Things to Consider Before You Replace That Old Roof

A damaged roof.

One of the most important investments that a homeowner can make is the purchase of a new roof. Whether you are planning to sell or simply beautify your home, an old roof is not only an eyesore, it can actually lower the value of your home. And an old roof spells trouble the longer you put off the initial investment. You can become plagued with leaks, which will need patching, and who wants a house with a patchwork roof? You may have "curb appeal" with your landscaping, a lovely facade, and a magnificent entry, but you cannot disguise an old, shabby roof. Perhaps it is time to plan for a new one.

Remember that building codes may dictate the type of roofing material you can use. If you live in a historic district, you may be limited to the original roofing material used when the house was built. If you live in a planned community, you may be limited to a material that matches the other houses in your development. Make certain that you choose a reputable roofer who follows building code requirements, or it could cost you dearly in the future. Here are a few things to consider before you replace your old roof.



Asphalt roofing is a remarkably versatile material. It is also the most approved, architecturally, in all regions, unless there are historical restrictions. Asphalt comes in a wide variety of styles and colors. When completed, your house will have a beautifully finished look. Asphalt is also the least expensive of all roofing materials; yet it is lovely and can make your home distinctive from your neighbors.


Slate was the roofing material of choice in the early days of our country. It is still the roofing choice in many historical districts, especially near the east coast where the stone is quarried. Slate is expensive, heavy, and easily broken, which requires complete replacement. It is not considered a good choice for the suburban home since there are so many composites available that can give you the look without the high cost.

Wood Shakes

Wood shakes and shingle roofing have been around for generations. The most reliable wood choice is cedar. Often used on historical homes, they have become recently popular in new home developments that mimic historical styles. Wood shakes can give your home a warm rustic look, and it is a natural insulator from heat and cold.

Clay Tile

Clay tile roofs are especially popular in the southwest, where mission-style adobe houses are all the rage. Clay tile roofs are also featured in Spanish and Italian designs. They can leak rather easily, therefore they are often reserved for regions where little rain falls.


Metal is a very popular choice in all areas, especially on Victorian-style new homes and farmhouses. They are also popular in some contemporary home designs. Metal roofs come in a variety of ornate styles, and they give a home a distinctive look. They easily blend into any neighborhood. Metal is strong, and gives protection from rain and winds. Standing-seam steel is one of the most popular metal roofing options, and it can be painted any color.

Fiber Cement

Fiber cement is a newer roofing choice. It is strong and durable, and it comes in a variety of textures and colors. It is an excellent choice for seaside homes, where building materials need to hold up to salt air and heavy winds. It is also recommended for hot, humid climates; however it is very heavy and difficult to repair.

Pros and Cons

Asphalt, wood, and metal roofing materials are easy to install, are lightweight, and are much easier to repair. Wood, however, must be laid over open planks, and wood can disintegrate over time. Unless stained to the desired color, cedar will fade to a rather dull gray. Clay, slate, and fiber cement, on the other hand, are very heavy, requiring reinforced supports. They are not easy to install, they break easily, and they are devilishly difficult to repair.

How Long Will the Roof Last?

A new asphalt roof will last up to 25 years. Cedar shingles have a similar lifespan. Wood shakes can last longer, from 25 to 75 years. Steel roofing should last 20 to 50 years and often comes with a lifetime guarantee. Clay and slate can last for 50 to 100 years. However, remember the necessity of frequent repairs, and the ease or difficulty with which those repairs can be made. Asphalt may not last forever, but it is fairly easy to repair. And a tin roof, properly maintained, will last over 100 years.

Cost per 100 Square Feet

Asphalt shingles are the least expensive, at $25 to $30 per 100 square feet, with installation at a rate of $36. Wood shakes or shingles cost $100 to $165, with installation at a good $75. Clay tile is $300 or more, and the installation cost is easily $140. Standing-seam steel roofing is expensive at $250 to $275 for materials and $105 for labor, per 100 square feet. Slate, the most expensive, can run you up to $550 per 100 square feet, and a pricey $145 for installation. You would be wise to consider the frequency of repair if a shingle should break. Also consider your region. If you experience ground shifts or earthquakes, you might want to choose a material that is more resilient, or if you have lots of rain, you'll want to go with the material least likely to leak.

Getting Estimates

Always get no fewer than three estimates from three different contractors. More is preferable. Always use a licensed contractor, and insist on references. Get everything in writing. Spell it out, in detail. Do not use a contractor who offers you a "good deal" and who has no track record. Do a background check, and check around for satisfied customers. A reputable contractor will gladly give you a list of customers who will joyfully brag about his or her work. That's how reputations grow.

Do not pay in advance if you can at all avoid it. If you must pay ahead, hold something back, at least 5% minimum. The contractor is not your friend. He or she is in business to make money, and you must always be pleasant, yet firmly, in charge.

Use wisdom and do your research. This is one of the most expensive home improvements that you will ever make, outside of building on a new addition. With planning and a lot of information, this can also be one of your best investments. Remember it's your money, so be sure to make every dollar count.