It’s a part of the house that doesn’t get a lot of attention - until it doesn’t work. And when it doesn’t, the results can be expensive.
Most homeowners, as well as new-home buyers, don’t spend a great deal of time fussing over the roof. It’s much more fun to play with carpet swatches and tile textures than asphalt shingles. And there usually isn’t much of a selection to pick from: The most popular shingles come in varying shades of black or brown and are often pre-selected by the builder to match the home’s color scheme. But a roof can be one of the most expensive, as well as key, components of any structure.
“Putting on a roof costs much more than it used to,” said Robert Berry, owner of DeKalb Roofing, a 40-year-old company he took over from his father 15 years ago. “It has always been a major cost, but now it’s tremendous, mostly because of the material. Shingles are a petroleum product, and they’ve gone up just like gasoline. So we see more people putting off replacing their roofs and just doing repairs, even if the roof really needs to be replaced.”
A typical asphalt roof can cost between $5,000 and $7,000, but that’s just a ballpark. Size and pitch play a big part in establishing the final price.
“A lot of roofs we do today are closer to $12,000 or $14,000,” said Berry. “The size is the first consideration, but pitch also affects it. If it’s so steep you can’t walk on it and we need to put up scaffolding, that increases the cost of labor. Another factor is how many layers are on the roof. It used to be common practice to put a new roof on top of an old roof, and that just isn’t done much anymore. In some cases, if the wood is rotted and there’s a lot of deterioration, you just have to take the old roof off before you can start.”
For years, the standard roof in the Atlanta market was a flat, 3-tab shingle with a 25-year warranty. Although it’s still available, it’s less popular than the architectural style of shingle that has an extra piece of material laminated to it. The result is a thicker shingle that, once installed, gives the appearance of being textured.
“Most people choose that style now because of the aesthetics rather than the fact that the shingles last longer,” said Berry. “They were available by the 1990s, but most people didn’t choose them because of the cost. Now, the gap between the two is very close. On the average home, it costs about 10 percent more to upgrade, and more than half of our customers do that.”
Despite the enormous preference for architectural shingles, some builders are branching out with other options. At the planned Avalon project in Alpharetta, where offices, restaurants and stores are on the drawing board, builder Monte Hewett plans to build 101 townhouses, courtyard homes and single-family residences, all with metal roofs.
“We like metal because we don’t want to take the typical suburban approach,” said Hewett. “These houses will have very sophisticated exteriors and pitched roofs, so we wanted to upgrade from asphalt. Metal really differentiates the product. It’s one of those things you don’t know you want it until you see it.”
Hewett said metal stood out from options such as slate, shake shingle or tile not just for its style.
“It’s durable, and it has a 35-year warranty,” he said. “It will cost about three times more than asphalt, but it really pulls the look together.”
Wood shake shingles, for instance, could add as much as $40,000 to a project. “Most people have a hard time with that; they’d rather use the money to upgrade their bathrooms and kitchens,” said Hewett.
Slate is one of the most expensive roofing options because it’s labor intensive to install. “And you have to beef up the structure below it because it weighs so much,” said Hewett. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and will last forever, but most people aren’t willing to pay for an upgraded roof unless they’re looking to achieve a certain arch look. For instance, an Italianate house just doesn’t work with asphalt shingles; the terra cotta tiles are an important part of the look.”
Builder Scott Eaves of Epic Development said the architectural style of his infill homes inside the Perimeter requires a certain roof to complete the look.
“We work from a floor plan, and the type of roof is determined by that,” said Eaves. “The roof is part of the aesthetics to the style we build and can really change the look of a home. For instance, our modern prairie-style homes are not quite an A-frame, and our modern styles can sometimes have what appears to be a flat roof.”
Eaves’ more traditional house plans will often be topped off with a typical asphalt shingle in a color selected by the design team. And it’s not always brown or black.
“It’s a myth that shingles only come in two colors,” said Eaves. “You can use whatever color you want. We do a lot with reds, greens and charcoals, but the choice is typically driven by the style of the home.”
On the modern designs, flat roofs feature a waterproof rubber membrane with a low sloop that requires very little maintenance.
“These membranes have a fantastic lifespan - maybe as much as 50 years, depending on the manufacturer,” said Epic designer Evan Bourff. “It costs more to install and usually comes in black or white, and you wouldn’t even know it was there unless you climbed up on the roof.”
Coldwell-Banker agent Kelly Stephens, who works with builders at DR Horton on new-home construction projects in the Johns Creek and Duluth areas, said buyers are happy with asphalt shingles, particularly in speckled shades that add another layer to the exterior.
“Shingles aren’t just solid colors anymore,” she said. “A lot of new homes have brick, stone or shake siding, so there’s a mixture of exteriors, and a flecked roof with some color can blend with all of that.”
For homes priced from the $400,000s to the $600,000s, an architectural shingle is standard, said Stephens. Horton is now adding an extra touch by using TechShield® Radiant Barrier Sheathing, a product on the wood below the shingles that helps keep heat out of the attic.
“It’s not insulation; it’s a neat product that can help keep a house cool,” said Stephens. “It’s a great green feature that they’re adding to every house they build. And it’s built into the base price.”
Need a roofer?
Hiring a roofer requires caution, says contractor Robert Berry. “That’s because roofing is not one of the trades that’s licensed or regulated, like heating and air. You don’t need a license to be a roofer.” He offers three ways to find a reputable contractor:
- Ask around. Word-of-mouth and personal experience are good ways to find a reliable roofer.
- Check online reviews. But use caution: Many glowing reports may be generated by the site owners, not actual customers.
- Visit a regulated online site, such as Angie’s List.