Have you been thinking of installing a new roof or wonder if you need to repair your roof? The roof of your home is the first layer of protection against the elements. It also serves an important function in your home’s insulation system. A failing roof may happen slowly: a clogged gutter can push water under the shingles of a roof, soaking the plywood support underneath causing buckling. Shingles may have poor connection points and allow rain to leak in. The waterproof barrier may be of poor quality and allow moisture to deteriorate the trusses holding up the roof. Ventilation may be poor, allowing moisture to build up in the attic and creating a matted insulation layer that stops functioning. Or a failing roof can occur suddenly: a branch or tree that falls on the roof and damages a section may cause minor tears or major holes. All of these issues will eventually create an inefficient and structurally inadequate protection for your home and your family.

Recognizing a damaged roof

How do you know your roof needs replacing? Obvious signs like buckling, cracked or missing shingles, worn-looking shingles and leaks into the interior are all indications of a deteriorating roof. What’s not always obvious are other signs of an inadequate roof like a higher-than-average electrical bill (indicating a poor roofing ventilation system), cracked or blistered exterior paint (indicating high humidity due to poor ventilation), interior mold or mildew growth (possibly due to excess moisture underneath the roof layers), water damage or stains in attic or ceiling following heavy snow or ice (ice blockages or dams possibly caused water to leak under the shingles). If you live in an older home, and the roof hasn’t been replaced in 20 years, you may be in the position to install a new, upgraded roof.

Repairing versus replacing a roof

Whether or not you should repair a damaged area versus replacing the whole roof should be a decision made with the help of a professional roofer. If your roof is in great condition, with the exception of one area damaged in a storm, for example, you may be able to replace just the damaged area. An expert roofer can asses by visual inspection and by walking around the surface of the roof to see if it is in need of a full replacement. Some roofing manufacturers may not grant a warranty to a roof that is partially replaced, so be sure to ask the pros and cons of a full or partial replacement.

Calculating the size of a roof

The greatest cost factor is the square footage of your roof, which is not the same as the square footage of your home. A 2,000 square foot one-story rambler home with overhangs may have a larger roof area than a 2,000 square foot three-story home with no overhangs. An expert can take the exact measurements, taking into account the area of the roof plus the pitch of the roof and any additional areas like dormers and eaves. They can also calculate how much material you roof will need based on the size and the actual materials (some roofing types may require certain minimums or overages to properly complete the job).

How much does a new roof cost?

Replacing your entire roof is not an insignificant cost and it should be the homeowner’s responsibility to speak with a reputable roofing expert to gain a full understanding of all the options, including financing options. The national average cost to replace a roof is around $8,000, with most people spending in the range of $5,500 to $11,000. The final cost will be the addition of the square footage of materials needed (including shingles, water barriers, venting systems, etc.), any materials that may need to be replaced (damaged plywood or trusses), labor costs, taxes, and other on-site variables such as lifting the materials by hand up to the roof or being able to raise a boom next to your house to mechanically raise the materials on to the roof. Other cost factors may be the cost of replacing gutters, flashing, vents or repairing chimney damage.

A qualified roofing company may not extend a warranty on a roof if the other areas that touch the roof are damaged. When discussing costs with your roofing professional, have them itemize all costs, both expected and unexpected, so that you have a clear understanding of the grand total. Most roofing companies will require a deposit in order to book the appointment, with the remainder charged at time of completion. Be wary of companies that ask for large deposits up front. Usually a roofer will have a 30-day credit at the roofing supply company, meaning the roofer has 30 days to pay for the materials. A deposit of 0% – 20% is normal.

Types of roofing materials

There are several types of roofing options for homeowners but the most common are asphalt shingles, wood shingles, metal, slate or clay tile. Costs vary widely between each of these materials with the asphalt shingles being the least expensive and clay tile being the most expensive. If cost is not an issue, then the style of your home and your climate may be a determining factor. A Spanish-style home in a hot and dry climate would be well suited with a fired clay tile roof. A steep-pitched roof located in a snowy climate may function better with a metal roof. A very flat, contemporary home in a climate with little rain might look best with no shingles at all but rather a flat-finished roof. Some roofing experts are affiliated with a particular manufacturer and will only use products offered by that manufacturer. The benefit to hiring a roofer affiliated with a manufacturer is that they are fully trained to install and speak about the performance testing of that particular inventory. If you want a very specific type of roofing material used on your home, seek out a professional who has a lot of experience using that material.

How long will a new roof last?

The average shingle roof, properly installed, should last anywhere from 20 years (for asphalt or torchdown roof), 30-40 years (wood shingled roof), 50+ years (metal roofs) and 100+ years (clay tile shingles).

How a typical roof is installed

Your home has layers to help protect it from the environment and to effectively insulate the home. As you can see from the illustration above, the typical roof has several layers – all of which are important to a successful and long-lasting roof. A professional roofer should be expected to speak fluently about each layer and explain the necessity of each.

Your first meeting with a professional roofer

During your initial meeting with a professional roofer, expect to have them visually inspect the roof, measure the roof, expertly discuss particular issues (like insufficient gutters or flashing), and give you an overall expectation of costs and time.  Some roofers may not “walk the roof” if they feel that by doing so, they may cause further damage. Some roofers represent a roofing manufacturing company and will only use their products. If this is the case, ask them specific questions about lifetime expectations, costs and performance testing of the materials. If your professional roofer is open to using various brands, question them about their experience of using one product over another. Your initial meeting may last over an hour as there will be many items to discuss. After your meeting, it’s helpful to ask your neighbors and friends about their own roofing experience can help you gain a better understanding about your choices. Hiring a professional roofer who has worked on similar types of home (same age, climate and restrictions)  can also be a benefit to you as they will be more knowledgeable about your roof. Be sure to request the following piece of information during your first meeting:

  • professional license, registration and bonding
  • insurance (and the dollar amount of insurance)
  • references from previous clients
  • warranties or guarantees on their both their labor and materials
  • other business credentials such as a BBB rating or professional membership with a local, state or national roofing associations
  • level of experience, number of years they have been a professional roofer
  • any specific training they’ve received on the materials they plan on installing. Have them discuss the performance testing on the materials they plan on using.
  • have them walk you through the scope of the proposed project including the general timeline, what tasks will be performed, the duration of the project, the clean-up process, and what you (the homeowner) will need to do to prepare in advance
  • what happens when there is unforeseen issues (heavy rain during installation, more damage than they first thought, etc.)
  • customer service guarantees or follow up procedures

Taking care of your new roof

Taking good care of your roof should be part of your regular home maintenance program. One of the most important things to take care of are your gutters, as clogged or blocked gutters can very quickly deteriorate your roof. Regularly sweeping your roof and clearing debris like branches and leaves will not only keep moss at bay, it will also help keep your gutters clear. After heavy rains or storm, check your roof for any broken shingles or damaged flashing. A note about inspecting your roof: it is never recommended to walk on your roof if your roof is wet or steep. A metal or clay tile roof should never be walked upon unless it is done by a professional roofer. Every year homeowners accidentally fall from their roofs while trying to clean it to use caution when scaling ladders or roofs.