asphalt shingles remain 'best bang for your buck'

Put a lid on it

There are lots of options when it comes to your roof, but asphalt shingles remain 'best bang for your buck’

By Patrick Langston, The Ottawa CitizenSeptember 2, 2011 10:02 AM

There are lots of options when it comes to your roof, but asphalt shingles remain 'best bang for your buck’

****Photograph by: Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen

News flash: Winter plans a return visit this year. That means snow, ice and water playing havoc with one of the most important barriers between your home and the great outdoors — your roof.
Curling or cracked shingles, corroded flashings around chimneys or in valleys, and damp attic insulation may be signs that it’s time to invest in a new roof or repairs. Put off spending the money now, and the bill will skyrocket as leaks stain ceilings, turn insulation soggy and less effective, and ultimately cause structural damage.
A reliable roofing contractor or qualified home inspector will tell you what needs to be done up top. If you need to re-roof, or if you’re putting a roof on a new home, here’s what you should know.

Roofing Options
“The asphalt shingle is still the king (in Ottawa),” says Don Mann of Sanderson Roofing ( “It looks very nice and it’s reliable.”
The new generation of fibreglass-based shingles, which is edging out the old, felt-based type, is tough enough that manufacturers have started offering warranties of 30 years or longer.
Depending on the house, shingles cost $3 to $4 a square foot including installation. That makes them the cheapest option. Shingling a house with a longer-warranty shingle might cost an extra $200 or $300 but is usually worth the expense.
Architectural shingles, which are thicker than regular shingles and especially popular on larger homes, can give a slate or cedar shake look to a roof without the high cost of those materials. They cost at least 20 per cent more than regular shingles, but are more wind, ice and snow resistant. They can be subject to algae growth on the north side of the house, so ask your roofer about algae-resistant products.
Designer shingles, some with scalloped edges, are also available. They cost at least 30 per cent more than standard shingles.
Although custom builders will work with different roofing materials, most tract home builders do not offer upgrades from asphalt shingles to other types of roofs. Tartan Homes uses a 40-year architectural shingle by Timberline, while both Cardel Homes and Richcraft Homes use a 25-year product by IKO (Cardel also builds custom homes and will use other types of roofing on those projects). Phoenix Homes offers the option of upgrading from a standard 25-year asphalt shingle to either a 30- or 40-year version.
Despite their popularity, shingles don’t hold as well as some other roofing materials in a high wind and, with climate change, wind patterns could shift. Shingles also tend not to have as long a lifespan as some other, more expensive materials.
If you do go with shingles, look for the CSA (Canadian Standards Association) or ULC (Underwriters Laboratories of Canada) stamp of approval.
At $5 to $12 a square foot, metal roofs are a more expensive alternative to shingles. Available in farmhouse-style ribbed panels or stamped to resemble tile or even shingles, metal roofing comes in a range of colours and is often guaranteed for 40 to 50 years.
Mississauga-based Ontario Shake N’ Tile ( distributes and installs KasselWood and KasselShake steel roofing that resembles cedar shakes and slate tiles. The company’s owner, Greg Burns, says that reflective material incorporated into the finish can reduce home cooling costs up to 25 per cent.
Ottawa’s Ideal Roofing (, meanwhile, offers a Wakefield Bridge Steel Shingle line as well as standard ribbed panels.
We’ve had trouble-free steel on our own rural home for years, but not everyone is a fan. Neighbours have seen the paint fade almost entirely from one of their roofs and ice and snow tend to shoot off in large, dangerous hunks if there is no ice and snow guard at the edge.
“Overall, you get a better bang for your buck with laminated (fibreglass) shingles,” says Jeff Jessen, owner of Ottawa’s Classic Roof Tiling ( and an installer for Home Depot.
Although he’s no longer doing so, Jessen also installed concrete and clay roof tiles for many years. “I’m getting too old, and they are very heavy,” he jokes. “It takes a lot of patience, and they are very expensive.” In fact, they often run $15 a square foot, so where a shingle roof might cost $12,000, a concrete or clay tile version could set you back more than $50,000.
Both products look elegant and some come with a 50-year warranty. But they are extremely difficult to install correctly and underlayments are subject to moisture damage unless the installer knows exactly what he’s doing. Clay is not used much in cold climates because freeze-thaw cycles tend to crack it.
Cedar shingles and shakes give a home a warm, organic look. Shingles are sawn from wood blocks and are usually tapered with a smooth surface; shakes, split from wood blocks, are not usually tapered and look more rustic. They both run $12 to $15 a square foot, in large part because they are labour-intensive.
Cedar roofs withstand high winds and hail, and dangerous ice and snow tend not to slide off them as quickly as they do off other roofing material. However, moisture can cause cedar to swell and shrink, leading to cracks and possible water entry.
Canada’s Cedar Shake & Shingle Bureau ( says a cedar roof will last an average of 30 to 40 years, and that shakes usually outlast shingles.
However, “the quality of cedar is not as good as it once was,” says Joe O’Leary, owner of Ottawa-based Lowrey’s (, which works with several kinds of roofing materials and specializes in older and heritage buildings. “The resins don’t have the density they used to have because the older growth cedars are gone.”
A plastic mesh “cedar breather” underlay helps prevent decay, and occasional refinishing with a stain or preservative can also lengthen the life of cedar.
Chatham, Ont.-based Enviroshake ( offers a synthetic cedar roofing product that costs about the same as real cedar with a lifetime warranty.
Other roofing products include slate, a very handsome and durable material. But it’s also expensive and so heavy that roof rafters may need to be reinforced.
Euroshield (, a recycled rubber product made from tires by Calgary’s Global Environmental Manufacturing, is another option. Euroshield roofs come in slate, concrete tile and cedar designs and have a lifetime warranty. The website lists installers across the country.

Hiring a Roofer
Roofing in Ontario is a largely unregulated industry, and anyone can call himself a roofer.
“It’s a bit of a madhouse out there,” says Jessen.
Like most in his profession, Jessen has horror stories. Last year, he was called in to repair a new, $15,000 roof done by someone else. Because flashing had not been correctly installed, “water was pouring into the house through this gorgeous sculpted living room ceiling and onto the hardwood floor.” The roofing contractor was nowhere to be found.
What’s worse, before hiring that roofer, the homeowner had already paid another contractor $5,000 cash to buy shingles, and that shyster had vanished with the money.
Total cost including Jessen’s bill but not any ceiling repairs: About $21,500.
The moral: Get three quotes, try to hire a contractor who’s done work for someone you know, check out Better Business Bureau reports and Internet chatter and don’t pay cash.
Make sure as well that the contractor shows you his insurance coverage and registration with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. You don’t want to be liable if he has an accident on your property.
Construction and renovation expert Ren Molnar, who hosts the popular radio home improvement show Home Focus, adds a final warning: “Whatever you agree on, for goodness sake, put it on paper in language you can understand.”

Check these carefully for exclusions, pro-rating, transferability if you sell the house and other wrinkles. Although Mann says manufacturers are lengthening some warranties, he cautions, “If you have a 25-year, pro-rated warranty and the roof fails in the 24th year, you might get a cup of coffee out of them.”
Manufacturers’ warranties may be for materials only, not labour, and could require that the product be installed by a company-certified roofer.
Ask your contractor what the warranty is on his work: five years to 10 years is probably the limit.

Roof Coatings
New roof coatings have hit the market, promising to reflect sunlight and reduce heat buildup in the home, reducing cooling costs. The coatings are typically applied as a spray or with a brush or roller. Tests at the U.S. government’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have shown that reflective coatings can cut energy costs for summer cooling by 25 to 67 per cent, although the greatest benefit is for buildings with lightly insulated attics.
However, such groups as The American Society of Home Inspectors and the National Roofing Contractors Association nix these products. Asphalt shingles are not meant to be coated, and doing so could void warranties.
“These things come and go,” says Mann. “I’ve never seen a coating that does any good. We don’t even use them on flat roofs because they tend to ‘alligator’ and have to be recoated.”
As to the effectiveness of coatings that promise to seal a worn-out roof, “It’s a band-aid solution. If your roof is leaking, replace it.”

Odds & Ends
An ice-and-water shield, a waterproof, adhesive material that extends at least six feet up the roof from its edge, should always be installed before roofing material is applied. In winter, water tends to collect and freeze along a roof’s edge; water from melting snow then pools against that dam and can seep under the shingles, eventually penetrating the attic. The shield prevents that.
Although most roofers say proper roof ventilation is essential in reducing moisture buildup in the attic and possible attendant structural damage, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says attic ventilation is overrated. Instead, the agency says to stop air infiltration from the house, which can be difficult in much older homes.
For more information, see
DIY roof work is not advisable. Not only can a fall cripple or kill you, roof repairs and re-roofing are trickier than they look.
Low-income seniors facing an expensive roof job may be eligible for a forgivable loan through CMHC’s Homeowner Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (
Roof maintenance, including keeping your eavestroughs free of leaves and other debris and inspecting your roof after severe storms, can lengthen its life. Ask your roofing contractor about basic maintenance.
For more information on re-roofing, visit

Tips on hiring a roofer
Hoping to save a few bucks by hiring a cut-rate roofer? Don’t even consider it, say the experts: It could end up costing you big-time when the roof fails because of incorrect installation. Here’s how to get the best contractor:
Ask colleagues, friends, neighbours who to hire; follow up on references (a good roofer can supply many); check with the Better Business Bureau and the Internet; get three quotes.
Does the company have a permanent business address? A box number may be a danger signal.
If the company’s ad says something like “30 years of service,” find out if that means one man in the business for 30 years or 10 men for three years each.
Ask for a written contract, proof of registration with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and proof of liability insurance.
Does the company use subcon-tractors? If so, they may rush the job so they can get on to the next one.
Find out about the roofer’s experience with the material you want to use: Installing cedar shakes is very different from installing asphalt shingles.
If a roofer knocks on your door saying he was in the area anyway and is available to work at a discount rate, close the door — politely but quickly.

Sources: Classic Roof Tiling,

Roofing options
While the standard choice in Ottawa for roofing material is still asphalt shingles,there are other options, if you’re willing to pay. Here are some of those choices,the cost and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Installed price per square foot

Asphalt Shingles
$3 to $4
25 years plus
Relatively inexpensive and easy to install; many colour options; suits most homes. The most common roofing material. Shingles subject to wind damage.

$5 to $12
40 years plus
Mid-range price; available in a range of colours and designs; usually last longer than shingles.
Screws can loosen on ribbed metal roofing; can release large, dangerous falls of snow and ice, even shearing off chimneys.

Cedar Shakes and Shingles
$12 to $15
Some manufacturers offer a limited lifetime warranty.
Very adaptable material that can be installed in a variety of patterns on many surfaces; comes from a renewable source.
Very difficult to install correctly; subject to weathering.

Concrete Tile
$13 to $15
Up to 50 years
Attractive, durable material — concrete roofs can last 40 to 50 years; good hail resistance.
Very difficult to install and few roofers will do it; underlayment subject to water and other damage if tiles not correctly installed.

$18 to $22
As long as 75 years
Classy look; exceptionally long-lasting (some slate roofs last over 100 years); enviromentally friendly.
Difficult to install correctly and very heavy; hard to match tiles exactly if they need replacing; requires annual maintenance because tiles may crack under snow and ice loads

Compiled by Patrick Langston. Sources: IKO, Cedar Shake & Shingle Bureau and others
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