Unlike Santa Claus who needs a solid roof only once a year to ensure a safe landing, homeowners depend upon their roofs every day as the first line of defense against the elements. A neglected roof can quickly become an expensive problem.
Even if you never plan to set foot on a roof, it is important to understand the vast array of today’s roofing options, as well as learn the warning signs of potential problems that could damage your home. With the addition of new manmade roofing materials that simulate Old World style, you can achieve an expensive look without the enormous cost.
Composition or Asphalt Shingles
These shingles are popular choices for many homeowners because of their low cost. A standard 3-tab shingle is the most economical, but is rarely used today because of its short lifespan. Architectural shingles, so called for their thicker, more three-dimensional look and construction, have a much longer life (30 years or more). They come in many styles and colors and are easy to repair. However, they are subject to discoloration and can be environmentally unfriendly. Consider and compare warranties when purchasing these shingles.
Wood Shingles or Shakes
The natural look of wood shingles or shakes is another popular option. They weather to a soft grey color and are appropriate on historic homes. Long lasting, they must be maintained by cleaning and staining regularly; otherwise they split, rot, mold and mildew. They are also expensive and difficult to install.
At one time metal roofs were relegated to farmers’ sheds and industrial buildings. With the new colors and styles manufacturers now offer, homeowners can easily obtain almost any desired effect. They are a far cry from the corrugated roofs of long ago. Today’s options include tin, steel or copper.
Before steel roofing had advanced to its current level, tin was the popular option. There is nothing like the sound of rain on a tin roof! It weathers well and needs little maintenance. Since tin does not rust for many years, it was at one time the best roofing metal available. It is still used for outbuildings.
With today’s advanced technology, metal roofs come with a baked-on finish that remains for its lifetime. Kirk Fritz, owner of Sentry Exteriors, serving Lynchburg and Roanoke explains, “There is a longevity to metal. It often comes with a 50-year warranty and can last up to 100 years.” Easy to maintain, it performs well in extreme weather. On the downside, metal roofs are more difficult to install and are expensive. However, with the steeper price tag comes a better warranty.
The Rolls Royce of metal roofing is copper. Lasting a lifetime, copper also ages gracefully, attaining a lovely green patina as time goes on. Since this is the desired effect, copper roofs need never be painted. Copper is very expensive, and because of its weight, needs additional structural support.
Metal roofs can cause a hazard after heavy snow if they are located over walkways or where people or pets travel. If there is enough of a slope, snow that has collected on the roof melts and slides off in sheets, like a mini avalanche. So it is important to install snow guards on each seam. These break apart the sheets of snow so they slide off in smaller chunks. Copper roofs require snow guards made of bronze because of an interaction between copper and the standard metal snow guards.
A popular option in the Southwest, tile is often used on contemporary, Spanish or Mission-style homes. Both non-combustible and fireproof, it is a good choice wherever wildfires are a problem. It is extremely durable, but because of its fragile nature, walking on the roof can easily damage it.
Tile is expensive to install and repair, and requires an experienced crew. Because tile weighs so much, it also requires special structural supports.
There is something very distinctive about slate. It adds a touch of elegance to Colonial and Old World-style homes. It is fireproof, and its long lifespan and beauty can make it a premium choice for high-end homes. Slate is very heavy, and like tile, it needs additional support. It too requires professionals with specialized talents for installation and repair.
New to the market, engineered rubber styles are coming out constantly. Made of reclaimed materials, engineered rubber is considered a green product. Weighing much less than slate and with a range of styles and colors, it is an exciting option for new homes. Since this is a relatively new product, it has yet to stand the test of time, and some engineered rubber has displayed problems with discoloration and curling.
One of the most unusual roofing options is the “eco-roof.” Ideal for flat or moderately sloped roofs, eco-roofs have been used on commercial buildings in Europe for some time. Today homeowners are considering them as a viable option. Environmentally friendly, eco-roofs are essentially roof gardens. They can range from simple moss, herb and grass gardens to extensive areas with lawns, shrubs and trees. Initially quite expensive to install, an eco-roof provides excellent insulation. Depending upon plantings, a little to a lot of maintenance may be required.
One Home, Different Roof Styles
Homes often have one type of roof for the entire structure, but there is an added benefit to mixing roofing components. Depending upon the slope of the roof, certain materials work better than others. For example, older homes often have a shingled roof, and a porch covered with tin. Shingles do not effectively shed water unless they have the proper slope. Otherwise, a metal roof is a better option.
Sentry’s Kirk Fritz adds, “Mixing roofing components is often done for appearance. It is a nice feature on new homes today.” For example, copper may be too expensive to use for an entire roof, but it can be used over a porch or on dormers as both a roof and a decorative element.
Keeping Roofs in Top Shape
It is very important to inspect and maintain a roof. A neglected roof can cost more money later than if the repairs were done in a timely manner. Do not ignore visible signs. They will not go away and will likely just get worse, causing leaks, damage, inefficient use of energy and ultimately structural damage to the home.
Schedule roof inspections on a regular basis. While commercial buildings might be inspected monthly, biannual inspections should suffice for most homes. However, after a major wind storm, hail or other severe weather, it is a good idea to conduct a spot check. Examine the valleys in roof lines; debris can collect here, causing water to dam and preventing steady flow off the roof. High winds can damage shingles and flashings and pull up metal.
Paul Coviello, owner of Page Construction, a home repair and remodeling specialist in the Lynchburg and Smith Mountain Lake area, explains that there are two steps to a roof inspection—one external and one internal.
It is important to first check the overall condition of the roof. “The type of roof will dictate what to look out for,” says Coviello.
Tile and slate roofs should be inspected as much as possible from the ground or from a window with a good view of the roof, since the materials are fragile and can easily be broken or cracked if walked upon. For repairs, hire a roofer familiar with tile and slate roof repairs.
Metal roofs are designed to last many years, but they must be maintained and sometimes painted—though newer metal roofing comes from the factory with a special treatment that does not need repainting. Older roofs need painting when they show signs of rust, chipping paint, corrosion or pitting. Look for loose or open seams, cracks or holes in the standing seams, and sections where metal is not firmly attached to the supporting structure.
Wooden shakes and shingles sometimes rot or warp. Replace those that are damaged. If there appears to be significant damage to the material, it may be time for a new roof. Wooden shakes and shingles require an experienced roofer familiar with these materials.
Asphalt roofs become brittle with age. According to Fritz, initial signs of deterioration include shingle grit, wear patterns and crack lines along the shingles. Fritz also suggests that the homeowner look for missing shingles. These are all signs of an aging roof. His warning: “Don’t wait until the roof leaks before replacing it!”
Coviello points out the importance of looking beyond the roof itself. Examine the soffits or overhangs. If they are discolored, worn, cracked or damaged, these may be signs that water is getting through.
James Falls, a retired home inspector, points out that most leaks occur around flashings. Flashings are the metal pieces in roofs that cover interruptions in the roof plane areas where different angles join. Problems often occur where the roof does not conform to the regular roof lines, such as around dormers and skylights. Check flashings around the chimneys and vent pipes. Fix damaged flashing immediately to avoid leaks. Hardware stores often carry a rubber replacement piece that fits over the vent pipe.
During the roof inspection, gutters should be checked and cleaned. Is the wood along the gutters discolored? Is the gutter firmly attached to the home? If there is a drip line along the foundation of the house, this is an indication that the gutters overflow.
Virgil Coleman of Coleman/Mays Building, Inc., stresses the importance of cleaning gutters and making sure that all debris is off the entire roof. When gutters are not kept clean, water backs up, gutters freeze, and an ice dam occurs. Once it begins to thaw, the melted water travels inside the house, causing water damage and potential mold problems.
After thoroughly examining the exterior, go into the attic. Look for proper ventilation. Does the interior of the second floor get extremely warm on hot days? Do you see daylight through the soffits? If you do not, this is a sign of poor ventilation. According to Coviello, “Poor ventilation can cause more than just roof problems.” Inefficient use of energy is a direct result of poor ventilation, and results in higher heating and air conditioning costs.
Homeowners uncomfortable on a ladder or on a roof should call an expert. Many roofing contractors will inspect roofs at no charge. Roofing contractor Melvin T. Morgan, who works in the Lynchburg and Roanoke areas, recommends that a homeowner request a free estimate when consulting a roofing contractor. It is important to learn about the condition of your roof, and a professional is best suited to provide this information.
Make sure that the estimate includes the removal of the existing roof before the new one is installed. Some roofers opt for putting the new roof directly over the old one. This is generally not a good idea. According to Fritz, once an old roof is removed, water damage and rotting wood become more apparent and accessible for repair. Also, a roof installed over an existing roof compromises the longevity of the new roof, and manufacturers may not honor the warranty.
Owning a home has potential problems from the basement all the way to the rooftop. It may be impossible to maintain and keep tabs on every nook and cranny, but it is important to have a working knowledge of the many different parts—including the roof—that keep our homes comfortable, dry and safe year-round.