Take it from the Top

Men laying new hardwood flooring

You want your house to look its best, inside and out. Since your roof is the cap of your entire exterior, make sure you choose the style that is the right fit for your home. The aesthetic value of the exterior of the house has to mesh with the floor plan of the interior, says architect David Fowler of David C. Fowler Architecture. The roof is an integral part of the overall design. Just rememberthere are aesthetic and functional concerns to keep in mind with whichever roofing material you choose.

Asphalt Shingles

Photo courtesy of Dreamroofs.com

Probably 90 to 95 percent of the roofs in this country are done with asphalt shingles since its the most cost-efficient choice, Fowler says. Composite, or asphalt, shingles can be made of an organic or fiberglass base that is saturated with minerals on one side to prevent excessive wear and tear. Fiberglass shingles are more flexible and stronger than organic shingles, says Perfecto Neri of Perfection Roofing Company.

Asphalt shingles usually can last up to 30 years. The most common problems and maintenance issues occur when installation of the roof does not include adequate ventilation or flashing, Neri says.

Aesthetically, even though they are the standard choice, asphalt shingles dont have to be boring. They come in a huge variety of colors, generally blacks and grays, which can be used individually or together to create an interesting look, and you may even be able to take the design one step further. For a project Im working on right now, Im looking for asphalt shingles with a distinctive cut or shape, Fowler says. My client wanted to combine the cost-efficiency of asphalt with a unique look.

Cedar Shakes

Photo courtesy of Perfection Roofing Company

For a rustic or traditional look, cedar shakes are a good option. Shakes differ from shingles in that they are split from actual wood blocks. They usually do not have a uniform thickness and are sometimes grooved. Cedar shakes combine a traditional look with reliable, modern performance and are also an environmentally friendly option, Neri says.

Shakes can also last up to 30 years and should be pressure-treated to be fire retardant. Also, as on all rooftops, debris can become trapped in seams and valleys, and moss may form, causing decay over time if the wood shakes are not properly treated. Just be sure to check for signs of decay at least once a year.

Because theyre made from wood, just like your deck or furniture, shakes can be painted or stained to create almost any look you desire for your home. The natural red of cedar shingles is great for those seeking a traditional look, but bleaching or applying darker stains can help create a nice contrast with the color of your home.


Photo courtesy of Copper Development Association

If youre willing to spend a little more on your roof, metal, such as aluminum or copper, may be the way to go. Metal roofs are ideal for forested or moss-prone areas, or areas that get a lot of snow, Neri says. They can also lower heating and air conditioning costs, making them a good investment.

Aluminum or steel roofs are generally treated with a Kynar coating to prevent peeling and fading, but their life expectancy is indefinite. Metal roofs will last the longest with the lowest amount of maintenance, Fowler says.

With a metal roof, almost any look is possible. Again, a variety of colors and textures are available, and they can be installed either as shingles, imitating shakes or tiles, or as entire sheets. Copper will start to form a patina fairly quickly, perfect for those looking for an antique look. The one type to avoid is galvanized metal, which will start to rust almost immediately and is generally used only for those wanting a truly rustic look, such as for a mountain cabin.

Concrete Tile

Photo courtesy of Monier Lifetile

One roof type that has been increasing in popularity in recent years is tilespecifically concrete roof tiles. Concrete tiles can emulate the look of slate, shake or terra cotta tiles, but are much more durable, says Whatley Bush of Monier Lifetile. Its also a very well-ventilated roofing system, which helps control heat flux throughout the home.

Like metal roofs, concrete tile roofs have an indefinite life expectancy and require little maintenance aside from cleaning. While other types of tile may break and need replacing, concrete should hold up to the elements. Concrete actually gets stronger with age, because as the cement hydrates over the years, it strengthens itself, Bush says. The main consideration with concrete or other tiles is the weightthe structure of the home must be built to withstand the added load. For this reason, concrete tiles are used primarily on new construction. If youre interested in reroofing your existing home, youll need to call in a structural engineer to see if modifications will be needed.

Design options are endless with concrete tiles. Colors can be mixed and matched, and styles can range from a Spanish-style terra cotta look to a traditional shingled look. Also, the heavy, sturdy appearance of concrete tiles adds drama and elegance to any home.

Perfect Pitch

Photo courtesy of GAF Materials Corporation

One major consideration, especially when planning new construction, is the pitch, or slope, of your roof. It can vary from totally flat to the steep look of an A-frame home, depending on the look youre trying to achieve. With gables, dormers, hips and valleys included, your home can become an architectural masterpiece. Just remember that the outside shape of your home should reflect the interior floor plan.

The pitch can show off your personal style or bring to mind a certain region or culture. Low-pitched or flat roofs go great with Southwestern-style or Spanish-style homes. Homes with a slight- or average-pitched roof are the common look on most 20th-century-style homes, especially ranch homes. Steep pitches add a dramatic look and are often inspired by Gothic or European styles.

The pitch of the roof and materials you choose should be decided upon together, as different materials work better with different slopes. For example, concrete tiles work great on low, shallow roofs due to their weight. Concrete tiles used on steeper pitches will need to be carefully supported, usually with metal brackets. Metal roofing works great with any pitch, and is an especially good choice for low-pitched roofs. Water will run off a low-pitched metal roof much faster than it would off shingles, Fowler says. This helps prevent moisture buildup in roofs, which can foster the growth of moss or mold and cause decay. For this reason, asphalt shingles or cedar shakes are better for medium to steep-pitched roofs.

In the Gutter
Dont forget your roofs most necessary accessory: the gutter. Of course, function is the most important consideration with guttersthey direct water away from your home to prevent damage to the structurebut believe it or not, they can also add something to the appearance of
your home.

Gutter clogs are quickly becoming a thing of the past as more and more companies are offering guards or caps to keep out leaves and debris. While caps can be installed on existing gutters, they can damage your roof if theyre not installed properly, so it may be best to get a whole new system. We can do caps on old systems, but nine times out of 10, people want a full replacement, says Bob Aitken of the Gutter Shutter Co. of Atlanta. They offer aluminum gutter systems in 14 colors, plus a copper system, so finding one to match your home shouldnt be difficult.

Just as with roofs, copper systems will last for years with very little maintenance, and a nice patina will start to form quickly. Aluminum gutters are also built to survive long term. Aluminum cant rust, and while the caulking at the corners will wear away after a while, its simple to repair.

No matter how you decide to top off your home, a sturdy roof and gutters can add elegance to the entire structure while keeping your family safe and comfortable.

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