Concrete tile roofs: pros and cons

Concrete tile roofs - collage and collection of various stylesConcrete tile roofs have a long lifespan and an elegant look. Like every type of roofing material, there are pros and cons to them. If Spanish, Mexican, or Mediterranean style architecture are your favorites, there’s a good chance that some sort of tile roof may be part of the home you love.

Concrete roof considerations – pros and cons

  • concrete tiles are often rated as 50 year roofs
  • they are more fire resistant than many other types of roofing materials
  • today they come in standard and light weights
  • they are expensive (but more affordable and hearty compared to clay tile roofs)
  • they may be rounded and look Spanish – Mediterranean, or they may be flat (there are many colors and styles)
  • there was a time when they were allowed to be installed without solid underlayment – there can be issues with that (do read this part below)
  • additional costs beyond the obvious (including permits and finals)

 

Long lasting materials, great fire rating

Concrete roofs may be expected to last up to 50 years (though I have seen some sites quote 30 – 50).  My experience, though, is that many homeowners won’t wait that long to replace their roofs as problems creep up with age. Concrete tile roofs enjoy a Class A fire rating.

Regular and lightweight options now

Concrete roofs are heavy, and the home needs to be engineered to carry that load. In some cases, homes are constructed with a lighter material, such as wood shake or composition shingle, and the homeowners later want tile. A good option for them may be the lighter weight concrete title roof. I had not heard of this at all until we were preparing to reroof our house.

Something to consider, though, is whether or not you want to add solar panels to your roof. When I looked into it (out of curiosity), I found that some solar panels cannot be placed on a lighter weight tile roof. (Please do your own research – you may find something different.)

Cost (in brief)

We reroofed in 2023 and it seemed like the cost to put on concrete tile was 3 or more times as much as if we’d put on a comp shingle roof. Ours did need more than just new tiles, but we decided to continue with tile as our Spanish style house would not have looked right with composition shingle. On the plus side, it will last far longer than the less expensive alternative!

 

Older concrete tile roofs and the underlayment issue

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Concrete tile roof 48 years old - townhouse complex in San Jose - view from underneath

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Why does it matter if the bedroom windows are small or high?

Younger home with large bedroom window, low to the ground

Younger home with large bedroom window, low to the ground

If you are buying or selling an older ranch style house or historic home in Silicon Valley, there’s a good chance that original bedroom windows may be smaller or higher than your home inspector might like.  What is the big deal with the height or size of the windows?  The inspection report may mention ingress and egress.

On this site and others of ours, we bring up health and safety topics from time to time. For example, we shared info on unsafe electrical panels here. In the case of fire or other emergency, children and adults may need to get out and rescue personnel may need to get in. If bedroom windows are poorly configurated, the room could end up being a death trap.

For fire safety, it’s important that:

  • bedroom windows be an escape route for persons in the home (egress) – for this, they must be low enough to the ground and big enough so that children and adults can both get out in case of an emergency
  • emergency responders such as fire fighters, with their large backpacks on their backs, can get in through the same openings (ingress)

When windows are too high, kids, and perhaps adults, cannot get out through them.  And no matter how low or high, if the windows are too small, emergency personnel cannot enter through them.

Bedroom windows and safety: how big and how low do the windows need to be?

There are varied requirements, and exceptions, depending on whether the home is new construction or a remodel. Additionally, there are different rules for basements and 2nd story bedroom windows. Cities and towns each have their own codes, too.  Your best bet is to check with your particular town or city to see what you must do if remodeling or replacing your windows.

In Los Gatos, ground floor windows must be

  • no more than 44″ off the ground
  • at least 20″ wide
  • at least 24″ tall
  • There are additional requirements, though – please see the link at the bottom of this article to view the details.

San Jose’s requirements are similar.

City of San Jose: Window Replacement Requirements

All sleeping rooms and basements – Must meet these specifications:
– Minimum 5.7 square feet opening*
– Minimum height of 24 inches
– Minimum width of 20 inches
– Maximum height to bottom of clear opening of 44 inches
* In order to meet the required 5.7 square-foot opening, either the width or height or both must
exceed the minimum dimensions shown. If bottom of clear opening is le

When remodeling your home and switching from single pane to dual pane windows, many people will be tempted to use the same sized windows with the new replacement set in order to save money, and in many areas, skip the need for permits and finals by not disturbing the stucco.  But rather than target the least expensive way to upgrade your windows, I’d like to suggest making safety a priority.  Upgrade not just your home’s energy efficiency, but its safety too.

 

Ranch style house with original casement windows

Ranch style house with original casement windows – impossible for ingress by emergency personnel.

 

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Porta Potty Proliferation

Porta Potty CollageHave you noticed that there now seems to be a porta potty on every block? It’s a proliferation of porta potties! One might be tempted to call it a pandemic of bottomless proportions.

This panoply of modern day outhouses appeared en masse over the last couple of years. Of course, their appearance is the hallmark of home improvement or updating, at least most of the time.

Once in awhile it’s instead the hallmark of a stalled project. It can be a real challenge to get contractors to work on our homes and yards right now. The demand is tremendous and the waits can be long. Sometimes the lengthy stay of the temporary structure isn’t anyone’s fault.

That said, there do seem to be better and worse porta potty placement, and some really do overstay their welcome and become a problem – a neighborhood eyesore or blight. It might be said that like houseguests, portable toilets have a limited shelf life for desirability as far as the neighbors are concerned.

In this post we’ll touch on half bathrooms (created to serve a similar purpose), CCRs, and regulations regarding these portable toilets and where and how long they can adorn front yards.

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What needs updating in an older home?

Image of stucco chipped away from window before replacement - what needs updating in an older home may include single pane windowsWhat needs updating if you are buying an older house, townhome, or condo? Most of the homes for sale in Silicon Valley are more than 25 years old, and with our already very restricted inventory, that makes the odds of purchasing an older house, townhouse or condo fairly high if you’re in the market to buy real estate here.

  • The older the property (think 100 years versus 60 or 70 years), the more likely it is that the home would benefit from expensive updates.
  • Typical home buyers find that an 18 year old remodel is in need of updating
  • See the list below of components that may need updating in an older home

If you are buying an historic home (more than 50 years of age is technically historic, but most consumers think of houses or units which are 100+ years old), the question of what needs updating will be significantly longer than if we are thinking of homes 25 to 60 or 70 years of age. The older the structure, the more you may need to consider safety improvements, or changes for better comfort or style.

Don’t despair – the older homes do tend to offer good locations, often there are beautifully established neighborhoods with large trees and bigger yards – which you may not see in newer developments.

How recent should that remodel be?

Something to note is that how often rooms or homes need to be refreshed is a matter of personal taste. If a kitchen is built well and done in a more timeless fashion, perhaps only the appliances or countertop or lighting may need a redo from time to time. But some home buyers will find that if a house was last remodeled 18 years ago, it’s time to do it again. If you’re selling, it’s important to appreciate that the 18 year old whole house remodel you had done may feel like yesterday to you, but it won’t to a large number of buyers.

Buyers, once you purchase a home, if you are like most home owners you won’t be doing a total remodel every 15 – 20 years. It’s too much expense, work, and inconvenience. My usual advice is to try to pick timeless elements that won’t go out of style (and put a more personal touch into things like paint or floor coverings, which are relatively inexpensive to change in many cases).

What needs updating in an “all original” home?

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Over improving a house for the neighborhood

Beware over improving a house or yard for the neighborhoodOver improving a house for the neighborhood is not a terribly uncommon happening. If you’re going to live somewhere for 30 years, you may not be worried about return on investment or overspending for the neighborhood so much as enjoyment of your property.

How do you know if you’re spending too much on your house, condo or townhouse?  How much is too much?

Over improving a house – some basic concepts

There are no hard and fast rules, but overall, it is best to not have the most expensive home on the street or in the area, either from added square footage, extreme remodeling or  using materials that are too expensive for the neighborhood. It is even worse if yours is the most expensive real estate by a wide margin – the wider it is, the worse!

There are two real estate principles which are helpful to know about and understand. The smaller, less improved or generally lower priced homes will pull down the value of a better home (that is the principle of regression).  Conversely, if your house or condo is less expensive than nearby homes, those more prices properties will raise your home’s value (the principle of progression).  In terms of getting the most back on your improvements, then, it’s best to make sure you can catch the tail wind of better properties and get pulled up by them, rather than have your improvements’ value pulled down by lesser properties.

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What is a “cool air return”? What are “heat registers”?

Cool air returnWhat is a “cool air return“? Silicon Valley home hunters are very likely to encounter both heating vents (also called heat registers) and cool air returns in houses, townhouses and condos across the South Bay Area. They are found wherever a home enjoys central forced air heat with ducts and vents. (Some Victorian houses have forced air heat but it is only brought to perhaps one main room or area in the house!)

The purpose of a cool air return is to feed the furnace with a supply of cooler air to be heated ad then circulated back into the rest of the dwelling via the heat registers or vents. Often the cool air return is found near the floor. This makes sense when you consider that the hottest air will rise, leaving cooler air nearer the ground. Heat registers are often near the floor (and near a window), but if the home is on a slab foundation and has forced air heat, the vent will be on the ceiling.

How can I tell the difference between the cool air return and a heat register or vent?

Generally speaking, the vents for warm air are long and narrow, and the cool air return is much larger and boxier in shape.  Below please find an image of heating vents.

Heating ventsThe first example of a heating vent is probably the most typical you’ll find in Silicon Valley: it’s metal, kind of a dark gray color.  Older ones (homes from the 50s) have an even narrower shape but still tend to be metal, sometimes painted dark brown.

The next example is usually found where the property has hardwood floors.  The idea is to make the vent blend in and be less noticeable. Naturally, the wooden vents come in a variety of colors to match the many types of woods that might be found in a residence.

By and large, cool air returns and heat registers are pretty ugly. The wooden vents are a nice step above the usual offerings.  Several companies sell nicer cool air returns and heat registers or vents, though. So if you are remodeling and want to get away from that “tract housing feel”, a few custom touches might be just the ticket for a more unique feeling home. (more…)

What Can You Do About Remodeling, Additions or Other Work Done Without Permits and Finals in San Jose?

Front door peep holeOften homes in and near San Jose have some sort of non-permitted modification done.  Sometimes it’s a roof, a water heater replacement or even electrical changes (or improvements) done without the necessary permits and finals.

If you buy a home or have one with this situation and live in the city of San Jose, there’s a great deal of information available online via the city’s website.  Today I was looking on the site for a client who wants to do an addition (and wondered what the limits and guidelines are for that) when I found this page. It’s a gem!

Work done without required permits

Also helpful on this page is info on what DOES need permits (most everything, by the way).  Check it out!

Do Silicon Valley houses with solar panels sell faster and for more money?

Solar and resale valueA question posed to me recently was whether or not houses with solar panels sell faster and for more money.  We would tend to think so, because solar panels make paying for electricity considerably less expensive, especially here in sunny Silicon Valley.  Conversations with buyers reveal that solar is highly valued.  Placing a dollar amount to that value isn’t so easy right now, however.

The difficulty is in the lack of data.  Recently, in my Belwood of Los Gatos neighborhood, we’ve seen a lot of houses getting fitted with solar just in the last year.  I believe that 3-4 years from now, we’ll have a larger pool of closed sales in which solar was part of the equation, but at the moment, only a tiny fraction of closed escrows were houses with these energy efficient features.

Here’s what I’m seeing as I pull the numbers from our MLS:

All of Santa Clara County, all houses which have closed escrow in the last 30 days: 916

All of SCC, all houses with solar panels on the grid which have closed escrow in the last 30 days: 13

This is a mere 1.4% of the sold properties in the last month.   (more…)