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Metal or Shingles? How do you decide?

• May 1, 2020

What’s the Deal with Metal Roofs?

Metal or Shingle? 

Aluminum and composite steel metal roofs have had their day, and now that they’ve been around a few decades, we are finally able to accurately debate their advantages and disadvantages when compared to shingle roofs.  

These types of metal roofs were popularized in the 90’s as a long-lasting alternative to shingle roofs.  They were marketed as a lifetime roofing product that could withstand the sun, severe wind and hail storms.  This wonderful storm and UV-resistant alternative would give homeowners peace of mind in knowing would only have to pay once for a roof, and benefit from the increased energy reflectivity vs. asphalt.  But have those claims withstood the test of time?

While researching this topic I came across an article written for Erie Insurance Co. detailing the benefits of metal roofing.  Most of the information in their article came from the Metal Roofing Alliance.  It’s no wonder that both were in favor of metal over asphalt.  Just give yourself a minute to think about why?  Would it surprise you that insurance companies want to get out of the business of paying for roof damage related to storm events?  It would certainly simplify their business strategy and profit/loss modeling if everyone used a roofing material that was highly storm resistant, and they didn’t have to pay for it!  I’m sure they would lower the cost of premiums if everyone purchased metal roofs…not!  It’s very difficult to get an insurance company to pay for damage to a soft metal roof caused by hail.  Most of the time it doesn’t effect the performance or longevity of the roof, just the look of it, and insurance companies have consistently denied and excluded cosmetic damage from coverage.  

Another thought to consider is how long you plan on residing in your current home.  High quality shingle roofing systems can perform 35-50 years.  According to the National Association of Realtors, as of 2018, across the country the median duration that homeowners stay in a single home is thirteen years.  Metal roofs can last anywhere from 60-100 years depending on the type, but they are significantly more expensive for the 100-year versions.  Do you really need a roof that will outlast your tenure in your home by more than 3-4 times the national average?  Remember shingle roofs can last 35-50 years, and most people only remain in their homes for 13.  

The longevity of a metal roof is not determined based on how good it looks at the end of its’ lifespan.  At just a fraction of the lifespan of a metal roof, the coating will begin to fade under the sun.  By the time you go to sell your home, or your children do, the roof without regular maintenance and professional restoration, will detract from the overall value due to its’ aesthetic loss, not add to it.  Aside from the fading of the metal panel coating, the most popular style of metal roof panel uses exposed fasteners.  This type of panel is preferred by contractors due to the lower cost of material and ease of installation.  However, the fasteners that are used for them have a neoprene washer that seals the hole in the panel created by the fastener to hold it in place.  Simply put, these washers do not hold up well in sunlight.  This creates a maintenance issue that is regularly overlooked by homeowners when choosing metal roofing panels.  Contractors typically don’t mention it because they will be long gone, it’s not their problem, and it creates more work for them to go up and replace the fasteners and washers every 12-15 years.  

This regular replacement of fasteners creates an even bigger problem.  Every time the fasteners are replaced, you must use an even larger diameter fastener to replace it with or it won’t hold the panel securely.  How many times do you think this can be done before there aren’t fasteners large enough to seal the old hole?   At the rate that the washers wear out, the average lifespan of a metal roof of this style is comparable to a much less expensive asphalt shingle roof.  Of course, you could use metal panels that have concealed fasteners to eliminate this problem, but you will still be left with fading panels after 10-15 years.  And if you don’t mind spending 3-4 times the cost of a shingle roof on concealed fastener panels that will start to fade after 10 or so years, that may be your best option, if you really just want a roof that won’t leak during your entire lifetime.  Alternatively, if you live in a barn a couple of leaking fasteners probably isn’t an issue, but in your climate-controlled home it may be.  

Another factor to consider is the type of roof you have.  Trim work and flashings for exposed fastener panels are only pre-manufactured for gable style roofs.  If you have a complex roof design with lots of hips and valleys, or even barrels, your only option may be to use a custom fabricated system.  It takes a highly skilled metal panel fabricator and installer to properly assemble all of the components of a complicated metal roof.  With the shortage of skilled tradesmen in America you might be rolling the dice, and/or paying a premium, to find a company that can properly install a trouble-free metal roofing system.  
At Roof It Right, in Louisville KY we have frequently encountered the problems associated with various types of metal roofing systems and the shortage of skilled workers, as well as unprofessional “roofing contractors” that like the insurance carriers and Metal Roofing Alliance, do and say what is best for themselves rather than their customers.  We hope that by providing you with the information to make the best decisions for yourselves, you will choose to do business with a company that helps you to make the right decision.  

-James Hannon, Assistant General Manager, Roof It Right, LLC

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