If you follow me on Instagram, you know that we had a thrilling week with the addition of a new roof and the removal of FIVE layers of roofing material. This project was a long time coming and has been the topic of many discussions in our household. So, I’m here to give you all the details from picking a color, finding a contractor, and the cost. Hold on to your seats - roofing is very exciting.
Why a new roof now?
We knew from the very beginning that our roof wasn’t in the greatest of shape. During escrow three years ago, the seller patched a few leaky spots, and our inspection report had nothing good to say about the roof. I’ve included the inspection report below (click on an image to make it full screen then use your arrow keys to flip through the five roofing pages) but in an essence, there were too many layers of roofing materials, unsealed fasteners, excessive granules coming off shingles, damaged and missing shingles, loose chimney flashing, lumpy shingles from too many layers, unsealed plumbing vent flashing, evidence of leaks in attic, and filthy gutters.
So, we knew we’d need a new roof at some point, but we had been lucky over the past few years to not have any leaks. We get so little rain in San Diego (and obviously never any snow) so we gambled with the longevity of the roof in an effort to put off the expensive project.
We were delaying the roof for a few reasons. 1. We weren’t sure if we wanted to add on to the house or adjust the roofline in any way, so we didn’t want to rush into getting a new roof only later having to remove a portion of it and re-roof an addition. 2. It’s a costly expense and we had other projects that we wanted to spend our money on. 3. We felt like if we could stretch the existing roof for a few more years, the new one would feel a lot “newer” to a future buyer. Basically, if we get the roof in 2015 and sell in 2025, the new roof would be 10 years old but if we reroof in 2022, the new roof would be only 3 years old and thus more appealing to a future buyer. 4. It was holding up fine. The patches the previous owner did worked and we weren’t seeing any signs of damage that we couldn’t fix with a bucket in the attic if there were a leak. We’re lucky that we can access 100% of our attic, so no leak would go unnoticed. I inspected the attic every time in rained and was always pleasantly surprised to see it was all dry.
So why did we want to get a new roof now? The answer is: solar. We’re going to be adding solar panels to our home and putting them on top of a failing roof would be downright silly because the cost to have someone remove them and replace them when we re-roof would be a beyond unnecessary cost.
A reason some folks do roofs at the same time as solar is for tax purposes. Currently, homeowners can claim a credit of 30% of the cost of solar on their taxes (which basically makes solar cost 2/3 of the retail price). Many people (primarily solar sales people) claim that if you combine your solar and roof project, you can also claim a credit of 30% of the cost of your roof, too. Some people do make this claim on their taxes, however, our tax person advises against this because it’s a grey area in tax law and while people are getting away with it now, they could get audited and get a slap on the wrist later. She recommends if you want to take that credit, only apply it to the percentage of your roof that is underneath the solar panels. Don’t take my word for it, consult your tax professional to make the call that’s right for you.
Anywaaaaaaay…I digress. Basically, our roof was in poor shape, we’re anxious to add solar, and I hated the color of the roof. So, we got a new roof.
Picking a new roof
There are all sorts of things to consider when picking a new roof from material, color, durability, style, features, and price. Much of it has to do with your climate, style of house, and regional regulations. I can’t possibly address all options, so I can only speak to my sunny San Diego climate and California regulations.
Material: There are some beautiful roof materials out there, but most don’t fit with my home’s craftsman bungalow style. Metal standing seam is too modern, clay is too Mediterranean, Slate is too traditional, grass is cool but too cool for us, and rolled or TPO is too flat. Cedar shingles are beautiful and what were on the house originally, but California law prohibits them because we’re so prone to fires - it’s like putting kindling on your house. Tesla’s solar roof is magnificently amazing - the solar panels are hidden in the roof shingles! - but it’s four times the cost of traditional roofing. The last material we’re left with is composite, or asphalt shingles which are the most popular roofing material out there. They are designed to mimic the look of individual shingles but they’re much easier to install and more durable than fire prone wood shake. They come in a variety of colors and textures to fit with the majority of architectural styles and are widely available.
Color: Craftsman bungalows look best in deep moody colors, in my opinion. Earthy browns and greens with touches of deep burgundys and mustards are the most traditionally seen in this type of architecture which was designed to be more at one with the environment. Lucky for me, I like dark moody hues so sticking with the traditional craftsman color scheme works well for me. The current colors on our house are close to what I like (the dark green and burgundy trim) but I’m not in love with the sandy green base color and the peachy accents. One day we hope to change those, so picking a roof color that will complement the future color palette was key. Here’s my Pinterest board for house colors, if you’re into that. At one point, I considered green or red roofs, but felt like a black/gray was the safest bet.
I was worried black was too stark or even too modern for our old house. But the gray had so much variation that I worried it would look speckled and have too much of contrasting undertones.
The best way to decide was to find an angle from the street with the best view of the roof, snap a few photos, and make a rendering then stare at it for 15 hours. Almost all roofing companies have options to try the roof colors on your roof, which I used, but I also mocked up the below images in Photoshop.
I debated the colors for several weeks. We walked around our neighborhood and looked at roof colors for hours. It was definitely a helpful exercise to find colors that complement our neighbors, and also see which roof colors we were drawn toward. In the end, we found another line of roofing from the same manufacture that had a dark grey in between the grey and the black, so it was a winner!
Historic Review Board: Our home was recently designated a historic structure (more on this later!) so we needed to ask them to approve the color. Luckily, they were okay with our color choice and shingle line so I didn’t need to argue with them at all.
Shingle Quality: Shingle prices increase primarily with aesthetics, but sometimes with durability. I admittedly didn’t look at the high-end ones because I wasn’t after a fancy shingle pattern and our roof doesn’t need to be more durable than standard. Maybe if we lived in a climate with hurricanes and snow storms we would have considered investing in a premium roof, but the only weather our roof will deal with is sunshine.
Eco-Friendly Options: The roof we ultimately went with is called a “Cool Roof” which is designed with hot, sunny climates in mind. Traditionally, dark roofs will absorb heat making your attic and home hotter. Then, the A/C turns on and works harder to keep the house cool and uses more energy by doing so. Thus, its not the “greenest” thing to do. Light colored roofs are more reflective and absorb less heat making them a better solution in hot climates - yet in my case, it wasn’t the aesthetic preference. In addition to making the house itself hotter, dark roofs/roads/etc. contribute to Urban Heat Islands – areas of heat intensified by manmade urban environments. Learn more here about this phenomenon and how our homes collectively make it hotter for everyone - especially people that struggle most without air conditioning. Cool roofs have reflective materials built into the shingles making them more reflective and minimize the effect of a hot, dark roof. They aren’t perfect, and are still less efficient than a white roof, but it’s a start. To get details on which manufacture and color is most efficient, here’s a database of cool roof data, and here’s a calculator to see how effective your cool roof could be. I’m really sensitive to our fragile environment and the way humans are contributing to climate change, so getting a cool roof was a worthwhile investment, especially because it only cost and extra couple hundred dollars.
Price: The roof manufacture has 5 tiers of pricing with 1 being builder-grade and 5 being the top of the line. We initially were looking at tier 2 but the Cool Roof bumped us into tier 3. But the difference between 2 and 3 was just $250. I’ll break down the price more at the bottom of the post.
Picking a contractor
We got about 5 bids for our roofing project. They ranged from $12k to $18k (gasp!) and they all use basically the same materials, so it came down to who we wanted to work with. I ALWAYS recommend getting at least three bids (I tend to get 5+ depending on the project and how much I disliked the personality of the previous contractor - I got a lot of duds during my bathroom reno so I got 15 bids) but I don’t want to get into contractor selection now. My friend Kim of Yellow Brick Home wrote a post about selecting and working with contractors here and she shares some fantastic tips.
We ultimately went with the cheapest option because he was local, trusted, well reviewed by neighbors, and was a general contractor and not just a roofer. Where some people would prefer a specialized roofer, I wanted a licensed contractor because I can always use another pair of hands around the house for other projects, so working with him on the roof was a good test to see if he’d be good to call in for future projects. Plus, we had plumbing in the attic that needed re-routing and I liked not having to call in a plumber to do it because this contractor could work on it while he was already here. I also appreciated that he was really transparent about his pricing so I was able to see where my money was going and not feeling ripped off. More on the costs at the bottom of the post.
Prepping for the new roof
Each time a roofer gave an estimate on the roof, I invited them into the attic to asses the structure of the roof. I wanted to be 100% sure that the structural integrity of the roof was strong enough for a new roof and ultimately solar. Luckily, each contractor agreed we were in good shape. The ridge-beam is rather skinny by today’s standards but it’s supported by rafters that are chunky and high-quality old-growth wood. I gotta love old houses for being made with prime materials.
We didn’t do much prep other than empty out the attic. We pulled out things we didn’t want to get dusty like boxes of files and heirlooms. But we left sealed plastic bins of things and draped them in tarps. Roof tear-off projects are suuuuuuper messy because everything falls into the attic space. If we had existing plywood sheeting, it wouldn’t have gotten so messy, but because we didn’t have plywood and were pulling off all materials down to the framing, the whole attic was at risk of being drowned in filth.
The tear-off company is really good about laying tarps around the perimeter of the house to protect landscaping and make their clean-up easier. They covered my outdoor furniture, plants, and backyard decking.
Removing the old roof and recycling
There are basically two ways to do get a new roof. There’s an overlay option where you put new shingles on top of the existing shingles. It’s a less costly option that’s totally allowed by building code (as long as you don’t exceed two layers - at least in my region). Then there’s tear-off which is exactly as it sounds. During a tear off, all shingle material is removed down to the roof decking which is often a plywood sheeting, or in my case the skeletal framing of the roof. More on this later in the post.
I’m going to stop there to talk about recycling. As someone that has been trying to go zero-waste for the past few months, the idea of filling up an entire dumpster with roof trash and hauling it to the dump was pretty painful. I spent a good deal of time researching how to recycle all of the roofing and it’s actually a very do-able process. Most roofs are made of asphalt which is what our roads are made out of so asphalt recycling centers sort out the nails and wood chips from the shingles and then grind up the shingles to use as a base in our asphalt roads. I was pretty smitten with the idea until I couldn’t find any recycling centers or tear-off companies in my region to do the work. I called around and learned that California regulation prevents asphalt recycling. There are concerns of the ground up particles going into the air and causing pollution/contamination. It’s kind of ironic that recycling something causes pollution, but so be it. I tried to see if there were work-arounds or other ways of recycling the shingles without causing more damage and came up empty handed. All of my roof materials went to the dump and I feel pretty gross about it. However, many more states still do recycle their asphalt and they all do it in different ways - so the pollution issue may not be a problem! Here is a shingle recycling website to help you get started by finding a tear-off company or recycling center in your area.
On day one, the tear-off company came to remove all of the roof materials. They covered the perimeter of the house with tarps for easy clean up and they pulled a dumpster into the driveway to scrape all of the old materials into. My contractor had estimated that there were three layers of roofing, but once the tear-off team got started, they noticed that there were FIVE.
We knew that the roof had ALL of its layers still on it because the original cedar shingle was visible from the underside of the roof. So, we knew that it only ever had overlay style roofing jobs and nobody had ever torn off the previous layers - until now. There was definitely something nostalgic about seeing the original 100+ year-old shingles whenever we went into the attic. Unfortunately they all have to come off because code says that tear-off jobs require going all the way down to the decking and no shingles can remain.
Here you can see the original cedar shingle, and asphalt shingles in red, blue, grey, and white - how patriotic!
I enjoy thinking about all of the iterations of the house with its multi-colored roof. I knew it was blue at one point because the interior of the garage doors are blue, but I would have never guessed it had a blue roof. I wonder if it was this color when the interior of the house was painted in a rainbow of pastels. How precious.
Unfortunately, there’s an extra cost per layer of roofing because of the extra labor to scrape it off and the extra dump fees for more materials. Our contractor said he would normally absorb that cost himself if it were one layer because he missed it at inspection, but since they found two hidden layers, he agreed to split the extra cost with me. Our roof cost price increased by $700 on day one - ugh.
The process of the tear off was super messy and pretty noisy, too. But, boy, do they work fast - it took about seven hours to remove 1400 square feet of roofing with five layers throughout.
I documented the day-by-day process in the form of Instagram videos which you can check out here.
By the end of the day, the roof materials were gone and some of the plywood sheeting was installed. It was cool to visit the attic in the evening and have a view of the skies from inside the house. My New York buddy, Daniel of Manhattan Nest who has been without a roof during east cost fall/winters texted me aghast by the fact the crew left the roof open and un-tarped over night. Buddy, it rarely ever drops below 60 degrees here!
On day two they finished the plywood and added the felt underlayment. It was insanely noisy inside. I’m so glad I returned my foster kittens before this project because those poor critters would have been traumatized. Some artwork fell off a ledge, light fixtures rattled, and windows shook. I was afraid something would get seriously damaged, but we came out unscathed.
On day three they started adding the shingles. At least one of the installers nailed the shingles in to the tune of “shave and a haircut, two bits” and it started to drive me bonkers by the 600th time.
By lunch time on day four I got a call that they were all done! Take a look at her now!
I feel like we definitely could have gone darker, but I’m glad we didn’t go lighter.
The outside of the house has come a long way! Take a look at the before and for all of the posts catching you up on the landscaping and curb appeal improvements we’ve done.
For the sake of transparency, here’s the breakdown of our costs. For reference, our house is 1400 square feet with a hip roof and three dormer-style pop outs from the main body of the hip roof.
|City of San Diego roof permit - Historic||1||$415.42||$415.42|
|Tear off of asphalt shingle layer||2||$86||$172|
|Tear off of surprise asphalt shingle layer||2||$66||$1,320|
|Contractor discount for surprise layer||-$660|
|Tear off of original shake||1||$33||$660|
|"Cool" asphalt shingles||60||$32.38||$1,942.8|
|Decorative ridge shingles||8||$68.47||$547.76|
|Labor, delivery, plumbing, GC oversight||$5,447.42|
The project is definitely a pretty penny. We didn’t add any roof vents, which would have increased the cost because we aren’t sure where solar panels are going to go - so we may be spending more $ on ventilation down the road, but so be it!
I previously asked Instagram what they wanted to know about the roof process. I covered most of it in the post, but here are a few more questions that I didn’t address directly.
Do you have to reinforce solar panels in the attic to hold them safely?
Nope. The roof is strong enough to hold up panels. The solar installer will use brackets which are designed to work with the roof framing and shingles for a watertight seal and support.
Can a COOL roof be used in colder climates?
I don’t see why not! When you research roof options on the manufacturer’s websites, they’ll ask you to enter your zip code and will only show you roofs available in your region. Fingers cross Cool Roofs pop up!
What advise would you give yourself now? What would you do differently?
I might have done the black roof, actually - in the Cool Roof version, that is. Our roof turned out lighter than I thought (probably because of the reflective quality) but I’m still really pleased so I’m not regretting this color.
What design tool did you use to help you decide on colors for the roof?
Are there ways to bring the cost down like assist or provide the materials yourself?
I feel like we got as low as we could without doing the labor ourselves - which wasn’t ever a consideration. We paid the the tear-off company directly and paid for materials directly with the hardware store, so my contractor didn’t inflate those costs. The price I paid him for labor felt fair for having a crew of 10+ quality and speedy dudes. There are definitely ways to cut costs in materials like opting for basic ventilation, lower-range roof products, or keeping existing gutters and vents, but due to the size of a roofing project, the numbers tend to be rather steep without pinching pennies on accessories. I saved money by pulling the permit myself - I spent several hours drawing up plans, talking to the people at the city, and waiting in the lobby, then returning to pick up the plans. Contractors would charge for their hourly time for this, so I saved by doing it myself. (Note many contractors said we didn’t need a permit, so you may not need one.)
Do you not need gutters in California?
Gutters are definitely worthwhile anywhere it rains (everywhere). However, they aren’t needed on every portion of the roof. We have one gutter on the back of the house which feeds my rain barrels. The rest of the house has large overhanging eaves that direct water away from the foundation. There have been rain storms where there are a few feet of dry space all around the house! So, our home is a-okay with its lack of gutters on the front, but every house and climate is different - plus, I’m no expert! Here’s a good list of different kinds of gutters and accessories.
Why did the old cedar shingles have to come down, too?
Code calls for tear-offs to remove ALL layers of roofing down to the decking. The only reason it hadn’t been removed in the past was previous roofers installed shingles on top of other layers not to code. We had to follow code because our house is designated historic and thus needed to pull a permit.
Solar panels?!?! Tell me everything
I got this question a lot - I promise to tell you more when we get to this step. Promise!
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