Consumer GuidesRoofing, Siding & Gutters

How to Buy Roofing

Roofs are the most important part of a home’s weatherproofing—a leaking roof can cause incalculable damage in a relatively short period of time. When people spot a leak, they may discover that finding an available roofer can be difficult. Obviously, a roofer makes more money doing a replacement than he or she does doing simple repairs. But this isn’t the main reason roofers avoid repair work.

Initial Consultation

Doing roofing repair work is often a thankless task. To begin with, it can take a good chunk of time to make a diagnosis. Homeowners tend to discount the value of this time as they don’t see any “work” being done. With pressure from the homeowner, the roofer may feel rushed to make a quick diagnosis. You’d be better served if the roofer takes enough time to make sure they have an accurate diagnosis. For best results, when talking to roofers about coming to your house for repairs, indicate that you understand the importance of a good diagnosis and don’t rush your roofer.

Liabilities for Roofers

Another problem roofers have with repairs is that if the homeowner sees a leak three months after the repairs were completed, the homeowner feels let down and may want additional repairs for free-even if the new leak is unrelated to the old one.

The roofer ends up in the proverbial rock and a hard place, choosing between irritating his customer or doing work for free. So, when talking to a an installer, reassure the roofer that you won’t hold him accountable for things for which he isn’t responsible.

Causes of Roof Damage

Many roof repairs are necessitated by falling trees, high winds and other acts of Mother Nature. Sometimes Mother Nature gets help from negligent or ill informed homeowners. In recent years, many roofs have been destroyed by well meaning homeowners trying to shovel snow off their roofs in a misguided attempt to prevent ice dams.

Most commonly, roofs fail because some aspect of the installation was done poorly. Problems caused by poor installation often don’t show up for five or ten years. By the time there’s a leak, the home has changed hands or the homeowner has no recollection of who did the roof let alone any idea where to find them.

Then there are the lucky few homeowners whose roofs fail simply because the materials have surpassed their useful life. Typically these roofs go twenty years or more without a leak and replacement becomes evident because many of the shingles are starting to curl or tear.

In this area, most roofs are covered with asphalt shingles. These shingles should last 20 years or more but often fail after about fifteen. If your roof is starting to leak and is 15 years old or older, there is a good chance that you’ll need a new roof soon.

Here are some common concerns about roofing problems:

Roofing Guarantees

The manufacturer provides long term guarantees. They are in essence guaranteeing the shingle, not the installation. Shingles rarely fail unless something was done wrong in the installation or there is some kind of natural disaster. In either case, the manufacturer won’t be responsible and the odds of you collecting anything are slim to none. Besides, you have little chance of collecting on a guarantee unless you successfully keep track of the shingle type, manufacturer, installer and all the relevant paperwork for many years-something few people do successfully. However, the manufacturer’s guarantee is a reasonable gauge of their confidence in the shingle. So if the manufacturer has one product with a 15-year guarantee and another with a 30-year guarantee, you have a pretty good picture of the relative durability of the two shingles. However, the best shingles in the world are a complete waste of money if you don’t have them installed by a truly competent roofer.

Replacing Shingles

The most common practice is to put a second roof right over the first and then tear everything off before the third roof goes on. That means a maximum of two layers. However, a second layer shouldn’t go over the first if the first isn’t flat. If the first layer has curled and broken shingles, it will need to be removed before another layer goes on. One advantage of removing the old shingles is that it provides an ideal opportunity to inspect the plywood or boards under the roof and replace any pieces that may have deteriorated.

Widely Varying Estimates

Widely differing prices are quite common in roofing. Part of the difference might be the quality of the shingles and perhaps one is tearing off the old roof before adding the new one. Two very unequal firms will usually give varying estimates. The guy that slaps up a roof with little attention to detail can charge a lot less than the guy who spends the time and money it takes to get a well-trained, competent crew. To sort it all out, I’d check out the firms more carefully and ask them about why there is such a big difference.

Slate Roofs

Slate roofs last much longer than asphalt shingle roofs, though not forever. Depending on the quality of the slate, the roof may last 50 years or more. Slate does cost a lot more initially, and because it is brittle, may require more repairs over time. There are very few people skilled in slate repair work so it can be a problem to get repairs done.

Among those that opt for slate, most do so because it is perceived to be a higher-end product. Among new homes, you’re only likely to see it on the most expensive. If you already have slate, you’re usually better off repairing it rather than replacing it.

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