This is an unbiased, expert look at the benefits and drawbacks of steel and other metal roofing materials.
If you are considering buying metal roofing for your home, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of metal against other more common roof materials, such as asphalt, wood, and tile. Here is a close look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of steel, aluminum, and other metal roofing.
Metal Roofing Benefits
Metal beats out conventional roofing materials on a number of different counts:
Expected life. Properly installed, a metal roof should last as long as the house, sealing out water, surviving high winds, and easily shedding snow. Metal is resistant to fire, mildew, insects, and rot. Warranties vary widely, but most companies back their products for 20 to 50 years. Paint finishes typically have a 30-year limited warranty.
Weight. Compared with tile at 750 pounds per square (an area equal to 100 square feet) or concrete tile at 900 pounds per square, metal roofing is lightweight. Most varieties run from 50 to 150 pounds per square.
Some types of metal roofing materials may be applied over an existing roof without the need for tear-off or additional structural support. In fact, if you’re building a house or an addition, you can often downsize or reduce the number of roof support members.
Speed & ease of roofing installation. Most metal roofing materials come in multiple-shingle sections or in 12- to 36-inch-wide panels. An accomplished contractor can install these quickly. If your roof is stripped off and a storm is on the way, shortening the process by a day or two may prove to be a critical advantage. Because of the material’s light weight, you can save on engineering and building the supporting structure.
Fire resistance. Because metal roofs are noncombustible, they’re given a Class A fire rating (the most resistant). Part of a roof’s classification depends on materials beneath the surface that could ignite in intense heat. Most metal roofs applied over a combustible material such as wood shingles have a lower, Class C rating.
Heat conduction. Metal reflects radiant heat from the sun, minimizing midday heat gain. This means you save energy needed for air conditioning during the day. Though the material itself is low in insulation R-value, many systems utilize a dead-air space between the metal and roof deck to increase energy efficiency.
Minimal roof pitch. Most metal roofing materials can be installed on gently pitched roofs without presenting a leaking potential. Minimum roof pitch is 3-in-12 (the roof rises 3 inches for each horizontal foot).
Maximum shedding of rain and snow. Metal roofing is practically impervious to rain and snow because of the way it is designed to interlock and because the surfaces are hard and slippery.
Metal Roofing Drawbacks
Though metal roofing offers many pluses, there are a few drawbacks worthy of mention. For the most part, metal roofing manufacturers have improved their products to address or solve many of these concerns:
Cost. The biggest drawback is initial cost. Metal roofing is equivalent in cost to other premium materials—from about $150 to $600 per square (100 square feet). Because of the material’s long-term durability, the trick is that you ultimately save the difference (and more) if you stay in the house for a long time and, of course, you save on seasonal maintenance. Of course, if you plan to move in a couple of years, you probably won’t get the return on your investment.
Noise. For some, the sound of rain tapping on the roof is romantic and homey; for others, it’s like living inside a drum. In a rainstorm or hailstorm, living beneath thin sheets of metal is bound to be noisier than living beneath thick slate or tile. Noise can be controlled both by using materials that have structural barriers to minimize the drumming effect and by applying them over sound-deadening insulation and solid plywood sheathing.
Denting. Just as your car will dent if a golf ball hits it, a metal roof can dent if large hailstones fall on it. Aluminum and copper, much softer than steel, are more prone to denting. Some types are guaranteed not to dent, however.
Though you shouldn’t have to walk on a roof that doesn’t leak, there may be occasions when a plumber needs to snake out a vent pipe or a chimney sweep needs access to the flue. You can walk on some metal roofs but not all; it depends on how the particular product is made and the type of construction supporting it. As you might imagine, metal can be very slippery when wet.
Marring & care. Some painted metal roof finishes can peel, chip, fade, scratch, or chalk, although nearly all are guaranteed for 30 years. Walking on some types, particularly those with a granulated-stone surface, may cause wear. Installers must be careful not to scratch or dent the roofing during installation, and panels must be treated with care. Unlike conventional roofing, some metal shingle systems are installed from the top down, eliminating the need to walk on them. Once installed, it may be necessary to hose off roofing now and then to keep it looking good.
Expansion & contraction. Because metal expands and contracts as it warms and cools, most new products have fastening systems that accommodate movement; otherwise, fasteners that secure the roofing tend to come loose. Expansion and contraction on hot days can cause a wavy affect.
Modifications. Metal roofing materials installed in large panels are more difficult to replace if damaged than individual shingles. Also, if you remodel or add on to your home 10 or 20 years from now, it may be difficult to match the material.
Lightning. Many people assume that because metal conducts electricity it also attracts it. This really isn’t the case, and there are many documented instances of lightning striking trees or other high objects located near metal roofs rather than the roofs themselves. Just the same, if desired, metal roofs can be easily grounded by a lightning protection company.
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