The Fine Print: Over Your Head

Homeowners generally don’t give a moment’s thought to their roof until there’s a problem,” says Barry Robbins, general contractor and owner of GBR Development Corp. in Cherry Hill. “They may hate the way it looks, but they don’t want to put a new roof on any earlier than necessary because it’s such an expensive proposition.”Depending on the size of a home and the materials used, roof replacement can start at $7,500 for asphalt shingles and go up to $50,000. Even tearing off and replacing a flat rubber roof on a 2,000-square-foot city town home can cost thousands of dollars, he says.

That’s money more excitingly spent on a kitchen touch-up or even a brand-new bath. But should the time arrive when you need to tend to the very top of your house, this vitally important project can be just as aesthetically satisfying. “There’s always some new product coming out that enhances the look of your home, not to mention improves the functionality of your roof,” says Robbins.

In many municipalities, new building codes require that either the entire roof or specific parts of the roof be taken off before replacement begins, which gives homeowners an opportunity to start from scratch. This can be the time to choose a more attractive, more durable roof, says Robbins.

Even if you stick with asphalt shingles, which cover about 80 percent of American houses, look into the many different specialty architectural styles available that mimic the textures and patterns of slate, wood shingles and ceramic tiles. The design of the specialty styles also minimizes the unsightly gaps of conventional three-tab shingles and can last about 40 years. They also can be more costly than older types, which normally run about $50 to $100 per 100 square feet for materials and installation.

If you own a historic home, you may be required by code to stick with such authentic materials as wood shakes or slate, which can be more costly. Contemporary homes and houses built to echo specific styles—Southwestern or Mediterranean, for example—can benefit from dramatic materials such as clay and metal. All these materials can cost three to 10 times as much as asphalt, and some, such as clay and slate, are very heavy, which makes them difficult to install and repair. In addition to their distinctive good looks, however, they enjoy extremely long lives.

Whatever covering you choose, you also will need to consider replacing all or part of your roofing system, including elements like plywood sheathing (the boards or sheet material fastened to roof rafters that cover a house or building), flashing (sheet metal installed into joints and valleys to prevent water seepage), drainage pieces, such as gutters and downspouts, and—if the roof has really deteriorated—structural parts, such as rafters and trusses.

You’ll face a wealth of options here, too. “There’s a whole range of choices in roof drainage products,” says Mike Pietrzak, marketing manager of Berger Brothers, a roofing parts manufacturer in Feasterville. “Gutters are priced by the foot, with copper generally costing three times as much as aluminum, and galvanized steel being the most affordable. If you can afford it, go for copper—it has a great look and it lasts about 100 years.”

At the same time, replace your downspout with a matching metal, and choose either a round or square profile, depending on the style of your home. For the Philadelphia region, Pietrzak recommends a corrugated downspout rather than a plain one to accommodate expansion and contraction of the metal when ice forms.

If you’ve never given much thought to the literal roof over your head, you may find the mix of aesthetic and functional options an overwhelming proposition. Here, perhaps more than any other place in your home, the contractor you choose really matters. Not only will each contractor’s knowledge and experience guide you in making decisions, they will know what they’re doing while clambering around on top of your house. The National Roofing Contractors Association ( main-tains a website that can help you search for members, and, as always, it makes sense to ask your neighbors for recommendations.