Q: My husband and I are having a new home built in the California foothills. I resisted suggestions to go with vinyl windows to save on cost. The latest struggle is the roof. The architect designed the house with a concrete tile roof to go with the English Tudor style. My husband and the general contractor have been encouraging me to consider a composition roof to save money, and I suspect, make the process easier for the contractor.

The only concern I have is that the roofing companies and the general contractor advise that concrete tile roofs do not repel water the same as a composition roof; they claim that the underlayment is the only thing that keeps moisture and snow effects from infiltrating the structure below. Is this true?

This will be our retirement home that we plan to live in for the next 35-plus years, and we don’t want to be worrying about a roof replacement while in our 80s or 90s. Anything you can provide to reassure me that holding fast to the decision to have a concrete tile roof is the best decision (in spite of the additional cost), would be greatly appreciated.

A: We’re real sorry, but we’re going to have to side with your husband, the builder and the roofing companies on this one. Given the choice, we’d opt for a high-quality composition roof instead of concrete tile. From a design perspective, we’re having a tough time picturing a Tudor cottage with a concrete tile roof. But, to each her own.

A 40-year warranty on an architectural-grade composition roof is easily available. Our experience with composition roofs is that, if installed properly, they last longer than the warranty. So, even when the roof is on the last portion of its useful life, you shouldn’t have to replace it in your sunset years.

We don’t know if we can say the same for concrete tile. We understand that as the coating wears off with time, these roofs require recoating to continue to repel water. With the coating gone, the concrete tiles absorb water and become heavier. Worse, condensation can form under them and on the underlayment. If the underlayment is old and brittle, a leak can happen.

What our reader calls "underlayment" is tar-saturated building paper called roofing felt. It is the second line of defense against the ravages of water and wind. The first line is the roofing material itself.

A reader recently wrote with a problem that sounds eerily similar to the warning of your contractor and the roofing companies. She writes:

"I downsized last year and bought a home built in 1991 with a tile (I think it is) roof. I had a leak last winter and the guy I called out said I needed a new roof. I didn’t think you ever had to replace a tile roof, but he said the tar paper underneath it gets brittle and cracks — and thus needs replacing.

"I declined his offer to put on a new roof and he fixed the leak for a very reasonable amount ($150), but I’m wondering if I should take care of this?"

This reader’s experience and the information you’ve gotten from your builder makes us leery about the concrete roof your architect designed.

By the way, you were right to nix the vinyl windows. The general rule is to spend money on things that can’t be easily replaced and to buy quality. Windows fall in this category. Once the windows are in, it’s a big production to change them. On the other hand, if the budget won’t allow for granite countertops today, laminate will work for the time being with the ultimate plan being to replace them with stone at a later date.

***

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