More roofing options for an old-house renovation

When renovating an old house in an environmentally friendly way, what are the roofing options?

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Alexandra Marks and her finacé Martin Sheridan are renovating a hundred-year-old farmhouse in an environmentally responsible and cost-efficient manner. They may have to compromise on a roofing material, because each has different preferences.
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My preference for putting an energy-efficient standing seam metal roof on Sheepdog Hollow, the creaky old farmhouse we’re restoring in what we plan to be a green and cost-effective manner, has tentatively been shot down by my loving fiancé Martin. He says they’re just ugly, and he’s put his foot down.

I respectfully disagree, as did Thomas Jefferson, who eventually put a tin roof on Monticello, but who am I to make comparisons or drop names? And like almost all things, relationships, too, require compromise.

And so, I’ve undertaken a quick course in energy-efficient roofing as part of my education about green renovation. One of the first things I learned was that energy-efficient roofs are not necessarily “green roofs,” while “green roofs” are, by definition, energy efficient.

Now, please forgive this digression into the semantics of the green renovation movement, but to me it’s an important indicator of its rapid growth and complexity. If, like me, you simply go to Google and type in “green roofs” you’re not going to find much about slate made of recycled tires and old plastic bottles or highly reflective metal roofs designed to look like cedar shakes.

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No, you’re going to find tons on grand green gardens atop flat city roofs that are designed not only to be energy efficient, but also oxygen-producing for better air for everyone. It turns out that I actually wrote about them back in 2005.

Alas, that’s not the kind of “green roof” that would be appropriate for Sheepdog Hollow with its steep pitch.

No, we’re interested in an energy-efficient and sustainable roof that is also not prohibitive economically. After clearing up this confusion about whether we wanted a “green” roof or an energy-efficient roof, I decided to check out cost options.

The site CostHelper has a nice primer about the different types of roofing materials now available as well as their benefits and drawbacks. It also has a great link to a roofing cost estimator that can give you a sense of the vast differences in prices.

My bias for a standing seam metal roof was reinforced by what I found, but in my compromise mode I decided to check out the roofing options made of recycled tires and bottles. These, too, seemed like a viable alternative, but they are expensive.

According to the site Roof 101:

“As could be expected from rubber shingles using recycling technologies, they are strong and sturdy, firm and flexible. Warranties, accordingly, are usually given for periods of 30 to 50 years. Over their lifetime, they require few repairs or replacements, especially when compared with asphalt shingles. However, when comparing them to asphalt, rubber shingles are as much as four times more expensive. Shipping and installation are also rather difficult due to the sturdiness of rubber shingles.”


I offered these to Martin as an alternative to cedar shakes. He looked at them online and then found a place nearby that had them installed. He went, he saw, and he objected.

“They don’t look real,” he protested. "I want a cedar roof. It’s wood, it’s sustainable, it’s beautiful. It's what the house deserves."

All arguments aside, it was clear that Martin wanted a cedar shake roof. Since he gave in and let me put in a geothermal heating system, I guess I can give him the roof. Sustainability in relationships is also important when one undertakes a "green renovation."

Next: What's green about cedar shake shingles….

Editor’s note: Alexandra Marks blogs twice a week about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut.

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