Should I get a metal roof?

Last week’s heavy rain exposed a roof problem and prompted a question about metal roof installations. Taking care of a house is a moving target. My clients know they can ask my opinion when they are considering a big improvement. He wrote:

roof leakHi Rona, So it seems like the time has come to replace the roof: it’s 17 years old, and in the pouring rain yesterday, leaked enough that it dripped through the bathroom ceiling. (we now have buckets in place) Being the sort of person who rides a recumbent bicycle and hired an exclusive buyers agent, I am of course interested in metal roofing, it seems to make more sense than the traditional solution. My question for you is, do you see standing seam metal roofs around? do they turn off a significant number of buyers? There are also fake metal shingles, which offend me slightly, for the same reason my plastic shutters offend me, but it may be worth it to not stand out from the rest of the neighborhood. I assume most buyers wouldn’t object to stealth metal roofs. I like the look of the standing seam myself, but I have to admit, driving around I don’t really see any. Thoughts?            T—

I answered:

Hi T–,
I am sorry for your drip. The asphalt roof you currently have is underperforming. It shouldn’t leak that badly at age 17. You will need to improve the ventilation on any roof you choose. You can buy yourselves a little decision-making time by getting someone to tar-up the area where the roof cracked through.
The Assessor’s database in Lexington, the one on the MLS, and the MLS sales data do not allow me to search by roofing type. So, I can’t quantify the number of metal roof installations in town. I agree with your observation. I only see one for sale occasionally. I see mostly asphalt, with slate in second position. I see tile and metal once a year at most.

metal roofMetal roof installations are not popular around here for a number of reasons:
1. New Englanders are notoriously slow to embrace innovation. (This is true regarding things like foam mattresses, vinyl fencing, and such. It is not true in regard to electronics.) Case in point: people are still installing oil-fired boilers when gas or propane systems are available.
2. Everyone knows what to expect with asphalt shingle. That makes a fairly new roof a positive, if it is asphalt. So, if you are selling in the next five years, the metal roof project may not be worth it.
3. Buyers frequently have a fear reaction to the unknown. I see it with slate roofing, tile roofing, and metal roofing. (I also saw it — for a while — with high-efficiency boilers. That tide has turned. Now buyers like them.) To overcome this, sellers who are smart include an essay — about the length of a blog entry — explaining the benefits of the unusual roofing material. I saw that work like a charm in Newton. (My buyer saw the metal roof and said “what’s that?” not in a positive way. By the time he left, he loved the concept.)

Since you can overcome a resale objection about it, the question is more about price, function, and style. Things to consider:
1. Cost of metal roof installation. What are the ventilation options for a metal roof as opposed to the ventilation options for a new asphalt roof?
2. Energy cost. Will there be a significant reduction to your energy bill with an insulated metal roof?
3. Durability. Will the metal roof be significantly more expensive, on a cost per year basis, than the equivalent asphalt roof?
4. Tax credit. Do the existing tax credits apply to your project and your tax situation? (The sales people will tell you the good part, but you need to run it past your tax accountant to make sure it applies to your household income.)
5. Maintenance. Are their vendors in the area who will be available if you suffer damage or have a leak?
6. I don’t think you need to be concerned about the look being too different from your neighbors. Unless you choose a “wow” color, they are unlikely to notice it after the first week or two. How often do you focus on your neighbors renovations? I suspect you don’t unless they are being very flashy about it. Your neighborhood is not homogenous. There are a variety of sizes and ages along the block; it’s not a row of houses, like yours, all built at the same time by the same developer. Your house will not stand out as the only one that is different.

Does that help? Let me know if this brought up additional questions. Also, let me know what you decide.