5 Types of Metal Roofing Materials - Pros & Cons

Many call Metal roofing the “Cadillac of Roofing”.  If you dislike the famous car company, that’s arguably a negative. But a residential metal roof describes not just one specific product, but a whole range.  A simple term doesn’t explain if you’re interested in earning a roof made from steel, aluminum, zinc, or copper. With such a wide range of materials and designs, it’s arguably better to call metal roofing the “SUV of Roofing”.

Let’s break down all of the differences of all of the types of residential metal roofing, as well as each material’s pros and cons.

Types of Metal Roofing Materials

Hearing the term “Metal Roof”, one would likely assume it would be a roof made of steel. However, this phrase involves a large variety of different materials.  Based on your location, the material used for your metal roof is an important first step for how you want your house to go. For example, while aluminum roofs are great when it comes to rust resistance in salty regions, their durability is lower than other materials.

Copper Roofing – Pros & Cons

Copper is one of the first types that was used for residential metal roofing, being utilized for centuries. Part of the reason it has been around so long is its durability. The metal is long-lasting, so in certain environments, it can stay strong for more than 200 years. They’re also recyclable, which helps the environment.

With the material being incredibly soft, copper is one of the quietest types for residential metal roofing. The downside is that, thanks to modern installation practices, all metal roofing suggests having proper substrates to help minimize noise that could come from rain or hail. Being so soft also means the roof may become easily damaged in regions that often see hail. Its aesthetic value is therefore lowered, but it also performs better than a harder metal that can puncture a roof thanks to a big enough hailstone instead of denting it.

Continuing the “metal roofs are the SUVs of roofing” metaphor, it’s fair to say Copper roofs are the Range Rovers of metal roofing.  One thing both Copper roofs and Range Rovers share are the price and utility: they’re both very expensive and in certain cases, depending on what you need, they can be more than what you really need for a job. Copper also has a problem of often either expanding and contracting due to temperature swings.  It can be controlled if using the right panel or shingle. But that factor still needs to be taken consideration.

Aluminum Roofing – Pros & Cons

If Copper is the Range Rover of Metal Roofing, then Aluminum is the Dune Buggy.  Putting into perspective, let’s look at a Volkswagen Beetle. Take out the doors, roof, and other unneeded features. Seal off the essentials so you can prevent salt spray, add on a roll cage, and upgrade the suspension.  Add some sand tires and ride it to the beach. After all of that, you’ve got the perfect vehicle that showcases the strength and corrosive durability of an Aluminum roof.

This material is best in coastal climates.  The reason is due to Aluminum’s stronger salt corrosion resistance compared to other types of residential metal roofs.  A common belief is that Aluminum is not affected by corrosion. Instead, it’s because of a highly active metal that quickly reacts to atmospheric conditions.  Aluminum’s outer layer reacts with its environment’s oxygen, thus creating a layer of aluminum oxide that protects its inner layers from corrosion.  Its process is like the process of an A606 Weathering Steel. The main difference is a faster time frame and longer lasting protection. A painted coating is often used with Aluminum. This is because the metal’s natural patina over time is not considered to be very appealing aesthetically.

Like with Copper, the big downside with Aluminum is its cost.  Its protection towards corrosion is better, but it’s more expensive than other solutions that just use aluminum as a coating. The price for Aluminum varies and changes, all dependent on the market. But often, its price is somewhere between steel and copper.  Due to the price, Aluminum gets used in more thinner thicknesses than steel.

Despite Aluminum’s strength to weight ratio being higher than steel, its high cost often means its panels become too thin for their surroundings.  For windy areas, or areas that see hail or other strong environmental concerns, it’s common to see Aluminum roofing get damaged.  Taking note of what environmental strains your Aluminum Roof might endure is an important aspect when it comes to picking this material.

Zinc Roofing – Pros & Cons

Remember the Humvee? That durable machine that took one anywhere they had to go, all at a modest price?  That is basically Zinc.

Zinc is an amazing metal, for it uses its patina to heal scratches over time and can continue to be strong for more than 100 years. Zinc’s natural properties help make the property a good type of metal roofing for commercial buildings. This is because the metal can be easily changed into many different shapes. Unfortunately, Zinc does see chalking over time, although it can be cleaned and controlled to an extent.

The Humvee wasn’t really considered a “green vehicle”, but Zinc is arguably the greenest metal roofing type.  Its lower melting point compared to other metal roofing types means processing Zinc requires just a quarter of the processing energy needed for properties like steel or copper.  Not to mention, Zinc is recyclable and easy to find.

But again, Zinc’s major downside, aesthetically, is its chalking effect, as well as its price, with costs comparable to Copper.  Both require expert installation for their advantages as building materials to truly take off.

Zinc, like most bare metals, patinas into a blue or grey appearance if unpainted.  When in areas that sees water flow, it causes a chalk residue many consider to be unappealing.  Zinc is also very soft and, depending on the panel design, can be easily damaged thanks to hail or high winds.

Steel Roofing – Pros & Cons

Steel is an alloy, made from elements like Iron. Used in just about all building aspects, steel roofing is one of the more popular materials used at construction sites, and since then has been used for residential buildings quite frequently. Creating steel often requires a lot of time and energy to create compared to metals like Zinc, but its recyclability means most of the steel used today is from recycled material.  Steel is the most recycled material on Earth, and one that’s easy to find, meaning it’s a very green material that’s great for roofing and the environment.

It’s also the least expensive, compared to most metals. This means steel is both affordable and easier to find than other metals.

There are three different Steel Roofing types: Galvanized, Galvalume, and Weathering Steel.

Galvanized Steel is made with a layer of Zinc that helps protect inner steel layers from corrosion.  This results in a steel panel’s life being extended. Galvanized Steel is the most common form of Steel Roofing.

Galvalume Steel is like Galvanized, but instead of just a Zinc coating, Galvalume combines Zinc with Aluminum.  The Aluminum protects metal from corrosion in certain environments better than Galvanized, while also creating a smaller, smoother spangle. However, Galvalume is more susceptible to scratches than Galvanized.

Weathering Steel was once intended to only be used in heavy steel industries like bridge construction.  One outer layer of steel is made to intentionally rust, therefore protecting the inner layer.  It’s like when Aluminum patinas, but for a much longer period. Remember that Weathering Steel is supposed to rust and should not be used as a structural solution for steel roofing. Weathering Steel is most often used for accent roofs.

Steel Roofing has seen many advancements through the past 50 years and today is used for mimicking Copper, Zinc, and other expensive metal roofing types.  It’s able to mimic these metals thanks to paint systems which generate a painted solution that matches a metal’s natural patina. Said solutions have lengthy warranties, making them perfect when it comes to remodels or restorations.

But perhaps the best advantage steel has compared to other materials is its many usages and cost.  Its low cost helps make steel the main solution for residential buildings, and it doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. It’s also green, meaning its accessible and recyclable.  It’s also one of the hardest metals, making it perfect for most weather environments, especially areas prone to have hail or high winds. It’s also used in mountain regions that see high amounts of snow.

Thanks to how it can be used, its low price, and how easy it is to find, Steel is considered the Jeep Wrangler of Roofing options.

Tin Roofing – Pros & Cons

Tin Roofing is used interchangeably with metal roofing, steel roofing, or galvanized steel.  But Tin is a rarely used metal when it comes to roofing. Tin was created to be used for canning, but later found itself used by DIYers, who flattened Tin to create shingles.

However, after Aluminum became a more common material for containers, Tin lost its popularity amongst DIYers.  When people discuss “tin roofs” today, it’s usually referring to galvanized steel or aluminum.

Thanks to its DIY usage in the 19th century, as well as its long-lasting usage in people’s dialogue, Tin is the Willy’s Jeep of Metal Roofing types. It’s used often in science and technology fields, but Tin is usually not used as a roofing type, especially when it comes to residential areas.

Metal Roofing Conclusion

All five metal types have good and bad things going for them. In many cases, the best option comes down to price.  Copper is the most visually impressive, but also the most expensive.  Zinc is the greenest, but also very expensive.  Aluminum is great in coastal areas and less expensive than the previously mentioned materials.  Steel is used the most, so it’s less expensive, and is great for residential buildings.  Tin isn’t used anymore and is often referred to galvanized steel in terms of roofing.

Picking the best metal roof for you comes down to your installer, your location, and what your roof will have to go through. Remember to hire experienced roofing contractors, especially those who have worked with metal roofing, more specifically the metal you want to use for your project.

Are there any potential pros and cons we might have missed? Then please leave us a comment to let us know about your experience with metal roofs!

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