I remember the first metal roof I ever saw, on a vintage forest cabin high in the Rockies. It was the old galvanized “tin” siding—you know, that wavy, corrugated, Grandpa’s barn look—with a substantial helping of rust. I thought “Metal roofing—what a dumb idea.” Besides looking terrible, when you got inside the cabin and it rained? Let’s just say the loud noise made it difficult to go to sleep. I can’t imagine what a good hailstorm would’ve sounded like, much less the damage it could do to that cheap tin.

Metal roofing materials have advanced quite a bit since then.

In the past two decades, metal roofing has gone high-tech, with new materials, finishes, configurations and looks. They’ve become much more respectable and even high-end; they last much longer; they resist fire and embers, and they’re lightweight and energy-efficient, too.

I have a friend who lives at the mouth of a seaside canyon in one of Southern California’s most desirable beach towns. Several years ago a fire came roaring down that canyon, driven by Santa Ana winds, and took his entire house, burning it to the foundation. Luckily, no one was hurt and he was well-insured, so he rebuilt on the same spot. His new house has a copper metal roof with built-in sprinklers at the roof peak—and looks fantastic.

So if you’re thinking about re-roofing, or building your new home with a metal roof, the options available now are definitely worth considering.

Most metal roofing materials—steel and aluminum—now come in multiple forms and durable, painted or powder-coated colors. Design possibilities are endless, and if you want a red roof or a blue roof, something you normally can’t get with standard asphalt shingles, you can have it. Steel is usually galvanized for rust resistance, but galvanic coatings don’t last forever, and warranties typically extend 25-50 years. Aluminum roofing doesn’t rust, but is softer and more likely to be damaged by hail.

Metal roofs can be highly reflective, too, if they have the right color and finish. Light, reflective colors can save energy costs, and may qualify for energy-saving tax credits.

You can get metal roofing in basically two different forms—metal panels or shingles. The panels are usually called “standing-seam” roofing, and they normally have a raised seam or ridge every foot or so. They’re applied vertically on your roof, and can look either clean and modern, depending on your point of view, or cold and commercial. Metal shingles don’t look anything at all like the standing-seam metal roofs—they can very convincingly mimic slate, asphalt shingles, cedar shakes or even Spanish tile. Some look like stone or even shiny ceramic tile, and the design potential--and visual impact—of metal roof tiles hasn’t reached its peak yet.

Even traditional homes—Craftsmans, bungalows, Colonials and Victorians—can look right with the correct choice of metal roof tiles.

Metal roofs shed rain and snow exceedingly well, and most of them will outlive a conventional asphalt shingle roof. You’ll need to ground them with a good lightning rod system, of course, and walking on a metal roof can be a challenge, too—they can be treacherous, and they tend to dent easily.

And yes, they’re still noisy. You may like that sound or you may not, but metal roofing can resonate like a drum given the right storm conditions. New installation techniques, such as installing over existing roofing or building in extra insulation or even an air gap between roofing and attic spaces, can minimize the noise, however.