Talk to me about roofing!

When we bought our house 1.5 years ago, we did so knowing that the roof didn’t likely have more than a few years of life left–and the weather has not been kind to it since. We lost a few asphalt shingles over the past few months, and beyond that there is visible buckling in several areas. There are no leaks that I’m aware of (at least, not yet), but it would seem to be very likely that we’ll be needing a new roof installed. With that in mind, I’d love to educate myself further on roofing materials, process and other considerations before I start getting bids from contractors.

A few particulars about this house:
[li]It’s a 1915 colonial style two-family in a Boston suburb with a detached garage[/li][li]Current roof is grey asphalt shingle, about 25 years old. Roof pitch is somewhere around 40-45 deg.[/li][li]The 3rd floor “attic” space has been converted into the master bedroom and nursery, so no traditional attic as such. There is a small space directly under the ridge line that does have ridge vents.[/li][/ul]

So… where to start? I’m interested in improving the overall energy efficiency of the house, and I imagine that there has been improvement in that realm over the past 25 years, but it’s all new to me anyway. Materials to consider? How big an impact will color have? Because our bedroom is in former attic space, I’d probably be inclined to err on the side of keeping the house cooler in summer rather than warmer in winter (it’s far easier to warm that space up than to cool it down)–but given the New England climate is that a bad tradeoff energy-wise? I believe the attic was converted to bedrooms after the current roof was installed, so are there other insulating barriers between the plywood and shingles that should be considered when the roof isn’t above traditional attic space? For that matter, is that plywood layer (it is plywood under the shingles, right?) something that is typically–or should possibly in this case be–replaced?

And contractors… I know I want to be getting multiple estimates for a job of this nature, but what should I be looking for when I’m soliciting bids? Price is a consideration of course, but I’d much rather pay for high quality work with the right materials than take a low bid with shoddy results.

So calling all roofers, past roofers, children of roofers, armchair roofers, fiddlers-on-the-roof with keen observation skills, homeowners who have been through this, homeowners who are thinking about this, homeowners who aren’t thinking about this but hear a dripping in the distance: help me avoid ridgeline regrets, gable grief, shingle sorrow and rafter disaster!

We replaced our roof just last fall. We’re in Minnesota, and our existing roof had some ice dam problems that needed to be addressed. And we have a fairly steep roof line, tho’ I don’t remember the numbers.

We went with a metal roof. I had already been looking at a metal roof as an option, and really liked the idea of it. They definitely are more expensive than your traditional asphalt shingle; expect to pay 3x what a traditional roof replacement would cost. However, that buys you a 50 year warranty, and our expectation is that we’ll never need to reroof again. We also took our roofer’s recommendation to have insulation blown into the eaves of our attic and into a dead space above the stairs, which was awesome - our heating bills this winter were half of what they used to be. (We contracted with a different company for the insulation.)

Our contractor told us that the metal roof can be installed directly on top of the existing roof, shingles and all, but we took the opportunity to take the shingles off instead - gave the roofer a chance to see the deck and determine if any repairs were needed. Turned out, we didn’t need to do anything to the existing plywood deck, so that was good. Because of our ice dam problem, we also installed a ridgeline vent that works in combination with some vents at the eaves - our problem was that our roof didn’t have the proper airflow to keep the whole roof at a constant temperature, causing the thawed spots and the frozen spots and the ice dams.

I’m really happy with our decision. Metal roofs are purported to be more energy efficient as they supposedly absorb the heat in winter and reflect it away in summer, but I can’t say I’ve noticed that (tho’ our energy bills were lower last winter; I attributed this to the blown insulation, but it could’ve been partly due to the roof as well). Snow just slides right off - hearing the avalances can be interesting, and scares the cats. Still, I’d much rather deal with avalanches (and figuring out how to deal with the snow on my front walk and on next to the neighbors!) than have it all up there causing dams. Absolutely no problem with cell phone reception.

As for getting bids, well, there aren’t many roofers in Minneapolis who install metal roofs, so it was mostly a case of “call the two who do and see if you like either of them.” I did pursue about four bids for traditional asphalt roof replacement, and while researching all roofers (metal or not), I searched Yelp, Google, BBB, whatever was out there to see any reviews or issues. (The BBB isn’t as helpful as it could be, probably, but it was a starting point.) Angie’s List might be any option, as well. All that said, you can tell a lot about how comprehensive the roofer is just by their bid - the large all-purpose roofing/construction company gave me a generic, 1-page bid while some of the smaller roofers had multiple page bids with line items and full explanations. The more generic or less-well prepared bids indicated to me that my project would probably be similarly well-attended (or not, as the case might be). You’ll see how this works, as soon as you gather some of your own bids.

Our shingled roof has about 12 more years left in it.

When it comes time to replace the roof, I will seriously consider having a steel roof installed.

i could talk to you but it would be over your head.

one issue with roofs is ice damming. if a snow covered roof heats it will melt snow which will refreeze at the lower edge. you want the roof insulated to keep the roof deck cold. converting attic space to dwelling space can make this difficult. find out how well insulated you are before deciding how to proceed and have have ice dam membranes put on before reroofing.

I’m a child of a roofer, who worked for his Dad’s roofing business for several summers. I know a bit about the products and such.

If money is no object for you, then you’ll want to consider a Decra metal roof (simulates shake or asphalt style roofs, but made of metal). These have absolutely the best insulation factor, great for both winter and summer time. They are also basically fire proof so it will help reduce the combustibility of your home by a huge amount compared to asphalt.

If money is somewhat of an object, then just get it replaced with architectural-style/dimmensional asphalt/composition roofing. I can’t specify any particular brands (because they are probably going to differ widely from coast to coast), but a 35 year is your start point on this type of roof and it will do well.

As far as companies are concerned, I recommend trying to pick a local contractor who has an established business for a few years. Just because.

If you have any more specific questions for me I could always talk to my dad and get his opinions for you as well.

We had a metal roof installed over the existing shingles. The money we saved on a tear-off just about paid for the price differential. One special concern on our part is the extremely shallow grade of our roof, which means asphalt shingles only last about ten years.

My husband installed little plastic triangles at the bottom edges to stop huge pieces of ice from shooting off of it in the winter. Other than that we couldn’t be happier. Our living room is vaulted with no attic space and there is no noise when it rains, if you were concerned about that, what with having bedrooms right under the roof.

Thanks for the responses, everyone. Strong support of metal roofing so far (which wasn’t previously on my radar). Will add that to the research pile!

If this wasn’t in snow country and you had access to the attic this would be much much easier to discuss. I’ll let people in snow country advise you on the best roofing material and techniques to use.

I will address the “buckling”. if your subroof is buckling then you have to fix that. If it’s just a nail or screw that’s popped out from the truss below then you screw it back down. If it’s along the bottom span between 2 sheets then there’s an easy fix for that from the roof side. You take a 1x4 that fits between the span of the trusses and tack a nail or screw in the center of both ends. This is so you can tie some string to it on each end. The string allows you to hold onto the 1x4 while you lift up on one of the pieces of plywood and slide it behind without dropping it. Once you’ve got it behind the plywood You can pull both pieces of string taut and now you have a centered backing that allows you to screw the buckling plywood down and secure it to the adjoining piece.

One factor to consider with a metal roof is that they can be louder than a shingle roof when it rains or hails. Shingles absorb more of the impact than metal does so it’s quieter. This isn’t much of a problem if you have an attic but you might notice the noise if you have bedrooms directly below the roof as you described.

In this case some of that sound should be mitigated because the upstairs is finished which means drywall and insulation. If it’s foam insulation, all the better.

But good point to consider.

Are heavy rains noticeably louder, hitting a metal roof?

I was able to get a security pass to go up atop of the NASA vertical shuttle building in 2001, for a tech project.
NASA really does use that white spray on foam, that hardens, on their roofs. It was starting to become popular on Florida residential roofs around that time.
The folks who tried it seemed to like their decision.
Anyone have the real inside scoop on this technology?

Yet another factor; pets.

I used to open a 2nd story window, and let the cat walk around freely on the lower of 2 roofs. Safe from dog and ticks and fleas.

Not sure how it would like a metal playground. Wasn’t there something years ago, about…drum roll…a cat on a hot tin roof?

Sorry, couldn’t resist

I just found this fact / myth buster report on foam roofing


Foam may be only an option for flat or low slope roofs

Yes, however, the Decra brand metal roofs that simulate asphalt or shake have a special coating on them so their texture is more similar to what they are simulating. They probably aren’t nearly as loud as your standard sheet metal roof.

More SPF foam info

They are now able to spray it on sloped home roofs.

Check this out

It’s also hurricane rated, and Florida folks get an insurance discount with SPF foam

Since you are in a snowy climate, make sure you have ice shield installed. This should extend three feet up the roof from the eave, and will help prevent ice damming.

Regardless of which type of roofing you put on, have the old shingles removed so the roofers can inspect the underlayment for rot. Many roofers will give you an underlayment “allowance”, which means they’ll replace a certain (small) amount free of charge.

Since this is a pitched roof, I’m assuming there is a crawl space (attic) between your ceiling and the roof. Check to see how old the insulation is and whether it is adequate for your climate. I’m thinking roof insulation for Boston should be around R-42. This can be blown in over any existing batt insulation.

Make sure there is adequate ventilation in your attic, either via eave and ridge vents, or gable and ridge vents. You don’t want or need all three. If eave vents are present, make sure they aren’t blocked.

I’m told that white shingles are better for heat reflection. I don’t know if it makes enough difference to bother with. You’re better off with a thermostatically controlled exhaust fan up there to remove excess heat.