A New Roof for Your Capitol Hill Home?

Here is what you need to know

Three new roofs being installed in one project: copper roof in foreground, slate turret roof in background, and modified bitumen roof top right of the copper roof.

I would venture an educated guess that as recently as 20 to 30 years ago more than 75 percent of Capitol Hill flat and low-slope roofs were standing-seam tin roofs (or terne roofs as they are often known). I say “educated” because our family has been working on Capitol Hill roofs for nearly 100 years and I think we have seen it all!

You would also have seen some copper roofs and slag roofs (also known as asphalt-and-gravel roofs). And, continuing our look-back in time, the steeply sloped turret roofs you see on many streets on the Hill, especially Eighth Street SE and E Street NE, were made of natural slate tiles that lasted more than a century.

Now let us look to the present. Say it is time for you to consider a new roof. First, how do you know you need a new roof, and what are your options?

There are telltale signs to look for and information to consider. If your roof is over 15-20 years old, if you have leak stains in the ceiling or walls, and if there are leaks on and off for a few years, it may be time for a new roof. Get an inspection to determine the condition of your roof and to consider the options. If you and your roofing professional determine a new roof is the way to go, what are your options?

In the old days you probably would have needed to consider a tin roof replacement for your flat roof. A great option, but tin is not really available these days and would be expensive. The roofing industry, like many others, has seen a substantial increase in innovation and technology. In slag roofs, which have been used extensively for commercial application for many years, an innovation was the membrane roof. The new flat-roofing systems are now widely used for residential application and are found throughout Capitol Hill.

The leading types of membrane roofing system we see on the Hill are TPO (thermoplastic membrane, similar to synthetic rubber) and modified bitumen (consisting of asphalt and rubber modifiers). These newer materials help inhibit expansion and contraction as well as reflect much of the UV rays, and are more energy efficient and less prone to leaks than the old slag roofs. Membrane roofs are often a good solution for replacement of an old tin roof because of the above considerations, and the pricing is cost effective.

There is also room in this discussion for an update on metal roofs. If you want a new metal roof, whether your roof is flat or sloped, you do have options even though the supply of tin roofing materials has been exhausted (due to business contraction by the primary tin roofing manufacturer). Copper roofs appeal to a segment of the Capitol Hill market for their historic appeal, extremely long lifespan, and esthetics, and the materials are readily available. Every year we install numerous copper roofs.

Innovation has also applied to the development of aluminum roofs as an option for sloped roofs. Aluminum is a good, cost-effective option for sloped roofs. It is very durable, lightweight, and offers significant environmental benefits including natural reflectivity that increases a building’s efficiency and reduces air-conditioning costs.

After you and your roofing professional have determined the best new roofing system and have decided your path forward, it is important to know what the DC permit requirements are. If your home is in the historic district the requirements will be more restrictive. 

Enjoy your new roof!

A new thermoplastic membrane (TPO) roof.
A new modified bitumen roof.

Tom Daniel is owner and general manager of R. Thomas Daniel Roofing LLC. He is the third generation of the family to provide roofing services to Capitol Hill families over nearly 100 years. Tom was born in Capitol Hill and supports numerous community organizations. For help with your roofing project he can be reached at 202-569-1080, 202-544-4430, or tom@rthomasdanielroofing.com.

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