An ode to old house metal roofs

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, In The News

One of my fondest memories of growing up remains the sound of rain falling on a metal roof. I fell asleep to the muted symphony on many an evening during my childhood years. There was always comfort in the knowledge that I was snug in my warm bed and protected from the storm. Fortunately the calming sound isn't just a distant memory -- I have a metal roof on my grown-up home as well.

So what is it about a metal roof that has made them so popular with homeowners over the years? Surely it isn't just the sound effects. Actually, with proper maintenance, metal roofing can be extremely durable.

old house with metal roofMy parents' old house was built in the early 1800s and the original standing seam roof is doing just fine. Other than a fresh coat of paint every half dozen years, it hasn't required any upkeep. The roof was installed on my old house around 1925 and after living here for 22 years; I have yet to see a leak.

Virginia is for metal roof lovers

I suppose it only makes sense that Virginia has numerous old houses adorned with metal panels as Thomas Jefferson was an early proponent of the roofing material. According to Monticello.org, Jefferson had a fascination with architecture and decided that tin shingles were the ideal material for his complicated roof systems. When unsatisfied with the wood shingles on some of the lower pitched sections of Monticello's roof, Jefferson directed his builder to install sheet metal.

Metal roofing without the maintenance

pre-finished red metal roof

There's been a trend in recent years of old house owners removing the metal on their roofs and replacing it with asphalt shingles. I assume this is because of two issues: cost and maintenance.

Painting metal roofing isn't much fun -- especially if you have a Victorian home with steep pitches and numerous roof planes. Fortunately, many modern manufacturers offer steel and aluminum roofing panels in a multitude of prefinished colors. Atas International's Dutch seam steel panels, which are very similar to the old-time standing seam, are available in 33 hues that are designed to resist fading.

There's no arguing that metal can be more expensive to install than shingles, but when you figure that the material can last as long as the house, the costs really aren't that different. Standard asphalt shingles cost about $170 per square to purchase and install and should last about 30 years. Steel panels in a prefinished color can be put on your roof for about $400 a square and might never need to be replaced with proper care. These numbers are from the R.S. Means Repair & Remodeling Cost Data guidebook and may vary in your area.

I myself admit to a bias as there's nothing quite like falling asleep on a cold, rainy night while listening to the symphony on my metal roof.