PATH - A Public Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology

Under One (Good) Roof

You are about to make what is probably the biggest purchase of your lifetime--and then leave it outside. Even if you already own a house but just need a new roof, the information below will give you a better understanding of the various options for your roof. Plus, doing a little homework lets you raise the right questions at the right time with your builder.

Selecting Roofing Materials
Advanced Roofing Practices
Storm Resistance

Selecting Roofing Materials

Because the roof is your first line of defense against the outside elements, it's also the best place to work with those elements. Your roof affects comfort and energy use. A roofing system that heats up too much or doesn't provide the proper shade can overheat a home or heat it unevenly. Go for comfort and durability without sacrificing appearance by selecting a roofing system that is best for your area.

[IMAGE: House with Metal Roof]

Asphalt shingles are the least expensive and most popular option, but not the longest lasting. In most areas, standard asphalt shingles last 15 to 20 years. Premium asphalt shingles are rated for 25 or 30 years and are available at higher prices. If you live in a hurricane or tornado area, consider the new high-wind shingles, which are rated for winds up to 135 mph.

Metal roofs are very popular in the Southwest and are becoming increasingly popular in the West and Midwest. They last 10 to 20 years longer in any climate, are highly energy efficient, and virtually maintenance free, but are almost twice as expensive as standard asphalt shingles. Learn more about Wide Span Metal Roofing.

Wooden shingles are often chosen for their appearance. Yet they cost well over twice the price of asphalt shingles and usually don't last beyond 20 years.

Clay tile roofs are very expensive but last more than 40 years in mild climates. However, they can weather quickly in less moderate climates because freeze/dry cycles are not kind to ceramics.

Consider the color of the roofing material when making your selection. For example, in hot regions, you can save on air conditioning bills and make your home more comfortable with light-colored roofing, which reflects rather than absorbs the sun's heat.

Window overhangs must be correctly sized to allow sunlight into the house during the heating season and shade the windows during the cooling season. Your heating and cooling bills will be lower and your home will be more comfortable.

Insulate your roof properly to save energy and improve comfort. Use the ENERGY STARŪ insulation ratings for best performance. In addition radiant barriers thin, reflective material installed on the underside of the roof, can take another 10 percent off your AC bills in hot climates.

Ask the Builder:

  • Will the overhangs allow direct sunlight into the house in the winter but not in the summer?
  • Which roofing material do you recommend? Why?
  • Will you use ENERGY STAR® insulation levels in my roof and ceiling?
  • Are radiant barriers appropriate for my roof?

Advanced Roofing Practices

In addition to protecting your home, a well-planned roof can allow in comfortable levels of natural light, generate electricity and hot water, and even capture rainwater. If you think you need to extend your eaves or if you want to turn your roof into a living roof, contact a professional engineer to make sure your existing structure can handle it.


Thanks to recent improvements in window design, it's easy to let more natural light in your home through "daylighting." You see it at work in the new generation of skylights (which don't leak like old ones often did) and in clerestories, the vertical windows located high on interior walls. Clerestories "daylight" a home with less direct sunlight and less heat than skylights. Choose ENERGY STARŪ skylight and clerestory windows for substantial energy savings. See PATH's Energy-Efficient Lighting Tech Set for more daylighting information.

[IMAGE: Tubular skylights]

Tubular Skylights are similar to conventional skylights, but they can focus the daylight on a particular area within a room or even toward a lower floor or basement. Tubular Skylights have a roof-mounted light collector that directs sunlight through a metal or plastic tube with a highly reflective interior coating, and then through a fixture into a room. Though they are more expensive than skylights, tubular skylights protect carpets and furniture from direct sunlight's damaging ultraviolet light, and add almost no solar heat gain. Some tubular skylights incorporate electrical lights so the fixture can provide light both day and night.

Ask the Builder:

  • Does our roofing warranty cover leakage around skylights?
  • Where can we strategically add skylights? Clerestories?
  • Are my skylights and clerestories ENERGY STAR® qualified?

Solar Power

The future is now for generating your own electricity. While still relatively expensive, solar panels--or photovoltaics as they are called--can pay for themselves in 15 to 25 years by generating electricity. The approximately $25,000 cost of a 2-kilowatt system, before federal and local tax credits and other incentives, is a lot and 20 years is a long payback period. But how many other parts of your home actually pay for themselves? And it's fun to go out to your electric meter on a sunny day and watch it spin backwards as your electric utility company pays you for power. Plus, if your system is installed with battery storage , you'll be sitting pretty during the next power outage. See PATH's Solar Energy Tech Set for more information.

The Grass is Always Greener, on the Roof

Maybe not, but the "living roof" is a fascinating roofing system: an exotic-looking, lightweight, long-lasting roof covering that replaces conventional roofs with an impervious covering, a soil mixture and a garden of growing plants.

Reducing storm runoff is one of the most important features of living roofs, which act as sponges. Living roofs provide both insulation and cooling to the roof.

Once established, the living roof needs little or no maintenance , according to Fred Oesch of Oesch Environmental Design in Virginia. The plants and soil mixture protect the underlying roof membrane from the natural elements--heat, freezing and thawing, ultraviolet light, hail, and acid rain--better than conventional roofing. "A living roof may even perform best if just left alone," says Oesch. "Allow it to grow, mature, die, and fertilize and reseed itself."

[IMAGE: Living roofs provide both insulation and cooling to the roof and need little or no maintenance.]

Roof plants don't require much water or care: short perennials and succulents, grasses, sword ferns and even woodland strawberries are used. Several nurseries throughout the country specialize in these plants, which are climate-specific.

Reducing storm runoff is one of the most important features of living roofs, which act as sponges. "Rainfall is captured by the soil mixture and vegetation," says Oesch. "A roof with three inches of soil will hold about a half-inch storm event before any water runs off." During larger storms, the excess water is detained or slowed to about one-tenth of what conventional roof runoff would be. This prevents flooding and washouts, and reduces sewage problems that occur when a city's stormwater system overflows.

Storm Resistance

A strong, durable roof is a home's first line of protection against a major storm. Most storm-related damage is caused not by outright structural failure, but by water infiltration. If your home is located in a storm-prone area, consider storm-resistant roofing techniques to keep the roof where you want it.

This article, Under One (Good) Roof, was originally written by PATH for the Fall 2004 edition of Her Home.

Content updated on 4/13/2007

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