A house or a building with a good foundation and a strong, whole roof will likely last for many, many decades. How does a homeowner or building manager ensure a long-lasting, robust roof? In this guide we answer that question, looking at the subject of repairs, roof replacements, roofing materials, and roof cleaning.
Everyone knows that the primary function of a roof is to provide shelter for the people living and working underneath it. The sun may blaze, the winds may roar, and snow and rain may fall, but a good roof over four walls will keep the elements from impacting the creatures inside.
While providing protection is important, roofs serve another essential function, which is to support components of various housing and building systems. These include gutters to carry rain away; solar panels for heating water; skylights; vent pipes that allow plumbing to work properly; satellite dishes; radio antennas; lightning rods; air-conditioning units; and fans. A roof must be solid and strong to support these components and pieces of equipment.
Roofs will last a long time if they are properly maintained. Some roofs last longer than others if made of materials that withstand all weather conditions and are not prone to deterioration. But even an iron-clad roof will fail if water gets in and rots out the supports and decking. The takeaway is that caring for a roof, as one would for other structural systems in the house or building, increases the likelihood of a roof’s longevity.
Residential roofs are most often clad in clay barrel tiles, flat slate tiles, granular asphalt shingles, ridged metal panels, or rough cedar shakes. Of these, the tiles and metal panels are the sturdiest and longest-lasting.
Clay, slate, and metal enjoy long lives, but they also come with a higher price tag than shingles and shakes in many areas of the country. And while they are strong, they can still be damaged. Breakage is a common problem with clay and slate tiles. A person walking in the valleys of a barrel tile roof instead of on the ridges can easily cause breakage. A heavy item dropped onto tiles–or a golf ball hitting tiles–can crack, chip, or smash them.
Metal roofs can be bent or twisted if strong winds catch them under an edge and lift them up. They can also be ripped off by a tornado or hurricane.
Asphalt shingles are a common residential roofing choice across the country because they are budget-friendly and usually in ready supply. These shingles are made in long panels laid in a staggered pattern on a roof. Manufactured with a bitumen/asphalt base, they are covered with limestone filler and pebbly granules. Asphalt shingle roofs usually last 20 to 25 years and must be replaced when weather and age deterioration has worn off the granular aggregate.
Commercial roofing materials include all the residential options as well as several others that are especially suited to very large roofs. See the section on Roof Replacements for a list of commercial roofing materials.
Maintaining a roof consists of scheduling occasional inspections, making repairs, and getting the roof cleaned.
The older the roof, the more frequent inspections should be scheduled. A new roof shouldn’t need inspecting for several years unless a leak has developed, or if you suspect that a storm with strong winds has caused damage.
Keeping a roof clean is important for overall roof health. Mold on asphalt shingle roof acts as a heat-absorbing layer, increasing the temperature of the roof itself and of the attic air underneath. Mold also feeds on the limestone filler of the aggregate, deteriorating the granules and shortening the life of the shingles.
Mold on tile roofs sends micro roots into cracks and fissures, widening them.
Swaths of black mold across a roof make a house or building look grungy and neglected and discourages potential buyers if the place is up for sale.
How does one get rid of black roof mold?
One way to clean mold off a roof is with water, delivered under pressure through a wand or a surface cleaner. Tile, slate, and metal roofs may be safely cleaned with pressure washing.
Pressure washing a roof is difficult work that represents a significant undertaking for the average homeowner. We recommend hiring a commercial roof cleaning company to do the work. These companies have high-capacity pressure washing equipment and trained employees who are experienced in walking roofs and cleaning them efficiently and safely.
An important note: never pressure-wash an asphalt shingle roof. The granules will be removed from the shingles. Most shingle manufacturers’ warranties are void if a shingle roof is pressure-washed.
Some roof-cleaning companies offer chemical cleaning as an alternative to pressure-washing. The chemical solution is a mix of bleach and water plus a surfactant and fragrance.
The chemical solution is applied with no more pressure than that of water coming out of a garden hose and is safe for all roofing materials, from asphalt shingle to rubber to tile. Instead of blasting the mold off the roof surface, it simply kills the mold, including roots. The dead mold can then be rinsed away with water.
Chemical cleaning is effective and longer lasting than pressure washing. However, it carries the risk of plant damage because of the bleach ingredient. Responsible roof cleaning companies actively pre-water and cover plants under the dripline.
In this section, we cover what can damage a roof and how to find a roof repair company.
Weather events such as strong wind storms or hurricanes often cause significant damage to roofs, especially shingle roofs. Metal roofs are susceptible also, as powerful winds catching under eaves can peel metal roofs back like a can of sardines.
Roofs get damaged by trees or branches that fall on them. Other projectiles—like wayward golf balls—can crack or smash tiles. A person walking in the vulnerable valleys of a barrel tile roof can cause breakage.
A roof that has holes in the sheathing materials will end up with water damage to the decking and supports underneath.
All of the above types of damage should be fixed. Some repairs are more critical than others. For instance, holes in a roof should be repaired as soon as possible (and protected with a temporary covering until fixed). A rapid repair is not as critical for broken barrel tiles, since the roofing underneath is solid and waterproof.
Finding a reputable company to fix your roof issue can feel daunting. With so many roofing companies around, how do you know which ones are honest and reliable?
Ask local people that you know and trust for recommendations. Also ask which companies should be avoided.
Look at online reviews. Find these formally on Yelp or Angie’s List and informally on your NextDoor app or a Facebook local watchdog group.
Most roofing companies have a website. Look at them and compare them. Get a feel for the companies. Note their warranties. Are they family-owned and run or are they part of a franchise? Call three of them, tell them about your project, and schedule an estimate visit.
Be watchful when the contractors or representatives come out for your estimate. Were they professionally dressed? Identified? Respectful? Were they thorough in their examination of your roof? Did they explain the damage and proposed repair clearly?
After the three companies have given you an estimate, look at all the facts, including price, the timeline for the job, and warranties. At this point, a decision can be made, the repair work scheduled, and your roof restored to completeness.
When a roof has simply lived out its life or damage is too great to be repaired, a roof replacement must be considered.
The cost of a new roof depends on the materials selected to cover the decking, whether or not the decking also needs replacing, how large the roof is, and if any parts of the roof require special access.
Residential and commercial roofing choices include asphalt shingle, cedar shake, aluminum, copper, clay tile, and slate.
Additional roofing choices are available for large commercial or industrial buildings.
Built-Up Roofing (BUR): BUR is felt soaked in bitumen and bound with asphalt. Panels of BUR are laid across decking to produce a long-lasting, strong roof.
EPDM: Ethylene propylene diene monomer is a common commercial roofing choice that resembles rubber and adheres to decking.
Liquid Rubber: Applied in a viscous state, liquid rubber flows across a roof and around protrusions such as ac boxes, fan boxes, vent pipes, and skylights. It hardens into a waterproof durable covering.
Gaco: Gaco silicone coating can be applied to other roofing materials. It increases longevity by acting as a protective barrier against harmful rays from the sun, oxidation, dirt, and weathering.
Torch-down: This product is most commonly used for commercial roofs that are flat. Made of a sturdy membrane embedded in asphalt, it is installed by being rolled across a roof and heated with a torch.
See the earlier section entitled, “When You Need to Find a Roof Repair Company.” The process outlined there is the same to use when seeking a company to replace your roof.
Remember that the roof and the foundation are a building’s most important structural elements. Taking care of a roof means keeping it clean and fixing damaged areas. When maintained well, a roof will last many years; some will last many decades. If a roof needs to be repaired or replaced, identify a reputable, reliable company to do the work.
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