Is a Metal Roof Right For You?

Metal roofs, first popularized in the 19th century, have enjoyed a long history in American culture, and are now enjoying a resurgence in home building and restoration due to the growing popularity of both industrial and farmhouse styles. Tin roofs were commonly used for homes and barns in the south and are still fairly common in states like Ohio, but these have been replaced by milled steel and more modern materials.

Modern metal roofing comes in several gauges and a variety of finishes and styles to complement your house and yard. Exposed and hidden fastener roofs are available with seamless standing (hidden) being a favorite among architects. Seamed roofs require visible grommet screws , whereas the seamless-style roofs involve a different type of concealed-fasterner installation. Standing seamless roofs generally have more robust trim.

Traditionally, metal roofs consisted of vertically oriented panels with vertical seams. Modern technology had yielded an abundance of other profiles, many mimicking other roofing types. Read on for more information.

Metal Roof Finishes

Early American metal roofs were often painted for preservation and new roofing improves upon that with durable powder-coated and other advanced finishes. A range of metallic finishes are available to mimic metals such as copper and galvanized metal. A “traditional” red oxide complements barns and imparts a rustic look to older buildings or even newer homes. Imagine a square schoolhouse with a stark barn red roof. Grays, blues and certain greens are also manufactured with hunter-type greens pairing well with cabins and other rustic homes. If you like old-fashioned, galvanized roofing, there is a zinc and aluminum-impregnated panel called galvalume that offers great longevity and an attractive sheen. Note that galvalume is a different process than painting and usually has a slightly different warranty. While traditional shingles only come in subdued colors, painted metal finishes are available in vivid primary and secondary colors, making them ideal for the modern and adventurous. These tough finishes generally come with a warranty that ranges from 25-40 years. Ask your contractor for samples or order some online from manufacturers.

Metal Roof Profiles

There are a lot of profiles available for metal roofs from more architectural, flat-ribbed modern types to more classic, simple rib styles like those found on barns (and in the old rural South). If you can get a contractor to bring larger samples and see them on top of your roof, it becomes much easier for you to visualize your roof job. It’s possible that a modern standing seam roof will make a nice contrast to an older farm or that a more traditional style will add some excitement to a newer home. Don’t be afraid to get experimental.

Along with vertically-oriented roofs, shake, tile and shingle-style metal roofs are gaining popularity in the construction field. Clay tile roofs are difficult to replace, and modern roofing materials are frequently being used on historic buildings (where historic preservation is not an issue). These metal styles are also useful for additions as they can provide contrast to other building materials for a melding of styles or postmodern appearance. Metal roofing materials are, in fact, candy for architects and other designers as they search for new architectural expressions.

Metal roofing isn’t limited to interiors either. You’ll find them used creatively in home (and business) interiors as ceilings (check the indoor rating), as partial walls, and for components of industrial-style furniture.

Metal Roof Lifespan

One of the big advantages of a metal roof is that it has a much greater life expectancy than a shingle roof. The metal itself can last 50-100 yearsway beyond any asphalt shingle (with a 10-15-year average life expectancy). However, the paint finishes are rated for fewer years (30-45—still a great warranty) and you may decide you have to repaint your roof after 30 or 40 years. If that is the case, there are good paints available for painting metal, as well as technicians who know how to prep and paint it. That said, metal will still outlast any asphalt shingle.

Metal Roof Cost

Metal roofs generally cost more than shingle ones, however, the long-term value, as stated above is much greater, making the overall expense less. Also, the cost of a metal roof varies from state to state. Generally, there are more contractors skilled in metal roof installation in states such as Ohio where they are more common. Be sure to get multiple quotes if you are considering a metal roof.

Screwed roofs are less expensive than standing seam but, as previously mentioned, may mean you need to have it inspected for loose fasteners on occasion. The cost for roofs varies so much, that you will really need to get estimates from local contractors to determine if a metal roof is right for you.

Standing Seam Roofs vs. Screw-Fastened Metal

Standing seam roofing generally has prominent ribs and interlocking, hidden-clip-fastened seams and the fastening system and trim are completely different than those of the screw-in type (the latter found commonly on barns). There are reasons you might choose one or the other, however. Obviously, if you want clean lines with no exposed fasteners, standing seam is for you. Standing seam roofs tend to show imperfections and may appear wavy or reflect light that accentuates those imperfections, or even waviness in the roofing itself. An old roof with a lot of sagging will highlight this aspect. Corrugated roofing or most visible-screw types of roofing may better conceal imperfections. The gauge of the metal also impacts how well the roofing conceals the underlying structure.

If you are looking for a more industrial look, you might appreciate the exposed fasteners on the screw-fastened sheets. Exposed screw roofs are generally less costly than standing seam but when installed properly, both are good options for your home.

Gauge Thickness

Metal roofs come in several gauges, 29, 26 and 24, with the higher numbers being the thinnest material, and the lowest number being the most durable. Make sure you know the recommendations for residential applications before signing a contract with a roofer. 29 gauge may be used for most residential applications, but for severe weather areas, 24 might be better. Some professionals recommend 26 gauge for homes and 29 for barns and other outbuildings. There may be local code requirements as well. One way that a contractor might cut corners is by using a really thin-gauge metal on your home.

Advantages of Metal Roofing over Shingles

The most practical advantage is that you likely will not have to replace a metal roof in your lifetime, provided you are happy with the color and paint. If you tire of it, you, of course, can have it painted, which shouldn’t be a huge expense. Shingles, on the other hand, need replacing every 15 years or so. Even the newer dimensional shingles are still going to require replacing and maintenance. Most people with asphalt shingles have, at one time or another, had them blow off in a storm.

A metal roof can occasionally suffer from storm damage in hail or really high winds, but not to the same extent as asphalt shingles. Some insurance companies even give you a break if you install a metal roof (this is not likely in coastal areas, however).

Chalking and fading may be an issue for metal roofs down the road. However, there are government standards for acceptable fade amounts which can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website. This refers back to the issue of painting.

Metal roofs are faster to install, depending on the skill of contractor. Need a roof fast? Do you have severe storm damage? Metal might for you then, provided it appeals to you aesthetically and you can find skilled tradespeople in your area.

Metal roofs are much lighter than shingles, meaning less stress on the roofing structure (and the workers). If you are building from scratch, or using for a garage or shed, the requirement for supports may be reduced. Check your local building codes for more information.

As previously mentioned, metal roofs are more cost effective than shingle ones in the long term, given the lower life expectancy of shingled roofs. The best way to calculate cost effectiveness is to get some actual quotes from roofers with the knowledge that many roofers will try to talk you out of a metal roof for the simple reason they don’t know how to install them. It is a specialty skill and, depending on your location, there may not be many installers.

For many homeowners, some of the decision will boil down to aesthetics. People tend to either really like or really hate the appearance. Be sure to ask yourself the following:

  • Will I love this roof and its color in 20 years?
  • Will I keep this home or sell it?
  • Does the subdivision authority permit metal roofs?
  • Are there any other governing bodies or local codes I need to be aware of before installing?

One of the biggest concerns you read about metal roofs is if they are noisy. People might claim the pinging keeps them awake. Conversely, some describe the noise as romantic. Installed over roofing underlayment (plywood), a metal roof is not going to have the same acoustics as, say, a barn with no underlayment, which can be extremely loud when it rains. If this is a concern, you can request a thin layer of foam insulation placed over the existing roof (and beneath the metal roof panels), as it dampens the sound. Foam insulation will also reduce the imperfections that might show through the roof (especially on standing seam, non-corrugated roofing). Ask your metal roofing contractor for the contact information of some existing customers, who can better answer the noise question, as it is commonplace for asphalt roofers to exploit this claim (to secure shingle sales).

A huge advantage to metal roofs, and one that you seldom see referenced online, is how well they hold up to snow. While standing snow on asphalt can cause damage and leaking (thus the need for roof snow rakes), metal roof owners will be pleased when, as the sun heats the roof up, they hear the whoosh of a small avalanche as the snow slides off the house onto the ground. Of course, you’ll probably want to remove this snow from around your foundation, but it beats having to rake it off.

Because metal isn’t combustible, many metal roofs have a really high fire rating (class A). Of course, the materials used beneath the roof also impact the rating. For instance, if you didn’t tear off the asphalt shingles before installing the metal, they would be included in your combined fire rating.

Metal, unlike wood or asphalt shingles, is resistant to mold, rotting and insect infestations. As long as it’s properly installed, it should last as long as your house. A variety of paint finishes are available, from subdued neutrals, to metallic copper, to bright primary colored paints, making it versatile for both historic and modern homes. The long-term cost beats most other roofing materials, making it a good roof for the long-term home owner. If you buy a metal roof, buy it because you love it, as you are the one who is going to be enjoying it each time you pull in your driveway or spend time outside.

For roofing quotes, please go to our free quotes tool for easy access to multiple contractors in your area.


*All photos courtesy of courtesy of Classic Metal Roofing Systems.

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