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The Little-Known Disadvantage of a Metal Roof

By , July 6th, 2012 | 22 Comments »

colorful metal roofs

Where I live, we have commercials on TV every fifteen minutes touting the two major local metal roof sellers. Metal roofing is gaining popularity in parts of the country. Often touted as the more frugal alternative to traditional roofing, a metal roof is supposedly more energy efficient, resists damage better, requires less maintenance, and lasts longer than asphalt shingles. Many can also be quite attractive.

They are also fire-resistant. While this is an advantage, I’ve recently discovered that it is a big disadvantage, as well. My in-laws had a metal roof on their house that burned down a few weeks ago. They believed all the hype about metal roofing and when they needed a roof replacement a few years ago, they went with metal. Everything was going great until the house caught on fire.

The problem is that a metal roof does not burn. This is great if your neighbor lights up fireworks and a spark lands on your roof. Your roof won’t catch on fire. It’s also great if your house catches on fire when people are home. The fire won’t spread to the roof and may give the occupants additional time to escape. The problem comes when it’s time to fight the fire. A metal roof can handicap firefighter’s efforts to save your house. One way firefighters gain the upper hand on a fire is by punching a hole in the roof (or taking advantage of a hole that has burned through) and spraying water into the house through the roof. They can’t do this with a metal roof. Firefighters are limited to attacking the fire from the sides of the house. This means it will likely take longer to get the fire under control, meaning more losses for you.

The other problem is that, if/when the structure below collapses, the metal roof lands on top of the pile of rubble. It will be too hot for anyone to move it for some time (in my in-laws’ case it took four days). During that time, the fire continues to smolder underneath that roof, further damaging anything that survived the initial fire. This may mean that something like a fire safe which holds your valuables and essential papers, that might have survived the initial fire, is subjected to an even longer duration of extreme temperatures and will likely fail. Anything that you might have been able to save will be completely cooked after several days spent smoldering under a metal roof.

I’m not against metal roofing. I simply want to point out that there some negatives to this material that are not discussed often. I don’t know that anything would have saved my in-laws’ house. All I know is that the efforts of the firefighters were hampered by that roof. Metal roofing does have its positives. When considering a metal roof, or anything else, for that matter, don’t just listen to the positives that the sellers tell you. Evaluate the negatives, too, and decide whether or not they are negatives or risks that you’re willing to deal with. If so, choose the product. If it’s a concern to you, choose something else.

(Photo courtesy of David Paul Ohmer)

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  • Alexandria says:

    So True.

    My parents’ neighbors house just burned down a couple of months ago. The metal roof posed a big challenge and likely meant a smaller fire ended up being a worse fire. They gave up fighting the fire and just focused on containment – letting it destroy the house (there were also other reasons, but being able to fight the fire more quickly/easily would have no doubt salvaged more of the house).

  • jay says:

    Wow! Good to Know.
    Until now, I thought the worst problem was the incredible racket made during a storm, as well as heat trapping.

    Hope your in-laws are OK. Shame about their home.

  • mark says:

    Around here, they sometimes take a portable saw and cut a hole in the roof to accomplish the needed orifice.

    The house I saw blazing today on the news caught the saw on fire and it was chucked into the yard where it continued to smolder.

    When not on fire, I’d imagine the saw will go through metal as it does the wood & asphalt.


  • Jerry says:

    Here in the West, many firefighters have fought to outlaw metal roofs for the above stated reasons as well as the fact that once you do cut through the metal, it creates sharp edges that an obviously can be hazardous to their health.

  • room097 says:

    Metal roofing resists the growth of mildew and algae that may appear on clay tiles and other roofing materials thereby eliminating the need for pressure washing. In some cases, metal roofing may require additional coats of paint during its lifetime depending on the products used. Consumers may also wonder whether their metal roof will rust and become unsightly or weakened. Current technologies involve treatments of the metal or protective seals and paints that make metal roofing resistant to rust, so this factor can also be dismissed as a concern.

  • Kyle says:

    Metal Roofs are a Nationwide Scam

    I own a roofing company in Erie,PA. Our company has been
    fixing leaks on metal roofs for over 15 yrs.

    “Metal Roofs are a Scam”
    Standing Seam Metal Roofs – Brink Kanga Roof agrees that standing seam roofs are pretty close to a lifetime roof. They have a great reputation because they last a long long long time.
    The paint eventually breaks down, though. but….. a good product.

    But….The scam is…..

    Exposed Fastener Metal Roofs:
    In Erie,PA Some roofing contractors are stealing the great reputation of standing seam metal roofs. They are doing so by selling and installing Exposed Fastener Metal Roofs with the “Metal Roofs Last a Lifetime Scam” It’s a fact that exposed fastener metal roofs don’t last long time at all. The rubber seals dry out within 10yrs. Then you have thousands of screw heads/holes leaking. We have been fixing metal roof leaks for over 15 yrs.

    I feel bad for people that have purchased those metal roofs. Although some of them just look right through you when you mention these things and end up getting a metal roof anyhow.

  • Sajid Sultan says:

    I myself have a metal roof in my house but was unaware of this disadvantage. The reason might be that my field of work has me engaged most time of the day i.e. TV Advertising. Thanks for sharing this treasured information.

  • danpayne says:

    The problem with most metal roofs is that they are too slippery to walk on, particularly during a fire. The best metal is a stone coated hidden fastener system. It will not burn from the exterior. If you see footage of a fire in southern Cali, most homeowners are on their roofs with a garden hose, hosing down their roof so that fire does not spread to their home.
    Nothing burns better than a petroleum based organic asphalt shingle, throw one into a camp fire and watch the flames leap from it and the fiberglass crumbles in coastal and colder climates not to mention if you check out the class action law suits against the big manufacturers you will see lots of testimony from consumers who got as little as five years from their shingle, who can afford to replace their roof every five to twelve years.

  • Kyle Brink says:

    Here is another problem.

    Wi-Fi Signal. Most people now have cellphones / I-pads / I-phones / desktop computers etc. How well do you think wi-fi signals work when you have a metal roof over your head? Not well.

    Have you ever had problems with your cellphone when you walk into a shopping store that has a metal roof? Not good.

    I own a large roofing company in Erie,PA. We refuse to install metal roofs. I turn down a lot of work, but it is in the best interest of the homeowner and my company in the long run.
    A lot of roofing companies know that they are an issue, but they continue to install them because it is a very easy sell to a homeowner because of all the false information online. Their is a reason why Metal roofs make up less than 10% of residential roofing.

    • Mike says:

      “How well do you think wi-fi signals work when you have a metal roof over your head?”

      They work perfectly. Unless for some reason a person put their wifi access point outside on their roof, which would mean they have no idea what wifi actually is.

      “Have you ever had problems with your cellphone when you walk into a shopping store that has a metal roof?”

      Sure, but there is a huge difference between the structure of a shopping mall (or large commercial building) and a house. They are not comparable and if you own a roofing company then you know that.

      I had a metal roof installed this year. My wife and I use cellphones exclusively and have noticed zero difference in signal strength. And of course my wifi works exactly the same.

      If you don’t want to sell metal roofing products, then don’t. But don’t be an ass and spread FUD.

  • Lee Fowler says:

    Kyle, I think you are confused about wifi and cell signal. Wifi is from a router within the home and is not impacted by a metal roof. Cell signal is sometimes affected but not in every case, boosters do help.

    As for exposed fastener roofs they are not a scam in every case. Exposed fastener roofs are not a great deal more expensive than asphalt shingled roofs and you would only need to get 15 years from the roofing system to balance out pros/ cons over asphalt shingles. I do agree that improperly installed exposed fastener roofs where the screws are over tightened do tend to have problems, but backing out screws and adding new ones is not as expensive as replacing an entire roof. Ribbed panels are often used in the south where the freeze thaw cycle isn’t nearly as severe, I realize that might be different in northern states.

  • Jerry says:

    I was a fireman for 31 years and never had a problem with a metal roof or slate, stone, ect. When you go to putting water on a roof it’s pretty much a give up. We went inside and put the fire out as do most paid fire depts. You are not going to put out a fire inside a residence by squirting water on the roof. Just saying….They are worth the cost. And no, I don’t have a metal roof , yet.

    • Johnny says:

      Agree-Firemen do not cut a hole in the roof to spray water in. They do it to let the heat an smoke out. They they go inside and spray there.
      On a shingle roof house, if the fire burns through and vents itself, you are way behind because the fire is in the attic and will run through it.
      I have been on a few metal roof house fires. They can be slippery but most fire departments fight from the inside anyway. We are a volunteer dept and that’s the way we do it. If you see a dept. standing in the yard spraying on the roof, they are going to loose it.
      I am considering a metal roof. Have debated this same issue with myself

  • Liza says:

    Metal-roof out to be more expensive over the course of its life-cycle but with basic maintenance it prolong its life double.

  • WD says:

    A dented metal roof ruins your resale and is not insurable by most companies. Good luck resaling your dented up metal roof. I’m an insurance agent and most companies are now excluding cosmetic damage to metal roofs. Comp roofs don’t show damage as much as the dents in metal. You can see even small dents from the ground on a metal roof.
    75% of ALL firefighters are volunteers and metal roofs can be a bigger challenge to these mostly untrained volunteers. I’m also a volunteer firefighter and have been on 6 metal roof fires, they were more of a challenge.
    We now, we have a metal roof and it’s dented all to hell. I’m going back with a Class 4 Impact Resistant shingle. Use metal on your barn not your home.

  • Jan says:

    Any metal or composite roof must be better than replacing asphalt shingles every 15 years.!! It is an obscenity that most houses in America and Canada (I am in Ontario, Canada) replace the roofs so often.

  • Scott Metherd says:

    I’m a fire captain with 34 years of experience. The information that you mentioned in your post is inaccurate. To start with when fighting a fire in a residence, it is seldom required to “punch” a hole in the roof. That is done only to ventilate an attic or upper floor so that heat and fire and smoke can escape to the air. Once ventilated we do not spray water in the hole. We fight fire inside the house where we can quickly get to the seat of the fire and put it out. If it gets to the point where the roof has to be ventilated it’s usually too late to save the house. Also, if we have to get on a metal roof we would use a roof ladder or the aerial ladder that’s mounted on the truck. A metal roof has nothing to do with the outcome of a house fire.

  • David says:

    What about the heat reflection off a metal roof. Several neighbors here in S. Fla have installed them and man does it seem to reflect the heat. Reminds me of walking the strip in Vegas and the heat that reflects off of some of those hotel glass fronts is amazing. Any chance it actually increases the cooling bills of the neighbors?

  • Kevin says:

    I totally believe these metal roofs to be a scam. You all miss the biggest problem, they condensate! The only true way to correct this is two change the dew point. This would require 2″ of foam. These roofs were installed as a cheap way to do barns and etc. They are heavily sold through massive ads and lies. The profit for the installer is based on the consumers ignorance. I recently looked at a warranty of a customer of mine. It had a 30yr paint warranty except if paint was peeling. Except if substrate (metal) fails. The substrate has a 20 year warranty except if in contact with wet lumber. Again they condensate! Your roof must rely on material under it! I really love how they go over shingles with paper. Now your screws pierce that paper under your metal where there is no gasket! It is now the perfect funnel! Do shingles but make sure to add a layer of wood in most cases as that is why they fail!

  • Evadney Lowe says:

    I have a white metal roof and dark green shake shingle siding installed by American Metal Roof Tile, INC Allentown, PA 218109 in the 1980.s, however, the green is now bleaching out over the years due to the sun to yellow. Company I understand went out of business or was bought out dont know by whom.Will need to replace the green or see if it can be painted. Problem is ice build up on roof, slides off once roof heats up, and gets mildewed needing to be pressure washed- white roof) Evadney


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