METAL ROOFS: Does This Option Make Sense for Your Home?

Although three quarters of the homes in the country where I live (Canada) have asphalt shingle roofs, metal roofs are getting more popular for solid reasons. Even though metal costs about twice as much as shingles, people are willing to pay more for the long working life that metal promises. Metal is easily recyclable, light in weight, it goes up quickly and creates a completely different look than shingles. So let me show you the basics of metal roofing choice and installation, then you decide if it makes sense for the next (and probably last) roofing job your house will need.

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Factory-finished metal roofing is gaining in popularity and variety. Metal offers some advantages to asphalt shingles, but also some drawbacks.

 Metal Roofing Basics

Roofing metal comes in plain and fancy profiles, with factory-finished colours or just bare, grey metal. You’ll find it in steel versions and aluminum alloy, but either way you can order sheets custom-cut to size for the length of your specific roof as measured from peak to eaves. Each piece of metal is fastened with special screws that have neoprene washers under their heads to keep water out, and a preformed cap sits on top to shed water from the ridge. That’s a roof screw you can see below.

This is a roofing screw. Notice the neoprene washer that seals out rain, and the domed metal cap that keeps the neoprene protected and working.

One unique feature of metal roofing is the option it offers for leveling old roofs that have grown wavy over the years. By shimming with wood strapping more or less during installation, a skilled carpenter can make a wonky roof quite flat once the metal goes on.

DIY Metal Roofing

Metal roofs can be installed directly over nothing but wood strapping. Screws are always located in holes you predrill along the ridges of the roofing.

Are you planning to install metal roofing yourself ? One trick of the trade involves predrilling screw holes in the pile of roofing sheets as they come off the truck, making it easier to drive screws later on.

You’ll also find that a small pair of vise grip locking pliers offers a safe option for pulling long sheets of metal roofing up one at a time for installation. Adjust the jaws so they grip the thickness of one sheet firmly, with a length of cord tied to one end of the pliers. Have someone on the ground clip the pliers to one sheet, then lift the end up to the eaves. The person at the top can then pull the sheet up single-handedly with the cord, locking it down with a few screws at the top of the roof before the rest of the sheet gets anchored permanently in those predrilled screw holes.

Cutting metal roofing to fit valleys and other design details is harder than working with shingles.

On anything more than a basic roof you’ll have to cut sheets on angles where they meet valleys and angled peaks, and you’ve got two options to make this happen. Manual snips are only practical for small cuts, but a cordless circular saw with a carbide blade works surprisingly well for long, straight cuts. Just be sure to wear safety glasses and hearing protection. The process is loud.

If you’re building a workshop or utility building that calls for tough interior wall surfaces, metal roofing works much better than drywall. It goes up fast, there are no joints to finish, and there’s no painting because the material is factory finished. Metal walls are also highly fire resistant and much less likely than drywall to get scratched or damaged.

 Metal Roofing Drawbacks

Nothing in this world is perfect, and this applies to metal roofing, too. If your budget doesn’t allow for custom shimming of a wavy old roof, then stay away from metal. It needs quite a flat roof surface for proper installation. You should also check out manufacturer warranties on finish life, too. There’s not much point in having a lifetime roof if the finish is ugly and faded after 15 or 20 years. Aging metal roofs can be repainted, but it will never be as good as a long-lasting, factory finish. I can’t recall seeing a single metal roof that didn’t look terrible after 25  years or less, so finish warranty is crucial.

Got a lot of long, steep valleys and complications on your roof? Dealing with things like this is much easier with asphalt shingles. That said, attractive profiles, great colours and long-lasting performance are the reasons more people are choosing metal roofing, and in many ways it’s easy to see why it all makes sense.

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– Steve Maxwell