4 choices for old house roofs

John Morell

Roofs on old houses play a critical role. If your roof has been designed well and is in good shape, it should keep your home dry and safe for years to come. But if it is starting to deteriorate and doesn't drain well, you may begin having some very expensive repairs all around the house.

If it's apparent that you're going to need to invest in a new roof, it pays to look at all of your options and see what material best fits your house and budget. Here's a quick guide to four of the most popular roofing surfaces:

1. Composites -- The most common type of shingles and the least expensive. Made of asphalt and fiberglass, composites come in a variety of shades and thicknesses. Some people used to consider composite and asphalt roofs cheap. But while they remain relatively inexpensive, a number of manufacturers have introduced high-end composite shingles that mimic the look of wood shake and slate roofs and have interesting geometric designs. Advancements in technology have even allowed manufacturers to offer a lifetime warranty, as on GAF's Timberline composites.

2. Shakes and fakes -- A beautiful wood shake roof ages gracefully and adds character to an old home, at least until it becomes so old that wood begins to rot and leaks start draining into the bedrooms below. True wood shakes have lost favor during the past few decades because as they age, wood roofs dry and become greater fire hazards. Insurance companies may give homeowners a discount if they replace their wood shake roofs with materials that are more fire resistant.

Manufacturers have created "fake shake" roofs made of cement, plastics and composites. The faux cedar shakes by Enviroshake are made of 95 percent recycled materials. These products generally have much longer warranties than the natural shakes and they retain their color and shape in all kinds of weather. However, for products that are more cement based, a roof may have to be reinforced in order to hold up the extra weight.

3. Slate -- If you really want a roof that will outlast you and your budget is pretty high, this is the material to consider. The National Parks Service has reported that some slate roofs on historic structures have lasted more than 200 years. Of course, you're paying for that quality. Slate tile over 2,000 square-feet of roof can cost over $80,000. If you like the look of slate but the price makes you faint, consider fake slate, which is made of cement tile and is available for less than half the cost of the real thing.

4. Metal -- Like slate, another old fashioned roofing material, metal roofs last for years and over time develop a beautiful natural patina. Metal is also fairly effective at keeping a house dry and is available in a wide array of colors and shapes so it mimics the look of wood shake and fine slate roofing. However, this is another expensive option and you should shop around carefully both for your contractor and for the product.

If you need more information, take at look at the homes in your neighborhood that match yours in age to see what kind of roofing the owners have used. This will help you keep your home up to the community standard, which is important down the road when you're figuring out your home's value.

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