The question isn’t if you should replace your roof, but when. Whether it’s wind damage, hail damage, fire damage, falling trees, or just natural age, your roof will eventually need a replacement for one reason or another.
But like many homeowners, you probably only want to replace your roof when you absolutely have to. After all, no good roof replacement project is going to be cheap, so you want to get as much life as you can out of your existing roof.
While it’s rare that you’ll need to replace your roof at a convenient time, waiting too long to replace a failing roof can leave the rest of your home vulnerable to damage. That said, you don’t always have to take the plunge into a full-blown replacement project if it isn’t necessary.
So how do you know when it’s time to buy a new roof? Let’s break down the decision process based on material lifespan, signs of damage, and when repairs are sufficient. Then, we’ll discuss ways you can extend the life of your next roof for a better return on your investment.
The first thing to find out is the age of your current roof. If you weren’t living in your house when the existing roof was installed, you’ll have to do some digging. As long as the contractor pulled the building permit for the initial job, you may be able to obtain it from your local municipality. That permit should have the construction date for your current roof.
Depending on what material your roof is made of, you can predict an average lifespan before it’s time to buy a new one. Here are three of the most common roof types and their lifespans:
If there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with your roof, you may not have to replace it right away. However, when a roof reaches the end of its average lifespan, it’s best to start planning for a new one within the next couple of years. It may begin deteriorating sooner than you think.
If you aren’t able to figure out the age of your current roof, the condition of the shingles is the next place to look. If your roof is damaged in any way, it needs to at least be repaired. Even minor issues can open the door for more damage to the rest of your home. However, you may notice some widespread damage that calls for a full replacement. While some of these signs may be easy to see from standing on a ladder near your gutter, others may require a professional roof inspection.
If something is completely missing from your roof, this is an obvious sign of deterioration. For instance, if you can see sunlight through your roof when you look up from the inside, your roof has holes that need to be fixed. Even small holes can quickly turn into big leaks if not repaired. In other cases, you may find a few shingles blown away by strong winds. This isn’t as severe, but it’s still nothing to ignore. Any area that isn’t properly covered by outer roofing materials leaves the structure vulnerable to harsh weather. If water continuously pours on the exposed underlayment or plywood decking, this will cause the wood to rot away and make for a more expensive roofing project later on.
If not due to recent damage, shingles with bent edges or cracks are often a sign that your roof is reaching the end of its life. Otherwise, when strong winds cause your shingles to crack, split, or bend upward, this prevents water from flowing properly into your gutter. This exposes part of your underlayment to more rain and deterioration. In some cases, curled shingles may be a sign of poor attic ventilation.
If your roof has leaks, this is another obvious sign that it needs to be repaired. Aside from rotting the wood in your roof, the water may also leak into the rest of your home through the walls and make contact with electrical wiring. This quickly becomes a risk of water damage and electrical fires. Sometimes leaks cause overt dripping through the ceiling, but other times you may not notice them if they don’t make it into your regular living space. Check for dark brown or yellow stains on the ceiling beneath or inside your attic.
Granules (the protective minerals embedded into asphalt shingles) are key to the long-term durability of your roof. When asphalt shingles are made, limestone granules are embedded into the asphalt coating to protect it from UV rays. When granules are knocked loose from your shingles by hail damage or other strong impacts, they leave an exposed area that you can usually spot by looking for discoloration on your roof.
Although it may seem like minor damage, missing granules can become a serious problem. Even if the exposed area is very small, continuous sunlight, UV rays, and rain will wear a hole in your roof faster than you might think. You’ll want to fix the issue before it turns into a massive leak.
If your house is shaded by trees or other large structures, you may notice mushrooms, lichens, mold, or other types of fungus growing on your roof. This is a sign your roof may be retaining moisture. If you catch it early enough, you can simply spray it off or scrub it off with a brush.
However, if it has grown underneath your shingles or spreads across your whole roof, it can cause rot and structure damage. If this happens, you’ll likely need to call a professional roofer to remove the fungus and replace your roof. It’s also important to note that handling some fungus may be dangerous. If you’re concerned about it, be sure to call a professional anyway.
A healthy roof will have a flat surface at a straight angle from the peak to the gutter. If it sags or dips in the middle on any part of your home, this is a sign that the decking underneath is likely rotted out and desperately needs to be replaced. In some cases, this could mean there is nothing between your roof and the space below but a thin layer of shingles. If left alone for too long, it may cause the entire roof to cave in.
Flashing is the metal, rubber, or plastic trim that acts as a seal between your shingles and the other parts of your home. It connects your roof to other structures like chimneys, turrets, windows, or skylights. If any flashing is missing or broken, this could allow water to seep through your roof and between walls. Depending on the severity, it could also indicate the structural integrity of your roof is compromised. At minimum, you’ll need to replace the flashing to make sure your roof stays intact and deflects water from the gaps.
The fascia and soffit are the horizontal and vertical connecting pieces that form a right angle at the edge of your roof, directly below the gutter. The fascia connects the rest of your roof to the rafters inside, while the soffit connects your roof overhang to the siding. Together, they protect and maintain the structural integrity of your roof. If either of these are damaged, you could quickly lose your gutters or your roof could collapse entirely.
While you may not have to do any work on your roof, excessive heat (especially on the upper floors of your home) may indicate poor attic ventilation. If left unchecked, this heat can get trapped under your roof and cause your shingles to warp. To prevent further deterioration, it’s best to have this fixed by creating better ventilation or by choosing a roof style that doesn’t insulate your home too much.
In many situations, you may get away with repairing affected areas and avoid a replacement for a few more years. But simply repairing a roof that desperately needs a replacement is a bit like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm. The entire thing will need to be fixed sooner rather than later. Take care to assess the state of your roof carefully—waiting too long to fix the issue correctly may not be wise or cost-effective in the long run. Let’s look at a few different situations and how to best take care of your roof in each one.
If your roof is older than its expected lifespan, it’s usually best to replace it even if there isn’t anything visibly wrong with it. More often than not, damage and further deterioration are just around the corner. This is especially true if your roof was installed directly over the top of a previous one. Since this isn’t proper installation, there’s a higher risk for deterioration.
If your roof is sagging, it probably means the decking is severely deteriorated (most likely by water damage or dry rot). Fixing a sagging roof usually means removing all underlying materials down to the rafters and installing all new plywood decking, underlayment, and shingles. If your roof is only sagging on one side, you could technically replace that side by itself. But with a project of this scope, it’s usually more cost effective and essential for your roof’s stability to replace everything at once.
If your roof was damaged in a hailstorm or strong winds ripped up a few shingles, you can usually just repair the affected areas instead of replacing the whole roof. The same goes for leaks and shingles with missing granules. Replacing a whole roof when only a few shingles need to be fixed wouldn’t allow you to recoup your initial investment, especially if your roof is well within its average lifespan.
But this only applies if the damage is minor. In most cases, this means less than 20 damage spots per 100 square feet. That said, if your roof is nearing the end of its life, minor damage may present an opportunity to invest in an entire replacement project. If you’ll need to replace it in the next couple of years anyway, why pay to fix the same area twice?
If your roof shows deterioration around major structural areas like the fascia or soffit, you may be able to repair only the damaged area. If the damage isn’t widespread, it may only require a few new boards. But many times when one part of the fascia is damaged, the rest of it is in similar condition. If the entire fascia needs to be replaced, it may be a wiser investment to replace the entire roof.
Some situations have obvious solutions. Others may not be so clear. Here are a few tips that will help you in the decision process for replacing your roof:
If you already feel like you’re replacing your roof too soon, you’re not alone. Studies have shown that more than 80% of roofs need replacements earlier than expected. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With proper attention to installation and maintenance, there is no reason (aside from freak accidents) that your roof shouldn’t last for its full expected lifespan.
It’s a good idea to have your roof inspected by a roofing specialist on a regular basis, even if it isn’t very old. A roof inspection may reveal small damages that you can take care of before they become more serious, expensive problems. Some places offer roof maintenance programs that will periodically repair small issues with your roof to help you extend its lifespan.
Without proper attic ventilation, heat may get trapped beneath your roof and deteriorate your entire roofing system from the inside. If the lack of ventilation is severe, a new roof may need to be replaced in as little as two years.
The goal of attic ventilation during the summer is to allow cool air in as hot air blows out through the roof’s exhaust vents. The tricky part is to create adequate ventilation without losing energy by exhausting too much of your conditioned indoor air. While your roofer will likely be able to install passive roof vents and attic fans during a replacement project, you may also need to consult an HVAC specialist to be sure the rest of your house is properly ventilated.
Ice dams are large chunks of ice that prevent water from flowing off your roof. Typically, they form icicles that stem from large sheets of ice that freeze over top of your gutters.
Ice dams can cause a number of problems with your roof, but you can prevent them with some proper maintenance. Besides cleaning your gutters regularly to ensure proper water drainage, you should also rake your roof after it snows. Removing the blanket of snow that lies on your shingles will prevent ice from building up underneath it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if your attic isn’t properly ventilated, a small amount of indoor heat will seep through the shingles. If you have a large pack of snow weighing on your roof, this may cause a small pocket of snow to melt. You then have a large pocket of water sitting on your roof that won’t drain off because of an existing ice dam. This may very quickly weigh on your shingles and leak through into your walls and attic. If left for too long, it may cause your roof to sag or cave in. Proper attic ventilation will prevent heat from escaping in undesirable places and causing additional damage.
Asphalt is the most common choice for roofing materials, because its durability meets building standards while staying affordable. However, a low-tier asphalt shingle may be more susceptible to wind and impact damage than other materials. To increase the lifespan of your roof and protect it from damage, you could invest in a thicker type of asphalt shingles (e.g. laminated asphalt shingles) or opt for a synthetic roof.
While they are more expensive, synthetic roofing materials last 30-50 years on average and can withstand harsh weather conditions better than most materials on the market. They’re designed to mimic more luxurious materials like slate or wood shake without the extra weight or cost.
According to a study of wind effects on asphalt shingles, one of the most important factors in roof sturdiness is the quality of installation. If you want to extend the life of your next roof, hiring a trustworthy roofing company with a reputation for good workmanship is essential.
Even the strongest roofing materials can fall apart in just a few years if not installed properly. If this happens, the manufacturer’s warranty on the materials won’t cover the replacement job. Instead, you’ll be left paying for yet another roofing project well before you should. However, a well-installed roof has the potential to last its full lifespan.
While you can sometimes get away with repairing a small section of your roof, it’s bound to need a replacement, eventually. When you do that depends on a number of factors, including roof age, the type of material, and the quality of installation. In any case, the goal is to make the best decision for your home.
The longer you try to extend the life of a roof that’s bound to fail, the more likely you are to run into more expensive problems that may damage other parts of your home. Those repairs tend to cost much more than a new roof. To be sure, it’s best to have a professional roofing company inspect your roof and help you decide the best course of action.
At Baltic Roofing, we do all that and more. After a thorough roof inspection, we’ll recommend options for repair or replacement that work best for your home — including those for skylights, gutters, and more. When it’s time for a roof replacement job, we’ll remove the old materials ourselves to be sure your new roof is cleanly installed and stays secure for many years to come. Once the job is complete, we offer a No Leak Guarantee as an extra layer of protection.
Contact us for a roof inspection today to see exactly what your roof needs.
Learn why roof decking (or roof sheathing) is a key part of your home, the difference between plywood and OSB, and how to inspect your roof for signs of damage.