Introducing the Metal Roof: Shingles are now Obsolete

dallas_burbsIf you’re in the United States and you look out your window in a typical neighborhood, you will notice asphalt shingle roofs as far as the eye can see.  There are a few regional differences, like clay tile roofs in California and Florida and flat roofs in the adobe-style houses of Santa Fe. But overall the Almighty Shingle dominates the marketplace. And this is a shame, because it is a pretty wasteful roofing material that causes a lot of unnecessary cost and headaches.

Flying in to Sydney a few years ago, I noticed that their suburbs looked completely different than ours. Every single roof was an attractive geometric expanse of detailed steel panels, often in bold colors. The Australians told me that these metal roofs save them a lot of energy, and last forever as well.

So during the short life of my house building company, I was pleased that the architect recommended I use metal roofs for the same reasons: They look cool, they can last a lifetime, and they keep out summer heat much better than shingles.

The only problem is that in my area, the costs were spectacular. I paid about $13,000 to have a local company install standing seam metal roofing on each of the two houses my company built, in contrast to the $4,000 that other builders were forking over for shingles on houses of similar size. I wondered about the price, but did not have time to find a better solution.

For my current house rebuilding project, the relaxed schedule and budget allows us to go All Experimental, All The Time. A welded steel load frame. A huge amount of high-solar-gain glass. Radiant heat. Spray foam insulation. And perhaps most exciting for me, installing my very own standing seam metal roof for the first time.

I have just finished installation of the bulk of this roof and put it through rainstorm test, and the whole experience has been a great one. So in case you ever want to consider such a roof for one of your own future homes, here’s a quick primer on why and how to do it.

Benefits of a Metal Roof


Here’s a house much fancier than mine, showing off its metal roof (image credit: Metal Sales Inc)

General Awesomeness and Durability: The biggest reason to choose metal is that it looks great and lasts forever. On top of that, it is more resistant to wind, fire, snow, hail, and rain. You actually get a discount on your annual insurance premiums in many areas if you have a metal instead of shingle roof.

Even in shingle-dominated areas, you’ll often see higher-end houses popping up with metal roofing. Once you do it, you’re done thinking about roofing forever. If you buy a house with a metal roof, these benefits pass on to you. This means the style has excellent resale value.

But note that all metal is not created equal. The rusty corrugated stuff that you see on old barns and chicken coops is in a different category than the architectural standing seam panels we use today. While even a corrugated steel roof can work well, the modern stuff is better in almost every way.

Weight and Environmental Impact: your typical 2000 square foot shingle roof weighs 5400 pounds and contains over 200 gallons of sticky black crude oil, soaked into its fiberglass mat and covered with ground stones. After only 15-25 years, all of this will need to be torn off, trucked away, and replaced with another layer of oil.

In contrast, a metal roof of equivalent size weighs only half as much (meaning you can design with lighter structural members), and requires less than half the fossil fuels to produce. On top of that, new steel is made from 50-100% recycled steel these days and is fully recyclable at the end of its life, which will be 200-300% longer than the life of shingles.

 Lower Air Conditioning Bills: Shingles reflect only 5-25% of the solar heat striking your roof. Steel can reflect 20-60% of it, depending on color. This keeps your attic (and in turn your house) much cooler, and also reduces the urban heat island effect and smog formation. In areas like Dallas and Houston where there is too much heat and too little fresh air, shingle roofs still dominate and the average cooling bill for a single house is over $1200 per year. Imagine the effect of a widespread switch to light colored metal roofs in areas like these.

But What Does All This Cost?

All this is much less expensive than I thought (in other words, I got ripped off when building those other houses back in the day). Shingle roofs cost at least $1.50 per square foot for the materials, and $1.50 for the installation. Metal is only a bit higher at roughly $2.20 per square foot, and from my own experience the installation takes about the same amount of work and skill level. So the overall installed cost should be only 25-35% higher if you hire it out, and you can build your own metal roof for less than you would pay a very competitive company to shingle it.

How to Get your Own Metal Roof

Although I installed my own (with the help of a few friends), you don’t have to do this to get the benefits. Understanding the components involved, and how easy the stuff is to install, will give you ammunition in selecting your own roofing company.

Understand the Terminology

Here’s the 3-D Sketchup model of my house, viewed from above. I have labeled the various parts, because you’ll need to know those when ordering a roof of your own or hiring a contractor.


Find a Supplier

Metal roofing components are extremely simple: Sheets of galvanized steel get rolled through a shaping machine, cut to length, and optionally painted. Some roofing companies buy their own shaping machines so they can buy rolls of plain galvanized steel and crank the stuff out right on the job site. But there are also manufacturing companies that do it. I went with Metal Sales Inca nationwide company that makes all sorts of exterior metal panels and sells through Home Depot’s special order department as well as other retailers.

Get a Quote

At the core of this learning experiment is just figuring out what to order. After much distillation, all I needed was a few different components in sufficient quantity:

  • Gutters (aka “box gutters”) to catch the water as it flows off each of my eaves
  • Valley Flashing, which is just a big slightly-bent strip of metal to put into each valley to catch water
  • Offset Flashing, to create a little hook along each eave and valley (you’ll see what this is for in a minute)
  • Metal Panels, to cover the whole roof
  • A panel hemming tool, to fold the downward end of each metal panel and hook it under the offset flashing
  • Z-closure Flashing, a little filler piece to fit into spaces and keep bugs out.
  • Rake Flashings, to cover each side edge of the roof
  • Peak Flashing, to cover the upward slope and give the whole thing a finished look.
  • Assorted screws, rivets, rubbery tape stuff, and clear silicone roofing caulk.

Let’s take a look at my quote from MSI, so you can see the details in action. Note that my 1500 square foot house has a 2100 square foot roof, because of the large overhangs.
bhc_quote-1I got this quote from a local building supply store called Budget Home Center – they sell MSI stuff at the same price at Home Depot, but the staff is far more knowledgeable and responsive. Even so, I ended up with a few unneeded parts: the “standard cleat” and “eave flashing” are not needed for my job. The total cost, including complimentary delivery right to my front yard, was about $4500 if you avoid ordering the unnecessary stuff. Not bad for a $13,000 roof!

How to Install your Metal Roof

Here I am doing the most time-consuming task: screwing down every panel, every 24". The line of screws is then hidden by the overlapping seam of the next panel, which locks in.

Here I am doing the most time-consuming task: screwing down every panel, every 24″. The line of screws is then hidden by the overlapping seam of the next panel, which locks into place beautifully.

In a nutshell, you screw and rivet down all the pieces from eave to peak, in the same order I listed them above. I won’t get into all the details, because they are covered well in this YouTube video from Metal Sales Inc itself. But suffice it to say that installation was a breeze. I have done quite a few shingle roofs in the past, and this operation was faster, tidier, and less tiring than shingling.

In the end, it will take us about 60 person-hours to do the whole thing, which should come in under $2000 if you figure labor at $30 per hour, or under $1.00 per square foot for my relatively simple roof. Add in a bit more complexity for the typical roof and some profit margin for your roofing company, and I would still think that installation cost should not be much higher than shingles.

Alternatively, if you figure that I saved $9,000 over hiring my previous metal roofing company, My friends and I “earned” $150 per hour for doing this pleasant and educational work. If you are a roofing contractor yourself, I’d recommend adding metal roofing to your portfolio. The lack of competition will provide better margins and a surplus of customers.

Here's the view looking upslope at my finished roof. I built in a chimney flashing to accomodate the future woodstove.

Here’s the view looking upslope at my finished roof. I built in a chimney flashing to accomodate the future woodstove.

And if you’re a current or future homeowner, I can’t rave enough about the huge step forward you can take once you learn about this superior alternative to shingles.


  • PeachFuzzStacher May 1, 2014, 9:55 am

    Anyone know anything about EPDM rubber roofing? I just bought a house last year that has rubber on the newer half of the house (lower slope) and shingles on the old half. I was thinking about making the whole thing rubber once the shingles go. I’m surprised no one has mentioned it yet, since it’s common enough.

  • Tamali August 28, 2014, 8:40 am

    I grew up in New Zealand, and always had a metal roof over my head. However, when it came to building my own home, I love American Arts & Crafts architecture and built a home in this style.
    Thankfully I was able to get the look of shingles in a metal roof and as it was a textured metal, no noise from the rain either. Also, as I live in a high wind zone this was ideal as the metal tile sheets are fixed horizontally, making them more secure in high winds.

  • Eric Paul September 17, 2014, 7:33 pm

    Hey MMM –
    Just climbed down from two days worth of patchwork repair on my asphalt roof to get it to limp through one more season (I’m in Broomfield) and I remembered this post. I’m going to start planning my roofing project for next summer. Just curious, any additional feedback now that you’re in the new place and the roof has been in place a while now? Anything you’d do differently next time around? Wanna come hang out at my place for a few days next summer ;-)?

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 17, 2014, 9:32 pm

      So far, we love the roof! No regrets, other than ordering a few unnecessary bits which now lie beside my house waiting for other uses.

  • Ralf February 27, 2015, 1:21 pm

    Dear Mr Money Moustache

    your friendly readers in Norway wants to point you to Decra roofing :-)

    Decra is about as good as stoicism when it comes to roofing.

    Ref: http://www.decra.com/

  • Gerry March 2, 2015, 2:06 pm

    Using snow stops (snow guards) on a standing seam roof which has a lower pitch (3′ in 12) may not be the answer to control avalanches. Ice forms at the bottom of my standing seam roof, due to snow melt running down and re-freezing at the bottom section of the roof. I have seen this ice build up to 8″ thickness and then avalanche off the roof on a sunny day. My concern is that if I put snow guards on the roof, – even more snow will stay on the roof. This extra snow then will melt, run down to the outer section of the roof overhang and refreeze, creating an even worse problem. I have not yet found a solution for controlling snow on lower sloped metal roofs. Any advice greatly appreciated.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 3, 2015, 8:55 am

      I am seeing this right now at my house, as we’ve had some unusual snowfall interspersed with warm February weather. My gutter has completely filled up with ice because the roof slope faces North and thus doesn’t get enough sun to melt the ice each day. But the snow slides off freely every time it warms up.

      In my case, I enjoy the avalanches because they clear the roof and fall harmlessly into the front garden (the front of the roof overhang is only 9′ off the ground). But for higher houses or those overlooking public sidewalks, I’d try putting the snow guard very low on the slope, so nothing can build up below it.

  • Matt D March 20, 2015, 10:39 am

    After living in the west, i love the idea of these metal roofs. Glad to know the diy cost isn’t much more than shingles. Tired of laying shingle roofs. As to the wood stove, They’re great! But have you looked into the pellet stoves? Far more efficient in terms of purchasing material to burn. Living in Tahoe it cost us about $25 a month at most to heat a 500′ sq apartment thru the winter. The only negative is it requires electricity. But only to run the auger. Either way we still paid on average a half to a third of what our friends with traditional wood stoves paid. Just know that pellet brand is important, I swear by “Golden Fire”, less ash, more heat/lb.

  • Tom Norton March 29, 2015, 9:48 am

    Do you come to Johnstown Pa to do work if so I would like an est. for a metal roof. my # is 814-410-3895 thank you

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 31, 2015, 7:50 pm

      Thanks for the offer, Tom! But I’ll have to turn it down, as I’m retired :-)

  • Brandon McW June 30, 2015, 8:05 am

    Alright MMM, you’ve convinced me once again. I’m going to go for the metal roof. I’m still lacking a little confidence to do it myself. I found this training program:


    Do you think it’s worth it? I figure I could learn the ins and outs and potentially grab a helper in the process. Do you think the $600 is worth it?

  • Thom August 10, 2015, 4:02 pm

    I had my home’s roof done three years ago. I had two layers of shingles and the contractor installed 1×4’sover the shingles ever two feet and then put my roof on. I have had no leaks and it is much less noisy than I thought it would be. It still looks new and it came with a 7o year warranty. I have been very pleased and have received several complements on the way the home looks. Here in Muskogee County in the SE area of Oklahoma we get high winds and lots of hail and even snow. It has really held up well my contractor was more than fair. I had a local contractor named Travis Carlton install it and he did the whole j0b including clean up in two days. I paid $4600 compared to shingles on a 1500 sqft house the cost was about the same. My only suggestion is ask for the heaver Gage metal like Travis installed for me. Lowe’s and Home Depot have a lighter Gage and it will be more easy to dent in hail storms. Also make sure you ask around for a good installer. A good installer will install it correctly and use the right screws and talk to you first about all the plus and minuses to having a metal roof. Last check with your home owners insurance. Mine cut me 20% off because of the installation of a metal roof.

  • Ted December 15, 2015, 3:55 pm

    For hotter climates like the desert southwest and southern California I’m wondering about expansion
    /contraction damage to these roofs especially near protrusions, chimneys, pitch transitions, valleys, etc. The CTE (coefficient of thermal expansion) is obviously greater for metal roofs than composite or tile roofing materials. Anything on this?

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 18, 2015, 11:42 am

      That’s a good question Ted, but I don’t know if it is much of a problem. My area has one of the biggest temperature swings (100F difference between maximum high and lowest low in a typical year). My valley and chimney caulking details still seem to be in pretty good shape. Perhaps because of the “fold over” technique that you use to create the valley details – there is room for expansion without requiring a caulk joint to absorb it all.

  • Tanktop March 14, 2016, 11:12 pm

    Very good write up and a huge savings. I was just wondering to myself earlier today if you had tackled a metal roof. Fantastic.

  • diane harris May 5, 2016, 8:38 am

    please tell me who in Central Florida does this type of metal roofing.

    Thank you

  • Kellie August 2, 2017, 7:04 am

    I’m several years out from this post but I have to say I am in 100% agreement with it! I saved like mad and just got my roof replaced with a great metal roof. 4 days after getting the roof installed, we had a big hail storm with balls as large as marbles. I didn’t even realize it until I heard the hail hitting the windows and front door. Not a sound came from the roof. It’s August now in Florida, hottest month we have, and I can come home to a still cool house even after all day with the a/c off. My largest electric bills are always June, July, and August. So far, they’ve been considerably lower. Metal is the only way to go!

  • Anders September 19, 2017, 9:55 am

    MMM; You now have a couple of winters behind you with the metal roof. I noticed that you installed gutters on the roof and I’m not able to see any snow fences in the pictures.
    How have the gutters worked during the snowy winters? Sliding snow has a tendency to rip out gutters and anything in its way (even when the gutters are mounted low).
    What’s your experience?

  • Daniel Mar September 22, 2017, 9:18 pm

    How do metal roofs hold up to strong winds? We’ve had 80 mph winds here, in a Denver suburb.

  • Rob Cooper June 20, 2019, 1:20 pm

    A couple of points I think should be mentioned: #1 Darker finishes on metal roofs will get lighter over time. The cheaper the finish the more it will change. A good metal panel will outlast it’s color, especially if it’s dark. #2 Fixed metal roof systems with fasteners at least in the top and bottom of the panel will leak over time. The expansion and contraction of the metal will cause the panel to pull against the fastener, eventually creating larger holes around the fasteners. A more expensive, free floating, standing seam roof is truly a long term-almost maintenance free roof.

  • Derek McDoogle February 25, 2020, 11:34 am

    It’s interesting how you explained that the biggest reason to choose metal is that it looks great and lasts forever. My dad told me that his second home needs some improvements and he is thinking about investing in a new roof and floors. I will recommend him to read this article so he can be aware of the advantages of metal roofs.


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