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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, September 02, 2017 1:00 am

Alternatives to asphalt shingles cover wide range

James Dulley

Dear Jim: The old dark shingle roof is leaking again. I prefer to install a longer-lasting roof this time even if it costs a little more. Other than metal, what durable roofing is available and which is environment-friendly? – Ron F.

Dear Ron: There are many non-metal roofing options that have a significantly longer life than typical shingles and are made from recycled and/or natural materials. Although old asphalt shingles can be recycled in other products, many of the 11 million tons removed from roofs still end up in landfills every year.

When selecting the best type of replacement roofing for your home, the weight of the roofing material is a factor. Most roofs designed to support standard asphalt shingles will not handle the weight of some of the most durable roofing materials such as tile and slate. These can weigh five to 10 times as much as thick, high-quality asphalt shingles.

To install these types of heavy roofs, the supporting structure, rafters or trusses will have to be strengthened. This is not impossible to do, but it can be a significant expense in addition to the higher cost of the roofing materials themselves. On the positive side, you will only have this expense once, because these roofs should easily last a lifetime.

Since you seem to be concerned about the environment, consider using roofing materials made primarily from recycled plastics. These can be formed to simulate slate, tile or cedar shakes. They are in the same weight per “square” (one square is 100 square feet of roof area) range as good-quality asphalt shingles, so no additional structural roofing support will be needed.

Unless you would actually climb up on the roof and touch this plastic roofing, it is difficult to distinguish from real slate, tile or shakes. The plastic material can be nailed or sawed similarly to wood and is available in random widths for an authentic appearance when installed. These materials often carry a transferable 50-year warranty.

Fiber-cement roofing materials are another very durable option. Lightweight fiber-cement materials will not require additional roof support. These can be molded to simulate many other roofing styles. The pigments go throughout the fiber-cement material so they maintain the attractive appearance. The contoured tiles have a glossy topcoat for an authentic tile look.

Cedar shakes are another attractive roofing option that does not require additional roof support. Good-quality cedar shakes can have warranties up to 50 years. Pressure-treated pine shakes have a similar appearance to cedar, and they can be treated with fire-resistant chemicals.

One of the most unique wood roofs uses bent cedar shingles. These are made from Western red cedar and are steamed and bent to create curves. Check your local building codes and your fire insurance contract before installing wood-based roofing.

The newest type of roofing uses solar photovoltaic tiles, which produce electricity from the sun. It is more expensive to install than other common types of roofing materials, but it has a very long life, and the utility bills savings can make it a good investment.

Dear Jim: I had some new plumbing done in my house, and the metal pipe was replaced with plastic pipe. My electrical system is grounded to the water pipes. Should I provide a new earth ground? – Steve W.

Dear Steve: It is important to have an effective earth ground for the electrical wiring system in your house. Without a ground, a short circuit in an appliance or fixture can result in a severe shock.

Have the new ground installed by driving a long copper-plated rod into the ground or burying a heavy-gauge wire around your house. The main copper ground wire from the house should be connected to it. This is not a do-it-yourself project, so have an electrician do the work.

James Dulley is a columnist with Starcott Media Services. Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Journal Gazette, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or go to