How Old Is Your Roof? What Shape Are Your Shingles In?
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Do You Need a New Roof?
You might assume you don't need to think about installing a new roof until the old one starts leaking, but if you wait that long it will be more expensive. Why? Because by the time you notice the leak, the structural damage will have already occurred.
Here are some tips to help decide whether the time has come to install a new roof:
• How old is the existing roof? If installed properly and with good materials, an asphalt shingle roof should last 20 to 25 years, sometimes longer. It also depends on how many shingle layers you have and if it was properly ventilated. If you've lived there for many years and don't know when the roof was last replaced, consider having a roof inspection.
• Go outside and look at the roof. Are the shingle lines still straight or can you see sags or other irregularities? A sag would indicate that the sheathing underneath is rotting. Pay close attention to the valleys, which are one of the most important parts of your roof because it's where snow and rain flow into the gutters.
• When you clean your gutters (which you should be doing twice a year), do you find a lot of asphalt granules in the gutter? That's a sign that the asphalt shingles are breaking down.
• Do you see cracked, curled, or misshapen shingles? As shingles age, they begin to deteriorate. Are any shingles missing? Check to see if all of the tabs are intact.
• Does your chimney flashing consist of roof cement or tar? Chimneys are a potential weak spot on roofs and need to have a long-term, water-tight fitting such as metal flashing.
• Go up in the attic, preferably during or immediately after a good rain, and look for evidence of leaks or moisture. Also, check to see if there's any daylight streaming through the roof boards.
If you're starting to see some of these warning signs, have a qualified roof inspector give you a professional assessment.
Tear off or Re-Roof
When you start taking bids for a new roof installation, one decision you'll need to make is whether to have the old roof stripped down to the wood decking or simply cover the existing roof with a new layer of shingles. The difference in price will be considerable — homeowners often save 25 percent or more by opting for reroofing instead of a tear-off — but is that a good decision?
Roofers disagree on the answer, with some cautioning that the only way to find and repair weak spots is to strip the roof down to the plywood sheathing where they often find water damage that would not otherwise have been discovered.
Another concern about adding a second layer is that asphalt shingles are heavy, so installing that second layer adds weight that the structure must bear in addition to maximum snowfall for that part of the country.
However, both the National Roofing Contractors Association and the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturer’s Association approve re-roofing as a general practice where permitted by local building codes. Roofers who do this kind of work say adding a second layer of shingles can be a reasonable option. However, even they caution that reroofing is also more difficult, particularly when installing flashing around chimneys and other potential points of water entry, so the work needs to be done by a roofer with experience in this method.
Factors to consider when making the decision include:
• The pitch (slope) of the roof is at least 4 feet of vertical rise for every 12 feet of horizontal run — perhaps more in regions where heavy snowfall is common.
• The existing roof needs to be in good condition (other than age) and made of materials that are compatible with re-roofing.
• It's best if the condition of the roof’s underlying structure can be visually inspected from the attic and is not obscured by insulation or drywall.
• The roofer must strictly follow both the shingle manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes to make sure the warranty applies.
• Roofers caution that re-roofing also requires shingle installation techniques that differ from the standard methods. For example, during an overlay, shingles are hand-nailed in nested clusters, while for new roof installations shingles are applied in rows using a nail gun.
• In any new roof, the weakest areas tend to be around chimneys and other protrusions, as well as in the valleys where two slopes meet. When applying the second layer of shingles, the roofer needs to tear down to the flashing and determine whether to replace the original flashing or tie into it. Making the right decision on each of these points requires a roofer with both skill and experience at re-roofing.
In the end, it’s up to the homeowner to decide what type of roof installation is best. Ask for detailed bids on both options before making a decision.
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