Metal roofing is manufactured from a variety of different materials including copper, aluminum, steel, and stainless steel. Stainless steel and copper are quite expensive and are not often encountered in residential construction. Aluminum and steel roofs usually have a protective coating such as paint, zinc (galvanizing), or terne metal (an alloy of lead and tin). Some products rely on a controlled oxidation process to protect them. This process is chemically similar to rusting but it actually helps to protect the roof.
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Steel is the most widely used metal-roofing material, and it is being seen more and more on residences. A galvanized-steel roof with a colored baked-on paint can be quite durable and attractive. Metal roofs with baked-on finishes are well tolerated by sensitive individuals and are good choices for healthy houses. There are a number of different paints being used, so extremely sensitive people may want to obtain a sample prior to installation. Because most paints are baked on, outgassing is minimal.
The gentle sound of rain on a metal roof is viewed as a positive point by some people. Others consider the sound to be noise and a drawback. In a well-insulated house, the sound is usually not excessive, but in an uninsulated building with no ceiling, the sound of rain on a metal roof can be quite loud.
Long sheet-metal panels that run from ridge to eave are widely available. This type of metal roofing is often used on agricultural and commercial buildings, but it can also be used on houses, and with a little planning, it does not have to look like a barn roof. A striking residential look can often be achieved simply by designing a nice eave detail and selecting an appropriate color. Metal roofing is preferred by many architects and developers because of its long life, aesthetic qualities, and ease of installation.
If you just consider material costs, sheet-metal roofing is generally more expensive than low-cost composition shingles. But, if metal roofing is attached to wood or metal purlins, the cost can be a little less than plywood sheathing. Labor costs to install sheet-metal roofing on a simple rectangular roof can be low. On the other hand, complicated roof designs with many hips and valleys require more labor, and they result in more wasted material, thus a higher cost.
Sheet-metal roofing is available in different configurations or shapes, and it can be installed in several different ways. The best (and most expensive) roofing is the standing-seam roof. A standing-seam roof utilizes hidden fasteners so there are no holes placed in the roof itself. Less-expensive installations utilize nails with rubber washers under their heads which are simply driven through the ribbed roofing into wooden purlins. A drawback to using nails is the fact that they can work their way out slightly, allowing for a possible leak. Using screws with rubber washers under their heads usually doesn’t result in leaks. Special flashings are required in some locations where a roof abuts a wall or at plumbing vent stacks. These are generally available from roofing suppliers.
To locate a supplier or installer who is familiar with metal roofing, first check your telephone book under Buildings—Agricultural, Buildings—Metal, or Buildings—Pole & Post Frame. An expensive commercial roof will be heavier and have a better coating than a low cost agricultural-grade material. Commercial roofing is often considered structural, that is, it’s self supporting, and can be placed over widely-spaced purlins. Non-structural roofing is generally placed over a solid deck, or over purlins spaced on 24" centers. Various construction magazines routinely run articles on the finer points of installing metal roofs. When comparing prices, ask your supplier for an expected life. This can be compared to the commonly used fiberglass shingles which last 15-25 years.
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