different types of roofing cost.  Establish a budget that works for you. 

Location
The roof of a house in Vancouver will be exposed to much more rain and less snow than a home in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, etc.  You need to consider the type of weather to which your roof is subjected when selecting roofing.  For example, clay and slate tiles can be damaged by hail; metal roofing works well for many vacation homes in ski country.  Talk with a contractor to find out the types of roofing that would be appropriate for your house, given its location and the climate in your area. 

Type of roof
House roofs are either flat or pitched.  Materials for flat roofs include tar and gravel, EPDM rubber roofing, metal, modified bitumen roofing, roll roofing, and PVC membrane.  For pitched roofs, there are composition and dimensional shingles, cedar shakes, tile, metal, slate, and synthetic materials.  Each type of roofing is guaranteed for a certain number of years.  Roofing contractors can provide you with warranty information for the different types of roofing, as well as their installation work.

Framing
Not only is the cost of installing slate roof tiles significant, but so is the framing required to support them.  A house with asphalt shingles probably does not have the framing required to sustain the weight of clay or slate tiles over several years.  If you’re thinking of installing a heavier type of shingle, shake, or tile, first check with a house architect or roofing contractor to confirm that your home’s framing is adequate for the greater weight.  If you really want clay tiles, for example, you may need to reinforce the framing, at least in the roof.

Style and colour
A house with a roof covered with cedar shakes has a significantly different look than the same type of house with an asphalt shingle roof.  Before re-covering your roof, think about the look that you want, and consider different colours.  If you have a digital camera and graphics software such as Adobe Photoshop, you can take a picture of your home, download it to your computer, and re-colour your roof.  Some roofing contractors offer this “virtual renovation” service, which gives homeowners an idea of what their house will look like before making a final colour selection.

When it comes time to re-cover their roof, most homeowners in Canada choose composition shingles, which are made from fiberglass/asphalt or polyester/asphalt and covered with a granular substance.  There are different grades of composition shingles, which come in a wide variety of colours.  Shingles are rated by how long they are designed to last; increased longevity equals greater cost.  

Cedar shakes give a home a high standard of appearance and offer an environmentally-friendly roofing option.  Good-quality cedar shakes will last up to 30 years if they are properly installed.  Because of the fire hazard, many municipalities require cedar shakes to be pressure-treated with fire retardant.  Contact your town or city hall for more information.

Other types of roofing include dimensional shingles, metal roofing, clay tiles, and slate tiles.  Dimensional shingles are similar to asphalt shingles, but are thicker and give a more textured look.  They cost about twice as much and last up to 40 years.  Metal roofing is lightweight, fairly easy to install, lasts 20 to 50 years, costs up to ten times more than asphalt shingles, and comes in a variety of colors.  Clay tiles are usually half-tube-shaped and terra cotta in color.  Newer ones contain synthetic materials, making them lighter.  While installing clay tiles is expensive, slate roofing costs the most, up to thirty times more than asphalt shingles.  Despite their cost and weight, slate tiles are elegant and last more than a century.

Whether you live in a modest house or a castle, proper roofing is essential to a comfortable home life.  When it comes time to replace your roofing, explore your options, speak with the experts, and enjoy having a quality roof overhead for many years.