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Choosing Your Roofing Solution: Overlay vs Tear-Off Pros and Cons

February , 2024 | 9 min. read

By David Toth

grey brick home with shingle roof

Making the choice to invest in a new roof is hardly ever a decision that comes easily to homeowners. By the time the majority of us recognize that we need a new roof, we’re probably in a pinch to make a decision, and to make it fast. When it comes to factors such as storm damage, old age, or harmful mold overgrowth, the pressure is on you to find a contractor and get your roofing project started as soon as possible.

Sadly, it’s not that easy.

You’ve got a lot of choices to make here, don’t you? What contractor is best for the job, whether you should have a roof overlay or a complete tear-off what roofing material is best for the region you live in, what color scheme goes best with your home, what type of roof you wish to have installed, and more. Is your head spinning yet?

At RoofCrafters, we know these decisions don’t come easy. We’ve been holding homeowners’ hands through this process for 30 years, and with our knowledge and skill paired with your intuition, we are certain that together, we can bring your roofing vision to life one step at a time. Instead of overwhelming you and providing you with a 300-page roofing novel, let’s talk about roofing overlays and roof tear-offs.

We’ll get that enthralling roofing novel in the works soon enough. In the meantime, this article should do. You’ll learn what a roof overlay is, what a roof tear-off is, what the key differences between the two are, and which is best for your home. Take a deep breath, and rest assured that through your research, you’re well on your way to a new roof. Let’s dive in!

Understanding Roof Overlay


Before deciding if a roof overlay is right for you, let's understand what it entails. A roof overlay is what it sounds like laying a new roof over your old one. The roof overlay process is done by adding a layer of metal or shingles or the same pre-existing material on top of the old roof and then adding a waterproof shield.

metal roof overlay

It's commonly preferred by homeowners who wish to preserve their old roof and extend its lifespan, One of the roof overlay benefits is that it can help save money by not paying for the removal and disposal costs of the old roof.

The Process and Implications of a Roof Tear-Off


Considering a roof tear-off? Here's what you need to know. Just as a roof overlay, a roof tear-off also sounds like it is: tearing off the pre-existing roof, and replacing it with a new one. We should put some more thought into these names, huh?  

roof torn off with wood damage

During this process, your roofing contractor will go over your roof and remove the shingles section-by-section to prepare for your new roof. Think of it as a total roofing makeover. Out with the old, in with the new. The initial costs of roof tear-off will make it more costly than a roof overlay, however, you’ll be saving more money in the long run. A complete tear-off provides a long-term roofing solution.

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Comparing Roof Overlay and Tear-Off


Now that we’ve got those incredibly tricky and challenging definitions down (not), let’s go over the roofing options comparison. We'll point out the key differences between the two. Like any decision we make in this life, it all boils down to choosing the option that has more advantages or pros and discarding the option with more disadvantages or cons. 

Advantages of a Roof Overlay

  • Overlays tend to be easier, and less labor-intensive for the contractor
  • This process is less expensive than a complete tear-off and is also safer
  • A great option for a quick roofing solution
  • Cost-effective roofing

Steep roof with cedar shake shingles

Disadvantages of a Roof Overlay

  • Added weight
  • Compromised structural integrity
  • Increased long-term costs
  • Not available per building code in some regions
  • Lackluster aesthetics
  • Can make maintenance difficult
  • Decreased lifespan

As we can see, the disadvantages tend to create roofing integrity concerns. Thus in our opinion outweigh the advantages when comparing an overlay vs tear-off.

Sure, overlays are easier to install and less labor-intensive for your contractor than a tear-off, however, your contractor was hired to fix your roof. Don’t shy away from the best option for you for fear that a job is too big for your contractor. The cheapest and easiest way isn't always the best.

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Overlays are a less expensive and safer process and are great for quick sales, but the added weight of the new material on top of the old material is counterintuitive to any advantage. The extra weight could potentially compromise the structural integrity of your roofing system, and cause you to dish out some serious cash in repairs down the road.

Roofer tearing off a metal roof over shingles

Also, when placing new material on top of old, weathered material, it’s not going to look the greatest. Sort of like when I used to layer makeup on top of my acne in high school, you could still tell I had bad skin, but just tried to conceal it with some foundation.

crew removing a mod-bit roof

Stick with me, here. Roof overlays are the same thing. To the naked eye, you, your neighbors, and your family will still be able to see the old material peeking out underneath, and the unlevel material on top. 

Not to mention, roof overlays decrease the lifespan of your roof essentially in half. This is because the added weight causes the material underneath to deteriorate more quickly due to trapped heat, water, weather conditions, and improper maintenance. 

Benefits of Choosing a Roof Tear-Off

  • Complete replacement
  • Increased lifespan
  • High resale value
  • Durable roofing solutions
  • Upgraded materials

beautiful new roof on a large home

Challenges with Roof Tear-Offs

  • Initial investment in roofing
  • Increased costs
  • Waste disposal 

Tear-offs are a great option for homeowners who want to start from scratch. When you tear off your old roof and replace it with a new one, you receive a lot of benefits, such as the removal of rotted decking, and the ability to repair hidden leaks. Your contractor will remove all of the old materials, so they’ll be able to get a clear look into what’s going on with your roof, so the finished product will be perfect.

crew tearing off a roof and installing underlayment

Roof tear-offs can offer you an increased lifespan on your roof replacement considerations, with new materials lasting you an average of 20-30 years, and even longer on premium materials. A brand new roof with brand new materials is ready to weather any storm and temperature Mother Nature can throw at it, and do so with ease.

stucco home with dark shingle roof with a metal accent over front entrance

Also, if you plan on moving in the foreseeable future, a brand new roof offers a hefty resale value you can tack on to the rest of your home. New roofs are a major selling point, so for all of you nomads out there, a tear-off is something you must consider.

roofers on a steep commercial roof repair

Sadly, tear-offs are more expensive than overlays. There are increased labor costs associated with this process due to extra labor. Your contractor has to spend time and effort removing the old material, inspecting and replacing any damaged decking, and then disposing of the old material. In turn, a tear-off will cost you about $1,000 or more than a roof overlay.

Making the Best Choice for Your Home


At the end of the day, it all comes down to choosing the right roofing method for you. If you’re a homeowner who’s on a budget, in a time crunch, or wants to sell your home quickly, an overlay may be a good choice for you.

Lowcountry home with a red metal roof

If you’re a homeowner who takes pride in the aesthetics, durability, and a higher resale value of your home, consider having a complete roof tear-off.

There’s no right or wrong answer, here. Whichever option you choose, a reputable contractor will get the job done to your standards and satisfaction. 

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Next Steps Towards Your Roofing Project


See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Although you have many more choices to make when it comes to your upcoming roofing project, you’re one step closer, because you now know the difference between a roof-over and a roof tear-off. You have the tools and knowledge to decide which is the better option for your home.

With all of your newfound and important information surrounding the roof overlay and tear-off process, you can use that to your advantage when deciding how you’d like to proceed with your roof replacement. 

Whether it’s a total roof replacement or an overlay of materials on your old roof, RoofCrafters has you covered.  If you’re ready to begin your roof journey, go ahead and schedule your inspection with our family today by clicking the button below, and one of our expert estimators will be out to give you a professional roofing assessment. After that, they will work with you to figure out the best way to proceed. 

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To better understand the costs associated with your upcoming roofing project, check out our article, Unveiling the Real Cost of a New Roof so that you and your wallet can be prepared well before your inspection date. To learn more, browse our extensive roof resources located in our learning center.

David Toth

My name is David Toth and I am the lead estimator in North Florida with RoofCrafters Roofing. Originally from New Brunswick, I have called Florida home for the past 47 years. I enjoy cooking along with traveling to different historical areas in Florida when I have free time.