Roofing options abound. Choose what best suits your location, budget, and house style.

By Michael Haigley
October 17, 2003
Brian Vanden Brink

After more than 30 years, I've nailed on so many shingle roofs Ismell cedar in my sleep. Wood's a traditional favorite, but goodalternatives exist.

Where wood works best
Architects and developers appreciate the look so identifiedwith beloved beach cottages. And under the right conditions, woodroofs can provide 30 years of maintenance-free wear, plus they staymore secure than most other products when big winds blow.Disadvantages include cost (60 to 100 percent more than asphalt)and the expertise required to nail them properly. Theoretically,cedar shingles work everywhere, even in subtropical Florida wherethe sun may curl them like potato chips. But don't risk this choiceif your pitch isn't steep enugh to prevent water from collectingand seeping. And don't use it in a region where it isn'tcommonplace or your home may become a learning lab for aspiringshinglers.

The asphalt choice
Cheaper and easier to install, asphalt shingles come insheets scored to resemble three side-by-side shingles. They'renailed so 10 inches of each sheet overlap the sheetbelow―just like cedar shingles, which overlap about 13inches. Ideally, heat buildup helps the asphalt layers adhere toeach other and operate as one big shingle. You'll find endlesscolor and style options, but make sure all your shingles are fromthe same factory run. (There can be variations, even with the samecolor code.) Production roofers can whip these roofs on fast, butmy crews take time to storm-nail the shingle sections. That meansusing six nails instead of the usual four for each 3-foot section.I've seen asphalt shingles that weren't storm-nailed blow off likea deck of cards.

The metal option.
If installed correctly, metal roofs should outlast mosteverything else. But the roofer needs to know a thing or two aboutmetal fabrication as well as carpentry. And be prepared to spend;materials alone may equal the cost of a completely installed woodroof. However, it's a good choice for a flat or nearly flat roofbecause pooling water is less likely to penetrate the metal. And ifyou're building in the hottest zones of the country, metal'sreflective properties may save you enough in utilities to justifythe extra outlay.