Homeowners who are planning to build a new home or add on to an existing home often don’t stop to think about the role that their roof plays as an architectural element. But builders and architects who take the time to educate their clients can help them see the importance of taking the look of their house all the way to the roof.

Jeffrey Veffer, partner and co-founder of Toronto-based Incite Design, an architecture firm that specializes in custom homes, additions and remodeling, tells his clients to consider the roof as the “fifth façade” of the home. From the street, it is perceived as a large plane, and it needs to get as much of their attention as selecting brick or other exterior finishes.

“It will not only help define the street presence of the house but also indicate the level of finish to guests, neighbors, and potential buyers of the property down the road,” he says.

Jamie Hsu, president of Lakeville Homes in Bellevue, Wash., says that the siting of the house on the lot makes the roof choice even more important.

“In my region, there is a lot of terrain, which can make a roof far more visual because you may approach it from a higher elevation,” she says. “The other roof-related consideration is the architectural style of the home. To achieve a specific look, we may want a steeper or flatter slope so as to maintain a cohesive look.”

As with any design element, color plays an important role. Nashville, Tenn.-based architect Ryan Thewes says he sees the traditional color palette of roofing materials—blacks, grays, browns, and terra-cotta for barrel tiles—holding strong. “Neutral colors are safe and timeless,” he says. “With higher-quality shingles come longer roof life, so you don’t want to put anything up there that is trendy and will go out of style or date your home.”

One trend that he and other architects have seen is a willingness to combine roofing materials on a house, using more expensive materials on the more prominent, visible portions of the roofline and affordable, but certainly durable, asphalt shingles for sections that don’t face the street. Thewes utilized this strategy on an award-winning renovation that used metal roofing on a soaring, angular addition and shingles on a porch roof.

“The house from the street relates in scale to the surrounding neighborhood so shingles were an aesthetic choice,” he says. “However, the driving reason was to get a contrast between house and addition. I really wanted the addition to pop and set itself off from the rest of the house.”

Hsu agrees. A common combination that she’s seen is a lower metal roof over a first or main floor or entry and a cost-effective asphalt shingle on the upper, less-visible, second floor.

“There will be more bang for the buck and stretching the budget further by placing the emphasis on the areas that are the most visual,” she says.

No shortage of innovation

Fortunately, today’s roofing materials manufacturers are introducing products that offer great performance and style. Most notably, they’re making affordable options to emulate the profiles of premium materials. For example, a major concrete and clay roofing tile manufacturer has introduced a lightweight clay tile with the look of slate; it’s more affordable and easier to install than slate and is 100% recyclable.

A new concrete-based replacement for wood shakes looks like wood but is Class A fire rated for fire-prone areas. It’s durable, and because of its high thermal mass, it’s very energy-efficient. There’s also an asphalt shingle that has the aesthetic of a tile roof. Lighter and less expensive than clay tile, it can be installed over up to two layers of existing shingles, often eliminating the need for tear-off.  The manufacturer says that while it is popular with houses that would otherwise have used Spanish tile, the key reason it is specified is that it offers a distinctive choice over asphalt shingles at a similar price point.

Nicholas Zoller of Zoller Roofing in Sarasota, Fla., says that he considers the newer metal roofing styles and colors a great way to update the architectural design of a home.

“Metal roofs stand up best of all materials against wind, and you now have design choices that include the traditional 5-V as well as standing seam, and even more innovative, metal roofs that look like slate tiles or wood shakes. They come in a huge array of colors offering consumers more choices than ever before,” he says.

Zoller says that given all the options, an educated consumer will make an appropriate choice.

“I have found the more I can explain to the owner about the roof options, the better they understand what is possible with the house they have,” he says. “As they get deeper into the process of choosing a new roof, clients see how much a different choice in material or even color can change the look of their home."

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