Consumer GuidesRoofing, Siding & Gutters

Time for a New Roof?

Roofs are the most important part of our home’s weatherproofing. A leaking roof can cause incalculable damage in a relatively short period of time.

When people spot a leak, they will discover that getting a roofer out to make simple repairs is always difficult. If we understand why roofers are reluctant to make repairs, we can better position ourselves to procure the services of a competent roofer for repair work.

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.

Doing roofing repair work is often a thankless task. To start 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.

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. Compounding this problem is the fact that when roofs fail in one way, they often fail in other ways soon afterwards.

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

Many roof repairs are necessitated by falling trees, high winds and other fits 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 them in a misguided attempt to prevent ice dams.

Most commonly, roofs fail because some aspect of the installation was done poorly. Many roofers don’t pay much attention to the details. 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. There are plenty of sloppy roofers out there that never even know about the problems their poor workmanship causes.

Then there are the lucky few homeowners whose roofs fail simply because the materials have surpassed their useful life. Typically these roofs go 20 years or more without a leak and replacement becomes obvious because many of the shingles are starting to curl or tear.

Many roofs are covered with asphalt shingles. These shingles should last 20 years or more but often fail after about 15. 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 questions and answers to some of the most common questions about roofing problems:

Q: I’ve heard different roofers talk about guarantees that run from 10 to 30 years. Are these guarantees meaningful?

A: Sort of. Long-term guarantees are provided by the manufacturer. They are in essence guaranteeing the shingle, not the installation. Shingles rarely fail unless something was done wrong in the installation or unless there is some kind of natural disaster. In either case, the manufacturer won’t be responsible, and the odds of you collecting anything are close to nil. 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 succeed at. 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 30-year, 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.

Q: One roofer told me the old shingles have to be removed before putting on new shingles. The other said the new shingles can go right over the old ones. Who’s right?

A: If both are competent roofers—a big if—you may just be facing an honest difference of opinion. 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.

Q: Two roofers gave me a price for a new roof. One was $2900 and one was $1400. How could the difference be so big?

A:?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. You may also be dealing with two very unequal firms. 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 two firms more carefully and ask them about why there is such a big difference.

Q: My neighbor has a slate roof. It costs a lot more, but they tell me it is supposed to last forever. Why don’t more people install slate roofs?

A: Slate roofs do 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.

Q: Some of my neighbors have added skylights and a couple have had a lot of problems with leaks. Are skylights a good idea or would I just be making my life more complicated?

A: Top quality skylights installed by a conscientious pro almost never leak. Unfortunately, many homeowners get a bargain basement “special” skylight on sale at the local home center store. They have problems getting a real roofer to install it because reputable roofers don’t want to have anything to do with one of these budget skylights. The homeowner resorts to having a handyman install the skylight, and so begins a litany of leaks and problems.

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