Most buyers don’t ask many questions about the roof that will be over their heads when they move into their newly built home.
That’s probably not a problem because the roofs on today’s production homes from larger-volume builders are fairly standard, says Tom Bollnow, senior director of technical services at the National Roofing Contractors Association, a trade organization in Chicago.
Still, buyers should know the basics and be aware of their options if they want to upgrade their roof or purchase a custom-built house.
The most common type of roofing material used for new homes today is asphalt shingles, which are used roughly 70 percent the time — or more, Bollnow says.
The main attraction is “one simple word: cost,” Bollnow explains. That doesn’t mean the choice is cheap, however. Asphalt shingles “are very good,” he adds. “It’s just that they’re less expensive and a little less eye-appealing.”
Standard asphalt shingles will last 20 to 25 years, while the slightly more costly mid-grade shingles might last a few years longer. How well they wear depends on the climate, weather, debris and other factors such as whether anyone walks on the roof.
Unlike the asphalt shingles of yesteryear, which were made partly of paper, today’s asphalt shingles include fiberglass, which makes them fire-resistant, though not fireproof like slate or tile.
“Fire-resistant doesn’t mean they don’t burn. It just means the spread of the flame is controlled,” Bollnow says.
Another roofing material used for new construction homes is concrete tiles, says Royal Erickson, director of national contracts at Meritage Homes, a national homebuilder based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Concrete tiles are similar in the way they’re made to concrete pavers often used for driveways or walkways. Erickson says these tiles are a “very durable product and they look nice.”
Water can seep underneath, so this type of roof is constructed with a water-proofing membrane as an underlayment to create a barrier against moisture. Concrete tiles also are heavier than asphalt shingles, so the roof system must be sturdy enough to support this type of material.
Concrete tiles may also have a longer lifespan than asphalt shingles.
“A concrete tile roof typically comes with an expectation that it is going to last for the lifetime of the structure,” Erickson says. “As long as that home is standing, the warranty should be in place. With composition shingles, you typically hear of a 15-, 25- or 30-year warranty, which is progressively getting longer. Asphalt and fiberglass can degrade over time, so 20 years into a 25-year warranty, (the manufacturer) may prorate it accordingly.”
Concrete tiles can crack if they are walked on, whereas footsteps are more likely only to smudge asphalt shingles on a hot day.
Buyers of a production home likely won’t have a choice in the materials used to build their roof, though they will have some options for the color. Bollnow says the lack of upgrades shouldn’t cause concern. Only five or six manufacturers make asphalt shingles and, within the same style and grade, their products are equally durable.
Contemporary roof colors generally are lighter than older colors. That’s a big plus for today’s new homebuyers since an older home with a dark-colored roof will attract and trap a lot more heat, a negative for home energy efficiency.
“A tan, white or other lighter colored roof won’t heat up quite to the degree that a black roof would,” Erickson says.
The modern preference for lighter colors doesn’t mean buyers have fewer choices today. In fact, the opposite is true. Manufactures have greatly expanded color palettes for both asphalt shingles and concrete tiles in the last 10 to 15 years.
“Roof tiles used to be just four to six colors and that was all you got,” Erickson says. “Now they create some great blends, different color mixes. You might have 30 or 40 colors, where before you were fairly limited.”
Custom homebuyers have even more options for roofing materials, including slate, ceramic tile or metal for a more modern design. These materials are more costly, but are highly durable and practically fireproof.
Another high-end option is a butterfly roof, which inverts the typical peaked design and instead lifts the edges of the roof above the low point in the middle — like a butterfly’s wings in flight, says Erik Koss, president of Koss Design + Build in Phoenix, Ariz.
A butterfly room allows more light into the home, making it feel more open and spacious than a home with a traditional peaked roof. A butterfly roof also reduces the number of rain runoff points from half a dozen or more on a traditional home to maybe only two on the modern design. A home with a butterfly roof needs fewer rain gutters and downspouts, which aren’t an especially attractive feature of most homes.
A custom-built home’s roof can also have other environmentally green features, albeit at a higher cost. Options include skylights, solar panels and a so-called green roof that doubles as an herb, vegetable or flower garden.
“We like metal roofs because you can clip solar panels to them and you don’t have to poke any holes in the roof,” Koss says. “Whether you’re doing solar electric or solar thermal for hot water, roofs can do a lot for you.
Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, writer and editor in Ventura, California. In the last decade, she has penned more than 1,000 published stories about residential and commercial real estate, banking, credit cards, computer security, health insurance and small business, among other subjects. Editors describe her as “detail-driven,” “conscientious,” “smart” and “incredibly versatile.” Her award-winning reporting has been lauded as “rock solid,” “spot-on relevant,” “informative,” “engaging,” “interesting” and “nuanced.” Her stories have been cited in seven published nonfiction books and two U.S. Congressional hearings.
Prior to her freelance career, Geffner was senior editor of California Real Estate magazine. Later, she became managing editor of Inman.com, an independent real estate news website. She also has prior employment experience in technical writing, corporate communications and employee communications. She received a bachelor’s degree in English with high honors from UCLA and master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. She enjoys reading, home improvement projects and watching seagulls at the beach.