Ask the Architect

How about a steel roof?


Q. We read your column faithfully, and appreciate your advice. In a past column, you recommended using a steel roof, and since our roof is crumbling shingles, we decided to get estimates, which ended up being very expensive compared with regular shingles — more than triple the price. We haven’t done anything yet, but we want to know two things: Will our taxes go up for putting on a much more expensive material, and is there any secret to getting a lower price? The people we called on Long Island gave us a price of about $15 a square foot, compared with $5 for shingles, a very significant difference.

A. I did a long investigation of steel roofing before having it installed on my own home, and I too was shocked by the cost — so shocked that I put it off for about 10 years, to the point where the extreme wind storms and two hurricanes we experienced forced me to make a decision. It was actually a client, who was looking beyond our local pool of steel roofing companies, who gave me the name of a company in the Poconos.

I like using local companies, keeping business in business nearer to home, because we need to support our local economy. When I spoke to the company outside our area, they came in at $6 per square foot, which at the time was a difference of only $1.54 from the cost of asphalt shingles. How there could be such a disparity is more than strange, but it only made sense to get the best roof I could get once I found it affordable.

Steel roofs don’t blow off in a typical windstorm. They have a wind “uplift resistance” of 130- to 150-mph gusts. They don’t burn, and actually reflect heat and cold when installed with an insulation blanket directly underneath, which also acts as a sound barrier. Probably the most frequently asked question about steel roofs is about the sound of rain. You don’t hear the pinging sound that most people imagine when the roof system is installed correctly. Snow cleats, at least two rows, are necessary, since steeper roofs shed snow in large sheets, and you need to stop it before it can bury you.

The best thing about a steel roof, though, is that they can last 100 years or more. In other words, you’ll only roof with steel once in your lifetime. The first roof I investigated, for a public library in Monroe, Mich., where we were designing a building expansion, was copper-coated zinc. I asked the building maintenance manager, who accompanied me as we climbed around, for the age of the roof. The year was 1980. He casually replied, “It’s from the ’50s.” I was impressed by the pristine condition after 30 years, but he quickly corrected me. The roof was from 1854. It was 126 years old! The taxes shouldn’t be affected — until assessors realize how great steel is.

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.