Minneapolis remodeler John Sylvestre, owner of Sylvestre Construction, had a problem a few years ago when he contracted to build a garage in the rear of a house designed by Prairie School architects Purcell and Elmslie, the only such house in St. Paul. On hearing the cost of roofing the two-car garage with slate to match the original--$35,000 -- the clients went into shock. Sylvestre says only two roofing contractors in the Twin Cities install slate.

Most of his company's jobs call for asphalt shingle roofs but, Sylvestre says, "we'll run through the options based on cost and aesthetics that will match best." Most clients know, he says, that if they need to re-roof with something other than asphalt -- copper, clay, slate -- "they are going to have to pay for that."

Often they're willing to. Putting an addition on a house roofed with clay tiles, for example, imposes the choice of either re-roofing the entire building in asphalt or using clay tiles on the addition to match. Though it's not cheap, "most times they go with clay tile," says Sylvestre. For the St. Paul garage project, Sylvestre used asphalt rather than slate. That was before he found out about a slate lookalike product made of rubber available at a fraction of the cost.

Cover your asphalt

Charlotte, N.C., remodeler David Tyson also sees mostly asphalt in the additions and whole-house remodels his company, David Tyson Inc., contracts to build. A difference, though, is that clients these days "are not into these 15- or 20-year roofs." They want a roof that will last the length of time they plan to live in the house -- 30 to 35 years or more. Tyson, who's used the same roofing sub for 13 years, advises customers to upgrade to a 3-D shingle costing $35 to $40 per square, vs. basic $20-per-square asphalt. "You've doubled your material cost but not your labor," reasons Tyson. "And you've improved your look." Tyson sends clients to a local roofing supply store that shows products in three-by-three displays. "Then they are also comparing cost per square and time, so they can see where they want to put their budget," he says.