How to tell if you need a new roof. All about how long composition shingles last and what makes them wear out.

Monday, December 19th, 2016 by Ernie Smith

Many people who contact our roofing company already know they need a new roof.

They’ve been up on the roof themselves, (or they’ve enlisted a family member or friend), and seen the carnage firsthand. Getting a new roof has been on the to-do list for a while for many folks.

Spending your weekends and your money on getting a new roof isn’t the most exciting thing to do, so unless there’s an emergency it’s easy to put off. (The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Out of sight, out of mind.)

Maybe you know you need a new roof because every other room leaks every time it rains. And you’ve become familiar with every bucket in the attic (or in the house), and every spot on the ceiling. (Don’t worry, you’re not alone.)

If this sounds like you, proceed directly to our article on finding a good roofing company.

It’s important to note that composition shingle roofs can turn dark where it’s humid, often several years prior to needing a new roof. If the roof isn’t old, it’s usually not a cause for concern. Fortunately most quality composition roofs are now resistant to stains. But check with your roofer to make sure, as algae-resistance is good to have here on the Gulf Coast.

We won’t make you feel guilty at this point like other articles on the internet by explaining the importance of getting a new roof because it bears the brunt of the weather and keeps you safe and warm – or mention the fact that your roof is the first line of defense in a terrible, raging storm. (But if we’ve gotten you concerned please give us a call, and we’ll come take a look.)

The vast majority of residential roofs in the U.S. are composition shingles.

So that’s what this article is all about. (Click here to learn about composition shingles). Some things that we mention though will apply to other types of roofs also.

When composition shingles get old and worn-out it’s usually pretty obvious. Though few people keep tabs, composition shingle roofs can succumb to the elements before their warranty expires – precipitating the need for a new roof sooner rather than later. (At this point the tarpaper underneath is usually working overtime.)

Towards the end of their life span composition shingles become brittle and curled, especially the areas of the roof most exposed to the sun. And the granules on the surface begin to disappear in earnest. You’ll know you need a new roof if shingles break when they’re handled (mainly when they’re cool or wet). Composition shingles in good condition are pliable and will bend some, particularly when it’s warm.

As your composition shingle roof ages you’ll see bits of roof material and granules accumulating in the driveway and gutters more and more, especially after a storm. (By the way, these shingle granules will ‘shed’ naturally for a few weeks with a brand new roof; there’s no reason to worry.)

Other major signs that portend a new roof include bald spots on the shingles where white fiberglass is showing, and pock-marks or holes from ‘blistering’ and wear and tear. More or less, if your composition shingle roof is beginning to resemble the surface of the moon then it’s time to get serious about getting a new roof.

Obviously it’s advisable not to get to this point. Especially if bad storms are a problem where you live. It’s tempting to neglect your roof if you never see it leak. But leaks are often diverted and absorbed by insulation and plywood, and even sheetrock. And ultimately there’ll be more things to do than just get a new roof.

To find out if you need a new roof try to determine the age of the old (existing) one.

Though this can be tricky when the average homeowner, supposedly, moves every twelve years.Plus the average homeowner deals with getting a new roof only once in their lifetime. (Though there’s nothing average about getting a new roof here on the Texas Gulf Coast.)

More than likely, a composition shingle roof that’s spent twenty or more years battling the hot Texas sun has been pushed to the limit (and so has your luck). It’s likely time for a new roof, whatever the original warranty says. Composition shingles tend to fare better up north.

Just because your roof leaks or you’re missing a few shingles doesn’t mean you need a new roof.

It’s not that uncommon to experience minor ‘blow-off’ with a composition shingle roof after a particularly bad storm, regardless of the age of the roof or what condition it’s in. For example, ‘hip’ and ‘ridge’ shingles on the roof sit up high and are more exposed, so they’re particularly vulnerable. They’re also easy to fix. Give Ernie Smith & Sons a call and we’ll take a look.

Sometimes when new homes are built honest mistakes happen, for example overlooking and neglecting to nail an area of the roof that might be particularly vulnerable to strong winds. But composition shingles can wiggle free from their fasteners for any number of reasons. They get a mind of their own in a storm and fly away in the wind, touching down in the driveway or on the roof next door.

Incidentally, this sort of thing (missing shingles) can be a problem particularly with really steep roofs, due to the significantly increased gravitational pull downwards on the shingle. Installing these type roofs with extra fasteners will help. On the upside, the life-span of a steep composition shingle roof will often be longer, because it sheds water faster.

Oversights and mistakes on newly-built homes can be the cause of serious leaks, and frustration, no matter your roof’s age.

It could be a vent left unsealed or a badly caulked chimney, or any number of reasons. Maybe someone yelled “surf’s up” on a particularly nice day and the roof was hurriedly abandoned – an inherent risk here along the Gulf Coast.

Try and contact the original builder if they’re still around. Unfortunately some, but not all, homebuilders use exclusively the roofer that’s cheapest. And unfortunately sometimes the result is an automatic built-in future leak repair - an accident waiting to happen - somewhere down the line.

A nagging leak or a little roof blow-off on your roof may drive you batty and require some attention (and even some money), but it doesn’t necessarily mean you need a new roof – call a leak repair expert from a reputable company.

If you’re building something new, whether a home or a business, tell the builder you already have a good roofer in mind.

If you use a local company that’s good, you’ll get a warranty exclusive to the new roof, plus peace of mind. And your new roof won’t be intertwined with the fate of the builder.

It’s rare, nevertheless it’s possible, that a brand new composition shingle roofcan be installed so poorly as to render it entirely useless from the get go – and there’s just one way to fix it. If annoying leaks and missing shingles are becoming real common and a real nuisance, you may need a new roof, no matter its age. We’ve seen a few of these and it’s not very fair – try to locate the original homebuilder and see if they’ll help.

If you’re having consistent problems with your roof, have a reputable roofer check the over-all quality of the installation by walking the roof. (Tell the roofer they’ll be seriously considered if there’s work to be done.) It’s possible that the problems you’re experiencing are contained to a specific area, and you don’t need a whole new roof. Large sections of a composition shingle roof can often be replaced to remedy a problem, if the shingles aren’t old.

Make sure you contact and follow TWIA guidelines where applicable for any type of roofing or remodeling project on the Texas Gulf Coast.

A reputable Houston area roofer will understand what this means and will take care of everything for you. Ignoring TWIA, in the Houston/Galveston area, is another way that a brand new roof can turn into a real headache. TWIA (the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association) will work on your behalf to help ensure proper installation of products according to manufacturer guidelines for high wind areas.

Some final thoughts on the decomposition of composition shingles, and figuring out if you need a new roof.

We’ve been a family roofing business working the entire greater Houston area for almost thirty years - from Beaumont to Brookshire, from the Woodlands down to Brazoria County, and from Crystal Beach to the far ends of West Galveston Island.

We’ve been on thousands of residential and commercial roofs; particularly composition shingle roofs. If you’re one of the many property owners out there putting off getting a new roof, you’ve got lots of company. We’ve seen the evidence first-hand (like few around here have).

Maybe you’re one of those who’s applied copious amounts of roofing cement around a chimney or in a valley, or caulked protruding or exposed nails, or maybe sprayed water around a suspicious looking vent.Like we said, most people who call our business already know they need a new roof. And reading an article like this is just rubbing it in so to speak.

At any rate, we’ll close with a few tips that are somewhat related to the topic and a few things to keep in mind – which may or may not hold you over while waiting for your ship to come in. (Please call us when it does.)  

* If you want a roof job done right, don’t do it yourself (including anything but the simplest of repairs – unless you’re experienced somewhat). There are safer, less complex and less frustrating homeowner projects. It’s not hard to slip off a ladder, even for a pro. Watch where you step, and don’t mess with wet roofs.

* As for “maintaining” your roof - with composition shingles simply keep the valleys clear of leaves and the roof free of branches so water can flow. Clean the roof granules out of gutters and check the metal (flashing) areas for rust – you can sand and paint where needed if you wish. Binoculars may be useful. Again, watch where you step and don’t climb on wet roofs.

* It’s not uncommon to have large ‘dips’ or sags in your roof, especially with older homes that have settled. Small dips are more problematic (it might mean bad wood), but they’re usually fine if they’re solid and there’s no ‘ponding’ going on (water that accumulates and doesn’t evaporate quickly).

* Just because you’ve had a persistent leak in a particular area doesn’t necessarily mean that the decking underneath is now rotted. (It will eventually of course if the problem is neglected.) Check to see if it feels spongy to the ‘step.’

* Just because you see light coming through in the attic doesn’t mean there’s a problem. It’s not that uncommon with these contemporary roofs that are sprinkled with various and sundry protrusions and vents throughout. If you have a concern you can (carefully) check the attic with a flashlight when it’s raining. But water can and does blow in occasionally in really bad storms.

* If there’s been hail in your area or you’ve had blow-off from a storm, call a reputable roofer who’s experienced with insurance adjustors and windstorm inspectors (like Ernie Smith & Sons).

* There’s a whole lot more information about roofs and roofing in general in our in-depth article on finding a good roofer.

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