We Roof Philly Blog: Roof Systems -- What Are My Options?
Updated: Apr 27
If you're purchasing a home for yourself or a property for investing, its roof can make or break the deal, so it's important to know what you're looking at. Will this roof need to be replaced in 7 years or 70? Will repairs be quick and easy or a long, drawn-out, and expensive process? Now that you know a little bit about the elements of a roof as a whole, let's get into some specifics, particularly when it comes to the exterior of your roof--your roof system.
There are many different options when it comes to roof systems, and each of them has their own ups and downs. It's important to be informed when making decisions about the roof system of your current or future home or investment property in order to be sure you end up with the product that works best for you, your plans, and your budget.
The first thing that comes to mind for a lot of people when they think of a roof is shingles. There are many types of shingles, though, and your choice can be the difference in hundreds or even thousands of dollars in installation and repair costs down the line.
We'll focus on just two types of shingles for now, as they're the most common ones you'll see in Philadelphia where we're based.
Asphalt shingles are probably the most common type of shingle on modern shingled roofs. This is for a few different reasons, the main one being that they're both cheap to buy and easy to install. They're also easy to tear down later, if needed.
Asphalt shingles can come in a wide variety of colors and are coated with granules that help to reflect damaging UV rays from your roof. A well maintained asphalt shingle roof can last around 15 to 20 years.
Asphalt shingle roofs do have some weaknesses, though. The granules on top of the shingles can be damaged in rough weather, and the shingles themselves can be harmed by excessive UV rays and moisture, all of which can lead to reduced waterproofing of your home.
Of course big events, like falling limbs or hail storms, can wreak havoc on these roofs and will lead to damage that will need to be repaired immediately. Additionally, an improperly installed shingle or two can lead to a big nightmare down the road when they break free and provide an entryway for water to leak into your home as well as further damage to the roof.
For a longer lasting shingle option, slate shingle roofs can be an expensive upfront but extremely long-term investment.
Slate shingles can give your roof longevity of up to 100 years; however, with that extended lifetime comes a lot of up-front cost, as the shingles themselves could be anywhere from $5-$12 per square foot--and that's not including labor, which also takes more time on these roofs.
Once installed, however, slate shingles tend to be incredibly durable. Slate does not absorb water and does not catch fire. It also is resistant to large temperature fluctuations as well as rain, snow, and wind.
Finally, unlike asphalt shingles, slate is also impervious to fungus and mold, which means your slate roof will almost never need maintenance just to remove ugly streaks of black or green like other shingled roofs might. (An example of this issue can be seen here.)
That being said, slate shingle roofs have some important considerations that come along with them as well. First of all, their installation is complex. It won't be a quick in-and-out job like an asphalt shingle roof might be. And, of course, if the shingles are not installed correctly, big problems can come later.
Additionally, slate roofs can't really be walked on by anyone but a professional, since their shingles' durability holds up to just about anything but a person. Someone walking around on a slate shingle roof without the proper knowledge can easily break a shingle, which leaves your roof open to all sorts of waterproofing and other issues. If you have a slate shingle roof, DIY roofing jobs are probably a no-go, as you'll want to its maintenance to be left to the professionals.
Finally, the last major downside to a slate shingle roof is that, in the event you do need to replace a shingle, it can be almost impossible to find a perfect match. Slate is a natural material, the appearance of which will vary by shipment and lot, so unless you buy some spares up front from the same place you get the rest, it might not be realistic for you to maintain a perfect, matching appearance on your roof after repairs.
Metal roofs are fairly common, especially in newer construction. There are many types of metal roof materials, but overall, each is generally lightweight, durable, and energy efficient.
There are a lot of different looks and styles to metal roofs, but some people strongly dislike their style or think they look out of place in urban and even suburban areas, so this should be considered if you plan on selling your property in the future.
A metal roof generally costs more than asphalt shingles, but its expectancy is also much longer--up to 40 to 70 years. Metal roofs often tend to be more energy efficient, helping to keep cooling costs down in the summer, and they are resistant to rot as well as being very good at keeping out water if installed well.
One thing to consider that you might not think about until you live under one yourself, though, is that metal roofs are loud. Some people might find the sound of rain over their heads romantic, but when the din of a storm drowns out your dinner conversation or the evening news every night during a particularly rainy spring, the romance of it may fizzle quickly.
Additionally, metal roofs are quick to install and repair, but it should be noted that they can be particularly susceptible to issues if installed incorrectly. One common issue is that, since metal expands and contracts, if the fasteners for the roof sections aren't connected just right, this can mean big problems for you in the future.
Finally, metal roofs are generally very durable, but falling branches or hail can result in unsightly dents. Additionally, they need to be coated and regularly painted--depending on your situation, painting may even be required every few years--and a paint job can run you thousands of dollars.
If you live in Philadelphia, this is probably the one you've been waiting for. Membrane roofs go on top of top flat roofs, which is what we have an abundance of here. (For more roofing styles, check out our previous post on the subject.)
"Flat" roofs actually aren't totally flat--they will always have a slight pitch to encourage water to drain off, but a membrane is still needed to ensure the roof is watertight.
There are a lot of different kinds of membrane roof systems, but modified bitumen is generally the industry standard at the moment. It's often applied in strips which are adhered together with heat, though there are some forms out now that are self-adhesive.
While an asphalt product itself, modified bitumen provides waterproofing and more longevity than an old-fashioned asphalt system roof would.
Flat roofs take a lot of wear and tear, since debris can easily remain there unseen and trap water and cause other issues, but even so, modified bitumen roofs can last 20 years or more. That being said, while they're generally good at being resistant to the development of cracks that other roof membranes can be prone to, issues with these roofs can be difficult to spot sometimes, due to their granulated surface, so it generally will take the eye of a professional to find and assess minor issues on your roof that you'd like to address before they become major.
Whether you're moving, assessing what you already have, or considering investment properties, be sure to keep in mind not just the inside of the home, but what's on top as well, since different roof systems can have a huge impact on your future utility costs and home repair bills.
Additionally, always get a free estimate from roofers you trust, like We Roof Philly, so that you can be aware of and get ahead of issues that may cause bigger headaches down the road, no matter if it's for the home you live in now that you'd like to fortify against a rainy summer or an oncoming winter or a recently purchased home you want to anticipate roof repair or replacement costs for in the coming years. Knowing what you've got--and learning about current or possible future issues from experts--is the first step in not being surprised by costly repairs and replacements in the future.