Metal Roofing: Steel vs. Aluminum

house with metal roof tiles

If you’re a homeowner or business owner considering installing a metal roof, you’ll have to decide which material to use: aluminum or steel? We’ll outline the many components of each, their pros and cons, average prices, and much more.


Types of Metal Roofing

Steel Roofs

Residential and commercial metal roofs are primarily either steel or aluminum. 

Stone-Coated Steel

Stone-coated steel roofing has roots dating back to the 1950s, but it's changed quite a bit since then. This type of roofing material was originally coated with a thin layer of bitumen and tiny pieces of stone, which was shown to perform exceptionally well against weathering, rusting, and varying climates. However, today’s stone-coated steel products use advanced coatings that perform better than ever before, as many stone-coated roofing products feature lifetime warranties.

Stone-coated steel roofing is also available in a wide variety of styles, including shingles, tiles, shakes, and slate.

Galvanized Steel

Bare steel roofing is susceptible to corrosion and rust, so to avoid these problems, steel undergoes a galvanization process. During this process, a zinc coating is applied to the surface of the steel roof. The zinc coating provides decades of protection against UV rays, corrosion, rust, and weathering.

Galvalume Steel

Galvalume steel is steel coated with a zinc/aluminum mixture. Galvalume steel roofing is more corrosion-resistant overall. Galvalume steel roofs work best in simple roofing installations where material cuts and bends are at a minimum, such as standing seam metal roofs.

Aluminum Roofs

Aluminum Panels

Because of aluminum’s malleable properties, it can be formed and molded relatively easily. Pre-fabricated aluminum panels can be manufactured in virtually any shape or size to fit your roofing structure. These panels install quickly and easily, and they provide superior water-shedding qualities.

Aluminum Shingles

In recent years, aluminum roof shingles have gained popularity in the residential roofing market. Not only are aluminum shingles lighter and more durable than asphalt shingles, but they are also manufactured to resemble any type of roofing you can think of, including slate, wood shakes, and architectural shingles.

Corrugated Aluminum

Aluminum roof paneling with a corrugated (“wavy”) appearance has a long history in the roofing industry. The tin corrugated roofing panels of the past gave way to steel and eventually corrugated aluminum roofing panels.

Steel is stronger than aluminum, usually less expensive, and less susceptible to fire damage. Aluminum is lighter, doesn't have to go through a coating process, is more expensive, and doesn't rust when located near oceans. Determine the specific needs of your property and pick a metal roofing material accordingly.
 

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Metal Roof Coatings

Steel roof panels have a metallic coating on both sides that acts as a protective barrier against rust. These coatings come in a variety of colors that can be customized to meet homeowners' requests.

There are two types of metallic coatings: galvanized and galvalume.

Galvanized coatings are made from 100% zinc and come in varying thicknesses depending on the steel's intended use. Because zinc oxidizes faster than steel, the coating forms a protective barrier against the elements.

Galvalume is a mixture of zinc and aluminum. These coatings protect the iron in steel from oxidation. When zinc is combined with aluminum to form galvalume, it’s even more protective.

Aluminum is highly resilient against corrosion, making it great for roofs located close to saltwater. On the other hand, steel tends to damage faster when exposed to salty conditions.

Consequently, aluminum may cost up to 20% more than steel. Steel roofing located near coastal areas are generally not backed by warranties, as the potential for the coating to separate from the metal substrate at the edges is high. 

Aluminum is typically more expensive than steel roofs for a number of reasons, but chief among them is their natural resistance to rust, therefore forgoing the need to apply a metallic coating.
 

Thickness and Weight

Metal roofing options

Steel

Steel roofing is designated by gauge, with the higher gauge being the thinner material. Gauges are generally between 24 and 26. These gauges are suitable for residential applications, as most installations are over a solid substrate.

Steel roofing products, even at their heaviest, weigh about 1.5 pounds per square foot. Aluminum weighs even les, and is one of the lightest metals used for roofing applications. It’s strength-to-weight ratio ranks among the highest of the common metals. Aluminum’s lightness and thinness also means it stores very little heat and cools quickly once sunlight fades.

Aluminum

Aluminum roofing's thickness is measured in decimals and typically comes between .023 to .040 thicknesses.

Aluminum is the lighter material if weight is a critical factor in choosing a metal roofing material. Both aluminum and steel are very light in comparison to other materials like asphalt shingles, much to the surprise of homeowners.

 Aluminum and steel both offer a long lifespan, high strength, and are more environmentally sustainable, with a lower long-term cost than traditional roofing materials. 
 

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Typical Costs

Metal roofs are known for their longevity. They can last fifty years or more with little maintenance, which is why steel and aluminum roofs are more expensive than standard roofing materials.

Metal roofing can reach nearly twice the price of other traditional materials, and for good reason.

Not only does metal roofing outlast asphalt shingles 2:1, but the level of experience required to install metal roofing is much higher.

Roofing Material  Average Cost
Steel Shingles $265 - $375 per roofing square
Aluminum Shingles $375 - $550 per roofing square
Corrugated Steel Panels $120 - $150 per roofing square
Stone-coated Steel $350 - $425 per roofing square
Aluminum Standing Seam  $500 - $1,100 per roofing square
Metal roofs should always be installed by experts with experience in steel and aluminum installations.
 

Metal Roofing Contractors

Metal roofing contractors

The needs of your roofing project will dictate whether you choose steel or aluminum, but no matter which material you choose, be sure it's installed correctly.

Hometown Roofing Contractors can help you identify the best metal roofing contractor for your next installation. You can research multiple contractors, determine the best quotes, and see what other customers have to say.