When it came time to replace the roof on their house in Seattle’s Crown Hill neighborhood, Jeff and Kim Carlson made a popular decision — they stayed with composite shingles.

“Contractors brought up a metal roof as a possibility,” Kim Carlson says, “but we couldn’t see any good reason to change.”

Composite or asphalt shingles, also known as a composition roof, can be found on more than 80% of residential roofs in the Puget Sound area, according to Casey Groves, past president of the Roofing Contractors Association of Washington. A mix of cedar shakes, flat roofs and metal roofs account for the rest.

“Metal roofs are definitely catching on [in the Seattle area],” Groves says. “They’re new and different, and people like the look.”

Beyond the roof

Whether you stay with a composite or opt for another material, chances are your overall roofing project will encompass more than just the installation.

A roof-replacement project can be an opportunity for homeowners to address other needs, such as adding a skylight or making structural repairs. When Jeff and Kim Carlson replaced the roof on their Crown Hill home (shown here), they made sure to hire a roofing company that could also install new insulation in their attic. (Courtesy of Jeff and Kim Carlson)
A roof-replacement project can be an opportunity for homeowners to address other needs, such as adding a skylight or making structural repairs. When Jeff and Kim Carlson replaced the roof on their Crown Hill home (shown here), they made sure to hire a roofing company that could also install new insulation in their attic. (Courtesy of Jeff and Kim Carlson)
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The roof that went on at the Carlson home in mid-May was not just better quality than their previous composition roof: It was part of an overall roofing-improvement project that also included additional insulation, new gutters, replacement skylights and a better design.

“Where the previous roof ended flush with the walls of the house, the new one adds 8-inch eaves on the front and back,” Jeff Carlson says. “It looks better.”

Groves, who owns Axis Roof and Gutter in Arlington, says that if customers are opening up the roof anyway, it’s a great opportunity to consider replacing their insulation.

“Roofing work is loud and it’s messy, but if homeowners can endure another few days of that, they can benefit quite a bit by getting things done all at once,” he says.

Barry Webberly, who owns a home and several rental properties in North Seattle, heartily agrees. He uses his roofing projects as a chance to inspect and repair old wiring, add insulation and take care of problems such as pests in the attic.

“You don’t want a roofing company to put on a new roof right over existing structural damage,” Webberly says. “You want to identify [a problem] and do something about it before proceeding with the project.”

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The Carlsons say they chose a roofing company that also handles insulation for precisely that reason. And in some cases, Webberly has hired a general contractor to coordinate the work of subcontractors, including roofers, electricians, crawl space cleaners and insulation installers. 

Groves says many larger roofing companies, including his own, handle gutters, insulation and siding, in addition to roofing.

A roof-replacement project is also an opportunity to assess your attic’s ventilation.

“Because of improvements in roofing materials, new roofs are airtight,” Groves says. “That means there has to be plenty of ventilation or the attic space gets really hot.”

And if you are considering installing solar panels at the same time, he says, make sure the solar work doesn’t void the shingle warranty.

“We submit the solar company’s design to the [roofing] manufacturer for approval so the warranty stays in effect,” he says.

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With their long lines and stylish color options, metal roofs are becoming a trendy choice for both new construction and roof replacement in Seattle.
With their long lines and stylish color options, metal roofs are becoming a trendy choice for both new construction and roof replacement in Seattle.

Composite or metal?

As old homes are replaced or renovated throughout Seattle, some builders and homeowners are adding sleek metal roofs, rather than using composite materials. In addition to being trendy, metal roofs can be a practical choice, particularly if your home is near the mountains or in the woods, where heavy snow and rain can require additional maintenance for composite roofing.

Available in bold colors such as red, green and blue, metal roofs offer visual drama that composite shingles can’t achieve. The most recognizable metal-roof style features long, parallel lines from ridge to eaves. There are also metal roofs that mimic shingles, tiles, slate and even cedar shakes.

While a metal roof can bring a welcome pop of color to your home’s exterior, it can also lock you into a color scheme — for the next 50 years.

Seattle homeowner Sarah Kremen-Hicks says she won’t be reroofing for a few years, but she’s already chosen the color for the metal roof she plans to add. She picked something that coordinates with the house’s new exterior paint color, ensuring that the house won’t need to be repainted to look good with the roof. 

Metal roofs are often knocked for being noisy, but Groves is quick to debunk that myth. If they are properly installed with sheathing underneath, noise is not an issue, he says. 

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Metal roofs are also recyclable and have the cleanest rainwater runoff if you’re using rain barrels to water your garden.

However, the idea that metal is more durable than composite is a misconception. That’s because today’s asphalt shingles are of a far better quality than the ones that were installed 25 years ago.

“Composite used to compete with cedar shakes, which gave you a 20- to 30-year roof,” Groves says. “Now, composites are 50-year roofs.”

Composition roofs like this one are an overwhelming favorite among local homes. Casey Groves, past president of the Roofing Contractors Association of Washington, says more than 80% of homes in the Puget Sound area feature this style of composite or asphalt shingles. (Getty Images)
Composition roofs like this one are an overwhelming favorite among local homes. Casey Groves, past president of the Roofing Contractors Association of Washington, says more than 80% of homes in the Puget Sound area feature this style of composite or asphalt shingles. (Getty Images)

Improvements in composite roofs include heavier shingles, more overlap to protect against wind, and larger sealing strips for better waterproofing. While the colors remain muted, shingle shapes have become a bit fancier, such as the scalloped “carriage house” style from manufacturers such as CertainTeed and GAF.

Some shingles even come with copper granules that prevent algae growth that can lead to moss. But, Groves says, you’ll pay extra for that. 

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‘Low-slope’ roofs

Most flat roofs on residential houses are more accurately described within the industry as “low-slope” roofs. Because of their relative flatness, composition shingles are a poor choice. Wind — the enemy of aging roof shingles — could get underneath shingle flaps and blow them off a flat roof. 

As such, flat roofs have typically been covered with rolled materials such as tar or bitumen, and then sealed at the seams using a propane torch. 

The lifespan for this roof type used to be only 10 to 15 years, but new materials and techniques have made a big difference. Flat roofs are now made using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyolefin. New welding and sealing methods involve hot air rather than open flames, and are much safer for roofers to work with, Groves says.

Webberly recently replaced a tar roof on one of his rental homes with one made of PVC, and he says he’s pleased with the results. 

“It’s a commercial-type roof and light colored, so it reflects light back and keeps the house cooler in summer,” he says. “And they say it will last longer. We’ll see.”