Cost, simplicity, wide variety of styles keep shingles on top in roofing materials
Slate, copper or metal roofs are dramatic and sustainable, but asphalt or fiberglass shingles still seem to be what architect Lee Calisti calls the “go-to” materials in home building.
There are many practical reasons for the popularity of shingles — from cost to the availability of contractors who can do the job.
Shingle makers also have managed to keep the popularity alive by coming out with colors and styles that can give roofs new looks.
Sue Burkett, marketing leader for Ohio-based Owens Corning roofing and asphalt, says the company makes some colors aimed at popularity in certain regions, such as a terra cotta-like tone for Florida.
In addition, there are some weighty matters that keep asphalt and fiberglass on top.
Al Lambert, owner of 3 Rivers Roofing from McMurray, Washington County, says slate or tile roofs are so heavy that many newer homes could not bear the strain. He says the trusses of most contemporary homes are not strong enough and generally are spaced too broadly to handle slate or tile.
Tom Bollnow, research director of the Illinois-based National Roofing Contractors Association, says trusses could be added, but the expense of that project would be impractical. He says the stress on walls could move the load-bearing issue beyond the addition of trusses.
In some ways, it almost becomes a cultural issue, says Calisti, who says it is “rare” any of his clients ask for roofs other than shingle. They are simply used to them, he says.
The Greensburg businessman mentions older communities in Italy or central European where red tile is so widely used it defines the look of the areas.
“I imagine if you took an overall look at modern America, the shingle roof would be as dominant, but it doesn't have an ounce of character or charm the others do,” he says.
A practical kind of job
Cost — actually a variety of costs — emerges as a huge issue.
Lambert says the difference between doing a shingle roof and a slate roof is a “like going from a Volkswagen to a Mercedes.” He says a square (100 square feet) of shingles costs about $150, but that amount of slate is about $1,100.
Israel Lawrence, assistant manager of the Home Depot in Ohio Township, says the cost of a slate-tile-metal job easily will be four to five times the cost of a shingle roof.
He says faux-slate products still can cost three times what a shingle job will cost.
Those differences alone are enough to make many homeowners stay away from a non-shingle job, he says. But some upscale options in shingles have become so reasonable that it would be difficult to go other directions.
“Architectural shingles” provide more colors and styles to a roofing job and have become tempting in cost, Lawrence says. The Home Depot catalog says a square of architectural shingles costs about $12 more than one of the traditional roof covering.
Burkett says Owens Corning saw a market-driven need to produce a “designer line” in 2009, which could provide a more customized look. She says a younger clientele has sparked the market for color, to make homes more individual — and even get away from the red-tile-uniformity that Calisti mentioned.
The relative simplicity of the roofing work also is attractive, says Bollnow of the roofers association. A slate-tile-metal job requires a roofer experienced in working with those materials, while a shingle roof can be done by a reputable general contractor.
Architect Calisti agrees, adding: “I am a bit handy, and I think I could do a roof if I had to.”
Durability a selling point
But owners of houses designed for heavier roofs never stray from them, says Lambert of 3 Rivers Roofing. He says he now focuses on such jobs because there are communities filled with them, such as parts of Mt. Lebanon, Squirrel Hill, Upper St. Clair and Point Breeze.
He and Bollnow agree those homeowners seldom have to change from higher-quality roofs because they seldom need to be replaced.
“A slate roof probably will last two to three times an asphalt roof,” he says.
That creates a “sustainability” of less waste, he says. Used slate also can be melted for road-repair projects.
Such durability creates its own issue, Calisti says.
Most homebuilding is done in the most practical, cost-efficient way possible, he says, which would shy away from building a home capable of holding a heavy, expensive roof — not to mention the installation cost.
After all, he says, most owners don't want to provide something for a total stranger.
“Nobody wants to put a great roof on a house that someone else is going to enjoy,” he says.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.