Metal Roofing Pros and Cons



Q: We need to put a new roof on our 19th-century barn. Right now it has some kind of ugly shingles, probably asphalt. At some point, we hope to renovate the barn and make it a studio and guest quarters. We’re considering a metal roof. What are the pros and cons? — Alexis S., North Salem

A: A corrugated iron roof on an old barn conjures up such a nostalgic image of old rural America, doesn’t it? But rusty iron is perhaps more western than Westchester, and anyway, these days, the metal is more likely to be galvanized steel.

Copper roofing looks beautiful and can last for a century, a plus if you expect to live a long time. It also gets a lovely patina, going from nouveau-riche shiny to old-money green after a year or two. You can also get “pre-patinated” copper, which bypasses the new money stage. Speaking of money, you’ll need a lot: a copper roof can run as high as $25 a square foot, says Robert Papa of Papa & Sons Roofing in Valhalla (www.whiteplainsroofing.com).

On the other end of the price spectrum are exposed-fastener steel panels, although it’s better to pay a bit more for panels with hidden fasteners, which are more weather resistant. You can get metal made to resemble shakes, slate, shingles, or even Spanish curvy clay tiles, if you want that Mediterranean look for your barn. (You don’t, do you?)  The downside, as with anything that’s made to resemble something else, is that it often looks ... what’s the word? Oh yes: fake. “It’s like vinyl siding,” Papa says. “Once you get close enough, you can see it’s vinyl. It’s the same effect with metal that’s supposed to look like tile or whatever. Let’s just say they haven’t perfected it yet.”

Pros for metal, agrees Papa, is that it’s more durable than most asphalt or fiberglass shingles (many companies offer a 50-year warranty); it’s fireproof; and it’s resistant to hail and wind. Metal is lighter than asphalt, and far lighter than real clay or slate, so there’s less stress on a structure after a heavy snowfall. “One big selling point is that metal cuts down on ice-dam problems,” Papa notes. “It’s seamless, as opposed to shingles, where, if you get ice and snow build-up, water can get into the house every 5 or 6 inches, at the edge of the shingle.”

Metal roofing comes in many colors, which may fade over time if you buy the cheaper type. Otherwise, discoloration is more likely to come from pollen and airborne dirt, so you can clean it, if rain doesn’t do the job. Whether it’s noisier than other roofing in heavy rains is “debatable,” Papa says. “Some people complain. It depends on the structure, and the type of wood underneath.” Finally, metal is a much “greener” choice, and can be recycled when it has to be replaced.

As for the cons: “The biggest is cost,” Papa says. Metal roofing can run three times the price of asphalt. “Then, esthetically speaking, it needs to match the home, and the style of the building,” he points out. “On an old barn, you’d typically see a wood roof, like cedar shakes, to keep its charm.” Well, maybe, if your barn is in Scarsdale, say, or somewhere gentleman-farm-y — I’m still imagining picturesque rusty corrugated iron. But it does make sense to choose a color and style that looks good both on the old barn building and with your house, especially as you’re planning to one day make it an extension of your home.