Metal Roofing Pros and Cons

Metal roofing pros and cons. Although metal roofs can be noisy, ugly and hot, they have some good points, too. Here are some tips for evaluating and repairing metal roofs.

A copper-topped gazebo.

A copper-topped gazebo.  

Photo by Cathy J. Flamholtz

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Metal roofing pros and cons, includes tips for for evaluating and repairing metal roofs.

A Guide to Metal Roofing Pros and Cons

When my husband and I first moved to the country, I was amazed at the number of homes in our neck of the Georgia woods that had metal roofs . . . and at the number of those tin-topped abodes that displayed "For Sale" signs out front. So the next time I spoke with a local realtor friend, I asked him if he found it difficult to market metal-roofed houses. At the question, his face cracked with a knowing smile.

"Anything with a tin roof is going to sell for less . . . if you can find a buyer for it at all," he told me. "Even your typical back-to-the-lander doesn't want to take one of those buildings on. And most of the people to whom I do manage to sell metal-topped homes tell me they plan to replace the roof as soon as they get the money together."

"Well," I said to myself, "if my friend is right, and if my area is typical, it seems that buying a home topped with tin might be one way to save a good bit of money . . . and such a move could make it possible for a would-be ruralite to settle in the country that much sooner." In short, my curiosity was whetted, and — since we had some city friends looking for a bargain-priced house near us — I decided to learn all I could about metal roofing pros and cons. I wanted, above all, to discover why they suffer such a poor reputation . . . and if they deserve it. It's taken some time, but what I've learned has really opened my eyes to the hidden benefits of tin-tops . . . and I'd like to share some of that knowledge with you here.

Metal Roof Materials

First of all, most "tin" roofs aren't made of tin. You see, there are several metals used for roofing. Below, I've listed those you're most likely to encounter, along with some of the strong and weak points of each.

Tin. The more accurate term here is terne, or even terneplate . . . but no matter what moniker you hang on the stuff, it's one of several soft metals treated with a coating of lead and tin. A tin roof that's properly installed can last a good 40 to 50 years.

Galvanized Steel. This is a wonderfully inexpensive roofing material that will last 60 years or more . . . if properly cared for. It's made of alloyed steel, with a protective coating of zinc. Galvanized steel is also highly rust-resistant.

Aluminum. The use of aluminum as a roofing metal is becoming increasingly popular, since it resists corrosion and requires little maintenance. Aluminum also tends to reflect heat better than steel, thus keeping a house cooler during the summer. Aluminum roofs will last about 35 years.

Copper. You won't see copper being used for roofing much these days, even though it's by far the longest-lasting of all roofing materials (many penny-metal lids have lasted hundreds of years and appear to have hundreds more left in them). Unfortunately, this material is not only quite expensive, but also difficult to obtain.

Metal Roofing Pros And Cons

Is a metal roof — any metal roof — worth considering if you're shopping for a home . . . or if, perhaps, you're in need of a new top for the old shanty? It's hard to say — flat out — either yes or no. But, in hopes of helping you make the choice that's best for you, I've compiled a list of tin-roof characteristics . . . both good and bad. First, let's take a look at the bad news:

To provide protection against lightning, you'll need to spend a few bucks to rig a proper grounding arrangement. What's more, in seacoast areas where the air is laden with corrosive salt, a metal roof's life span may be fairly short. Similarly, polluted air in industrial areas makes tin topping less enduring than non-metallic roofing. And finally, metal roofs are noisy in the rain. (But what might be an "infernal racket" to one person could be a "comforting tap, tap, tap" to another.)

And now for the good news: Metal roofs are durable (Monticello — Thomas Jefferson's Virginia home — still wears its original "tin" roof . . . and it's in fine shape to this day). And in areas that receive heavy snowfalls, such lids — with their slick, low-friction surfaces — shed the white stuff so quickly that it rarely has a chance to build up to weighty depths.

Most roofing metals are also tough enough to resist damage from hail and falling tree limbs. Moreover, since metal doesn't burn, it's especially appropriate for houses with stovepipes and chimneys . . . a comforting thought when you live far from the nearest fire station.

And to add a final trio of tin-roof routings, the large metal "shingles" are easy to install, go on quickly, and — when compared with many other roofing materials over the long haul — are generally inexpensive.

Evaluating an Existing Metal Roof

OK, let's say you decide that buying a house with a metal roof just might provide you with a shortcut to the country. You'll still want your new home to be topped with a healthy slab of sheeting, and you'll need to know the signs that provide clues to the condition of your prospective home's "hat".

Of course, the logical starting place is to determine the type of metal the roof is made of, and you can usually do that with just an exterior appraisal. Steel roofs — when rusty — have a reddish color. Copper oxidizes to a light green. Aluminum changes hues according to the degree of oxidation, but progressing from white to gray to black.

When you've determined the type of material used for the roof, take a look from a distance to see if there's bulging or buckling anywhere. If there is, chances are that the structure has been poorly constructed or that leaks have rotted some of the bracing or framing. If this is the case, I'd advise extreme caution . . . you could be talking about extensive — and expensive — repairs.

Try to find a way to climb up onto the roof for a bird's-eye view. Since metal roofing is laid on in large sheets, pay special attention to the seams. Also, look closely at the ridge and around the chimney (where it disappears into the roof). These are the places where you're most likely to spot signs of leaking. Are there a lot of popped-up nails or an abundance of roofing-tar patches? Again, these may indicate that the roof leaks, or has leaked in the past.

Check to see if flashings (metal "gaskets" used to direct water away from critical areas) have been installed where they should be: around chimneys and stovepipes, along eaves and hips, and in the valleys. If there's no flashing, you'll want to correct that problem right away should you buy the house.

Now go inside the building, scamper up into the attic, and — with a flashlight — peer into the dark corners. Look everywhere for signs of water damage, especially around the top of the chimney or stovepipe. And while you're up there with the dust and spiders, try to spy out the top plates of the wall studs to determine how sound they are. If they're badly rotted, it could indicate a pervasive condition in the hidden stud walls. (If a house has this problem, I'd forget about trying to make it your home.)

Repairing Metal Roofs

There's one cardinal rule to remember when doing tin-top patching: Some metals, if placed in contact with certain others, can generate an electrolytic reaction that will result in rapid corrosion. To avoid that nasty possibility, be sure to patch copper roofs with copper, tin with tin, and so on.

If portions of the roof are badly damaged, you can remove the injured panels and replace them with new material, but be careful not to harm the adjoining healthy sheets when you're pulling the nails. Be sure to use neoprene-gasketed nails for the new application: They're specifically designed to prevent leaks. Drive your nails in at the high points of the corrugation . . . not in the valleys. (Or, insert neoprene-gasketed "drill screws" with a power drill to provide a watertight seal.)

If there appears to be any leakage through the existing nail holes, squeeze a dab of silicone caulking around and under the nailheads before you whap them back down. (Leaking seams may also be caulked.)

Soldering is an effective method of mending splits and holes in a metal roof (except in aluminum). Solder tin and galvanized steel with rosin flux, and copper with acid flux. Be sure to heat the metal sufficiently to avoid getting a weakling cold joint, but use an iron to prevent temperatures from going too high.

If your roof doesn't have flashing in the appropriate places, you'll need to add it. For aluminum roofs, use .024 inch aluminum flashing material. For galvanized steel, use a matching metal, but in a thickness one gauge heavier than the roofing itself. Place flashings in the valleys, at the eaves and hips, and — of special importance — around chimneys. (Check with your local building-supply house for ready-made valley sheets and other flashing materials . . . or — if you have the necessary tools and skills — you can cut and bend them yourself.)

Prevent Lightning Damage to Metal Roofs

Too many metal-topped houses aren't properly grounded to prevent damage from lightning. Grounding will provide a path for the electrical current of a lightning strike so that it will bypass the house and enter the earth, where it can do no harm. If your home is not properly grounded, the lightning can easily pass through the structure, perhaps blowing out the electrical system or causing fire and personal injury.

Painting Metal Roofs

Painting can spruce up the appearance of an older metal roof and add years to its useful life. Aluminum roofs don't need painting, but galvanized steel can benefit dramatically from a new finish. When you buy roof paint, don't scrimp on quality . . . unless you want to do the job again soon. One coat of good paint is usually adequate, but two is always better. The paint best suited for use on galvanized steel is a zinc-dust type . . . it'll adhere well and won't peel. You can also use the less expensive cement-based and latex coatings, but be certain that those you choose are formulated specifically for galvanized steel. Avoid aluminum-based finishes.

You can paint with a brush, a roller, or a sprayer, the first being the most materials-efficient method and the last being the fastest. But before painting, do remove any rust with a wire brush (or steel wool, if it's only a small area), and give the roof a good sweeping. Then scrub it down with clean water and an old mop. Make sure the housetop is bone-dry before you start slopping on the first coat, and pick a warm, sunny day to do the work.

Metal Roofing Basics

My intention hasn't been so much to sell you on the virtues and advantages of "tin" roofs as it has been to supply you with enough basic information to balance against the bad press that metal roofing has suffered so often in the past. Of course, my investigations have made some lasting impressions on me . . . and when we build a small guest cabin on our property soon, it'll most certainly be dressed out in a shiny new galvanized cap!

2/11/2015 9:21:58 PM

Metal roofs have piqued my interest for a while now, so I was glad to come upon this article that gave some pros and cons. I really like the look of copper roofs, but they are expensive, like you mentioned. Steel roofing is something I haven't heard of as much, but I have heard of aluminum roofing. I live in an area that gets a lot of sun, so I've considering metal roofing because it would keep my house cooler in the summer. I'll have to take these tips into consideration though!

jerry cartwright
2/5/2015 2:07:17 PM

I read your article on the metal roofs and thought it was pretty good even though I had to smile to myself some of the times. I'm 51 and have lived here in the South all my life. I grew up in house that were topped with galvanized "tin" roofs. The noise of rain on these tin roofs has always been a form of "white-noise" that lulls you to sleep. It might bother some folks at first but once you get used to it, it won't bother you a bit. And as long as I can remember, I don't remember a house getting struck by lightning because of a metal roof. Well, no more than houses topped with shingles. It's become common place these days for folks that own houses with conventional shingles to replace those with metal once they wear out. In fact, when my roof needs replacing I will be putting the newest painted metal roof on it. From a replacement standpoint you can't go wrong. These new painted metals have a 50 year warranty on them. I guess what I'm trying to say that for folks that know, metal roofs ain't a bad thing. Good article though, I look forward to more. Thanks

2/4/2015 2:02:15 PM

Out here they are called "iron" roofs (from galvanised iron) and are common in the majority of houses up to 15 years ago. The recent financial boom (pre 2008), brought in many more tile roofs. I've lived with an iron roof most of my life - from a house with 100 year-old Scottish made iron (still water-tight) and all sorts. The construction for iron is much lighter than for tile - a massive saving in timber and labour costs. The iron (now either galvanised steel or a steel substrate coated in an aluminium/zinc coat - then with a colour electro-coated over the top), is traditionally in the wavy pattern (though there are many others) and is available in almost any length, thus with far fewer points of entry for water. Secondly - in this earthquake zone, the iron is well screwed down, in effect forming a full "box-construction" and reinforcing the timber structure. In the Christchurch earthquake, tile roofs "exploded" with the tremor, iron roofs flexed, but remained in place. Chimneys fell THROUGH tile roofs but slid off iron - totally wrecking the iron of course, but not crashing though on the occupants. I chose galvanised coating - in the heavy grade (2 grades available), as I draw my drinking water from the roof and also as it was cheaper than the Colorbond. In this area this plain iron lasts between fifty and seventy years. It is important with galv' iron to paint the points where the sheets overlap to forestall electrolysis - simply over lay the sheets sequentially, upside down so that the area that will overlap is exposed and coat with a good non-toxic paint. The overlap I allowed was for 1.5 ridges. When fitting I also double screwed the bottom edge on every second rise rather than the alternating 3rd and then 4th rise - as further up the roof. So, cheaper construction, cheaper to roof (and you can DIY) and safer. What is it about tile you like?

2/4/2015 12:46:41 PM

I have tar roof tiles now and due to being in northwest the moss grows tremendously. Cost involved in hiring someone to clean it. Was thinking of installing metal roof over it but not touching the current roof. As in putting in 3" supports to hold up a metal roof to let air flow thru between current roof and new one. Would that work, I wonder?

2/4/2015 10:18:36 AM

You didn't mention condensation. On my metal (ProPanel) roof condensation forms on the underside of the valleys and moves to the low edge where it pools (very low pitch). The house is in the desert so there is little humidity and the damage is slow and slight. I think the roof should be grooved, flashed and caulked (on the high side) at the edge. That is, a groove cut so that the edge of the flashing (bent 90 degrees) is not sticking up for water to go under.

1/21/2015 9:41:34 PM

I prefer the galvanised roofs, I just had one installed and it's awesome.. thanks to the guys at , hope you don't mind me mentioning these guys.. please remove if I shouldn't link to another site...

1/21/2015 9:35:58 PM

you don't see many copper roofs around anymore...

4/29/2014 12:52:20 PM

I have just recently had a metal roof installed on my home lets clear one thing up from the get go my metal roof is much quieter than my shingle roof ever was I now no longer have the sandy material that was coming off my shingle roof clogging my gutters the type of roof I had installed cut the seams in the roofing material surface by 75% less seam less places for moisture to get in my roof is of a aluminum type material warrantied forever or put it this way I will be long gone before I ever need to worry about my roof again lastly in the area where we live a metal roof is a highly desirable upgrade to a home in fact it helps to bring the value of your home up a definite bonus for someone shopping for a home

3/28/2014 12:45:06 AM

It's surprising to see a realtor suggest that metal roof actually hinders home sales. While real estate can vary greatly between markets, metal roofing has consistently proven to be a leader if best value and longevity, actually increasing home value. Metal roofing is one of the oldest around. Some metal roofs in use today were built over 100 years ago. If that doesn't say anything about value and longevity, what will? In the College Station roofing market, metal roofing is directly correlated with increased home value and lower overall cost due to lower maintenance and repair costs as well as increased energy efficiency.

1/6/2014 3:41:23 PM

Nice article on Metal Roofing. I would also mention the following metal roofing materials that can be used: Galvalume Steel - has a better quality zinc & aluminum coating than, which makes for a longer lasting roofing system compared to galvanized steel. There are also bare metal roofs that have not been mentioned. Namely: Zinc and stainless steel. Zinc roofing is more affordable than stainless steel and can last for hundreds of years. I would also suggest the following resource that covers every type of a viable metal roofing system available to homeowners:

1/6/2014 3:38:40 PM

Nice article on Metal Roofing. I would also mention the following metal roofing materials that can be used: Galvalume Steel - has a better quality zinc & aluminum coating than, which makes for a longer lasting roofing system compared to galvanized steel. There are also bare metal roofs that have not been mentioned. Namely: Zinc and stainless steel. Zinc roofing is more affordable than stainless steel and can last for hundreds of years. I would also suggest the following resource that covers every type of a viable metal roofing system available to homeowners:

1/6/2014 3:37:47 PM

Nice article on Metal Roofing. I would also mention the following metal roofing materials that can be used: Galvalume Steel - has a better quality zinc & aluminum coating than, which makes for a longer lasting roofing system compared to galvanized steel. There are also bare metal roofs that have not been mentioned. Namely: Zinc and stainless steel. Zinc roofing is more affordable than stainless steel and can last for hundreds of years. I would also suggest the following resource that covers every type of a viable metal roofing system available to homeowners:

11/17/2013 6:36:02 AM

Thanks for your nice information about roofing.