Roofing

Roofing Buying Guide
Roofing Buying Guide
Roofing 101: We’ve Got You Covered

You can put off some home repairs indefinitely, but a leaky roof isn't one of them. Cracked, curled, or missing roof shingles demand immediate attention; if neglected, they can lead to severe water (and savings-account) damage.

At Consumer Reports, our past tests show that performance and longevity vary widely among roofing types and brands. Although we don’t currently test roofing materials, here’s a list of things to keep in mind when shopping for a new roof.

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Fiddling With Your Roof—What You Need to Know

Before you risk life and limb on a ladder, we recommend you stay at ground level and use binoculars to spot cracked, curled, or missing shingles—often signs that your roof is in need of repair or replacement.

In addition to examining the shingles, make sure to check the flashing around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys, as well as the rubber boots around vents for cracks.

If you have an existing leak, or suspect you need a new roof, we strongly recommend consulting a professional roofing contractor. They are trained to assess damage and make recommendations on materials, and they’re equipped with proper safety gear.

Here is an illustrated guide to the layers of a shingled roof, with corresponding roofing terminology.  

Illustration of a roof cross section with identifying names of roofing terms.
Illustration: Chris Philpot
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Required Reading for Roofing

Layering Twice is Not so Nice
If you need a new roof, and two layers of roofing are already in place, building codes require stripping the roofing down to the sheathing. Most homes are strong enough to support two layers of roofing, but installing some of the heavier laminated shingles over even a single layer may overstress rafters and other structural parts of your home. If you are considering doubling up, check the manufacturer's warranty of the new roofing material to make sure it covers that type of usage.

Another important reason to consider complete removal before re-roofing is to have your roofer check for rot, water damage, or insect infestation underneath. Figure on an extra $100 per 100 square feet to strip off and dispose of the old shingles.

Whenever a new roof is installed—or if old shingles are being removed—you'll need new underlayment (roofing felt) to create a moisture barrier between the roofing and the wood sheathing and rafters underneath. The sheathing may also have to be replaced if it's damaged.

Estimating Costs
Suppliers sell roofing by the square, or 100-square-foot area. To estimate how much roofing you'll need, multiply the overall length and width of each roof section in feet to measure its area and add 10 percent to allow for waste. Then divide by 100 to determine how many squares you'll need. Figure on about 30 squares for a typical 2,300-square-foot house, plus roughly $3,500 to $10,000 for labor. Keep an extra bundle of shingles for minor repairs, like after a heavy storm.

Watch the Warranty
A full warranty covers replacement of defective materials, while a materials warranty offers prorated coverage. Most warranties include full reimbursement for materials and installation for a limited time—up to 10 years for asphalt shingles and 50 years for fake slate and steel roofing we've seen. Generally, none of the warranties cover damage from winds above 85 mph. Nor do they cover faulty installation; ask for a separate labor warranty from the installer. Save all receipts and invoices.

First Rate Fire Rating
Look for roofing with the highest fire rating, Class A.

The Solar Factor
If you're considering going solar and also replacing your roof, it would be best to have them installed at the same time. Ideally, a structural engineer as well as a roofer should assess the roof’s condition, including how much weight it can handle. Before installing a rooftop solar system, contact the roofing products’ manufacturer for written approval of the solar installation to ensure the roofing warranty will not be voided. Also, the fire classifications for the roof assembly and the solar system should be the same.

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Types of Roofing

When considering what type of roofing to install, weigh aesthetics against cost. Roofing materials come in varying grades and corresponding prices. Look at the full product range and make a choice based on your budget and needs. For example, you could spend $30,000 for real slate or wood shakes—or get a similar look for much less. Here are the types of roofing to consider.

Photo of asphalt roofing shingles.

Asphalt Roofing Shingles

The most popular by far, asphalt shingles are made of fiberglass sandwiched between asphalt and ceramic granules. Relatively light and easy to install, they are a good choice if you're looking for style at a budget price. They may last 30 years or more but can be vulnerable to high winds. Asphalt roofing comes in two types. Laminated shingles, also known as "architectural" or "dimensional" shingles, are layered, and their thickness and depth make them look more like slate or wood shakes. Three-tab asphalt shingles, though similarly priced, are made in a single layer. They're flatter and thinner than laminated shingles and didn't perform as well in past tests. What's more, falling prices for laminated shingles are helping them grab more and more of the market.
 

Photo of fake slate roofing shingles.

Fake Slate Roofing Shingles

This composite material looks like the real thing, even close up. And it weighs about the same as asphalt, so there's no need to beef up the roof structure. Made of a variety of compositions, including plastic/polymer, clay, rubber or asphalt, fake slate is slipperier than real slate. (If you live in a snowy climate, consider installing snow guards as well.) Some fake slate may crack under impact or may fade. And it is relatively costly, though not nearly as expensive as slate.

Photo of metal roofing.

Metal Roofing

Metal roofing comes in steel, aluminum, copper, and alloy strips, and in various shapes and textures. Copper is especially expensive. Over time, its surface acquires a greenish patina that some people find attractive. Advantages of metal include easy installation and it's ultra-lightweight, about half the weight of asphalt. And of course metal roofing doesn't burn. But it can be noisy in a rainstorm. Although the steel strips we tested dented easily, their textured surface hid minor damage quite well. Such roofing effectively reflects the sun's rays, so it keeps your home cooler in summer—a benefit in hot climates. Make sure you hire a contractor who is familiar with the material.
 

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Looking for a Roofer?

Installing a new roof is a big job, and you may not want to tackle it yourself. You can find a qualified pro to help at Porch.com. What's Porch? The site connects you with local contractors to help with maintenance or remodeling projects, making home improvement that much easier. 

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