Houston = heat, humidity, and hurricanes. That’s the formula to remember for what’s important about roofing in Houston and the surrounding area – especially along the coastal communities and anywhere near the water. (Much of what we’ve written in our article Everything You Need to Know about Choosing a Great Roofer also applies to finding a good Houston roofer.)
People from across the country continue to migrate to Texas, and the Greater Houston Area is one of their prime designations. Houston is poised to overtake Chicago in a few years as the third largest city in the United States.
So we’ve written this article chiefly to remind everyone, that when it comes to using any type contractor here in Harris County (and beyond), it’s essential to find a company that’s been around a good while – someone who’s exceptionally familiar with Houston’s stormy relationship with tropical weather.
You’ll feel a whole lot better doing business with a roofing contractor that has deep Houston roots. Those of us who remember Hurricane Carla are showing our age. We remember chickens floating by at the old homestead. Some senior citizens recount second-hand horror stories about Galveston’s devastating 1900 Storm. Back in 1979 tropical storm Claudette drowned Houston and set a world record for rainfall for a 24-hour period. Then there was Hurricane Alicia, and Ike, and tropical storm Allison. And so on.
Always try to avoid out-of-town roofers after a storm. It’s tempting when you’re desperate and stuck on a waiting list. They’ll come in like a flood - and they’ll be gone in a flash. These professional storm chasers are unfamiliar with Houston neighborhoods and codes, most especially TWIA (Texas Windstorm Insurance Association). A reputable local roofer will be willing to pull a permit, which is important. And local Houston roofers have long-standing ties and experience with local suppliers and insurance adjustors.
Family businesses are good choices; multi-generational ones are even better. They’re rare in roofing, at least in the Houston area, but with a little digging you can find one. (Some family businesses choose not to market themselves as such.) We admit to a little bias here. We’re a second-generation family business, and we’re all from the Houston/Galveston area.
There are several established big name Houston roofing companies but bigger isn’t always better. However, on the upside, if your job goes awry, big companies usually have the resources to fix things. Make sure larger roofing companies work chiefly in Houston, and aren’t storm-chasers in disguise.
When you’re choosing a Houston roofer, keep in mind a license isn’t required. The average homeowner rarely buys a new roof, so finding a roofer in Houston can seem like the Wild West. Anybody can roof your home. Companies come and go. Steer clear of the ‘weekend warrior’ types, unless you’re shopping for price only. (Cheap roofers may be tempted to take shortcuts, or go missing when a problem pops up.)
By the way, a Houston roofer usually works the entire Houston Area, including: Galveston, Baytown, Texas City, League City, Santa Fe, La Porte, Deer Park, Pasadena, Friendswood, Pearland, Alvin, Hitchcock, Bacliff, San Leon, the Clear Lake and Seabrook areas, Dickinson, Manvel, the Sugar Land area, Katy, the Channelview area ... and onwards past the north Beltway, including Spring, Tomball, Kingwood, and The Woodlands. Did we miss anyone?
Gun-nailed roofs aren’t a good idea in Houston.(See our blog post on the problem with using nail guns for composition shingles.) However, at least the old notorious staples are long gone, and roofers who use guns nowadays shoot the real thing (real roofing nails). But actually hand-nailing a roof is best. The quality is better, and it’s easier for TWIA inspectors (see further below) to oversee and certify the roof job, which is extremely important.
It’s also a good idea to strip off the old roof, down to the wood deck. (Another thing Houston area inspectors like to see.) There’s less weight on the roof, and shingles sit more snug on a smooth surface, which means more wind resistance. And most importantly, you can check the condition of the decking underneath.
Composition shingles still dominate the residential roofing market, and that’s what’s on most Houston area homes. They’re inexpensive (relatively speaking). You can read about composition shingles here. If you plan on sticking around, consider some of the more durable and storm-resistant products, for example metal. Especially if you live along the coast or near the water. These ‘life-time roofs’ also increase home value.
If you use composition shingles buy the heaviest you can afford, which traditionally has correlated with the highest warranty rating. They’ll hold better in the wind. For several decades now the most popular composition shingles have been the 30 and 40-year stain-resistant laminates. (Check with your sales rep for current warranty information.)
These ‘laminates’ are the famed imitation cedar “Timberline” shingles – a term often used generically to describe this particular style. They may also be referred to as designer shingles or architectural shingles, or even ‘two-ply’ laminates. Several brands are available. Here at Ernie Smith & Sons we sell a lot of the well-known GAF products. A good Houston roofer will help you with neighborhood codes, colors, etc.
When you look for a Houston roofing company, find one that’s familiar with high-wind roofing installation. Ask them if they’re familiar with TWIA (Texas Windstorm Insurance Association). Though not required inland in Houston as of this writing, TWIA inspections are an integral part of building and home improvements towards the coast due to storms.
TWIA inspectors (or a suitable engineer) check out a roof installation while in progress, and ensure a particular product is installed with the product’s own unique stipulations and guidelines for high-wind areas. Non-compliance with TWIA, meaning no WPI-8 Certificate of Compliance, can void your insurance and affect your mortgage. (We’ve stripped off and re-shingled plenty of brand new roofs to get TWIA compliance for homeowners whose roofer was misinformed, or from out-of-state.)
If the TWIA code and inspection is required in your area a reputable Houston roofer will tell you this and handle everything for you. Avoid any coastal county roofers who seem disinterested.
Actually most building inspectors and shingle manufacturers consider most of the Houston area to be a high-wind area, as Hurricane Ike in 2008 so aptly demonstrated to residents once again. All Houston area roofs should be installed per high wind guidelines whether it’s required by local municipalities or not. Hurricane Ike snapped trees as far inland as Katy. These storms can easily strip a roof, and the decking too.
Simply tell your roofer you want a TWIA roof, also called a “Texas Windstorm” roof, even if your locale doesn’t require it. They’re not hard to install. You simply follow the shingle package directions for high-wind installation. If the roofer balks, offer to pay extra. Or call someone else whose repertoire includes installing roofs near the coast. This advice applies to new construction and commercial buildings as well. (Our company’s been installing new roofs this way for 20 plus years, at no extra charge, including six nails per shingle.)
If you’re building something brand new in the Houston area consider using your own roofer, rather than the contractor’s. (Unless you feel fairly comfortable with your particular builder.) Many builders, not all, shop the cheapest price. It may, or may not, cost a little more to get someone good, but you’ll have more control, or recourse, if something’s not done right.
A quality roofer will assure quality materials, plus you’ll get a warrany that’s exclusive to the roof. We’ve often done touch-up work on brand new roofs where something was amiss, or the builder couldn’t be found.
Either way, voice your concern that the roof on your new building or home meets the TWIA high-wind code, to better ride out the next storm and minimize any damage to the interior. And if the time comes that you sell your property, you’ll have an advantage, and peace of mind.
Finally, you might want to consider a radiant barrier if you live here in Houston, in addition to standard attic ventilation. One-sixth of all electricity generated in the country – about $40 billion a year – is for air-conditioning. Sub-tropical Houston has been called ‘the most air-conditioned city in the world,’ so it’s the bad-boy poster town for energy consumption. An authentic radiant barrier will help fight Houston’s oppressive heat and cut back on energy bills.
Of course, proper attic ventilation is important, and a good Houston roofer will determine what’s best for you. Ideally, in the summer, your attic temperature should be as close to the outside (ambient) temperature as possible. (By the way, your home needs to stay ventilated year-round, to prevent condensation buildup in the attic, which can sometimes be mistaken for a roof leak.)
The correct attic ventilation for your particular Houston area home won’t necessarily be the same that’s up there now. Every home is different, so it’s a case by case situation. Ridge vent is one particular attic ventilation product that has become quite popular in the South, and many builders use ridge vent for every home they build, by default. (Roofers are guilty of this also.) But again, when it comes to ventilation, it all depends on the individual roof.
Summertime in Houston can be pretty brutal. But imagine if you could actually move your home, and park it directly in the shade - like your car! How would that affect your energy bill? Well, it’s possible to do just that (and leave your house right where it is). That’s where radiant barrier comes in.
A true radiant barrier, installed in the attic, is a really neat way to effectively transform your humble (and hot) Houston area home into a modern space-age heat-shield, drastically reducing outrageous electric bills. A true radiant barrier will work together with your attic ventilation and your attic insulation. Radiant barrier works as a first line of defense to significantly reduce the amount of ‘radiant’ heat entering your home (the heat coming directly into your attic from the sun).
There are several products on the market today touted as radiant barriers, for example the silver ‘radiant barrier’ paint sprayed directly on to the underside of the decking inside the attic. There’s also an aluminum foil roll-out underlayment that’s installed under the shingles like tarpaper. Even TechShield (brand name), the popular aluminum foil-backed plywood (or OSB board) decking is not a true radiant barrier.
These products, called IIRC’s, do help slow down ‘conductive’ heat (heat that moves through something solid), but they do nothing to block true radiant heat. Radiant heat is the energy that moves in a straight line through the air, from the sun, across an empty space, and smack onto the surface of your roof.
An authentic radiant barrier is a highly reflective aluminum foil that’s attached directly to, and along, the rafters inside the attic. This application provides a necessary space, or void, of approximately five inches, between the radiant barrier and the decking (the top of the attic). Though it is usually optional which way the reflective side of the radiant barrier faces, check the manufacturer guidelines.
This space is ground zero for halting, or at least greatly slowing down, radiant heat that otherwise would continue to travel uninterrupted through the attic, and onwards to the insulation and air ducts (and so on) below. With a true attic radiant barrier, the energy savings for your Houston area home can be pretty significant – even employing a smaller air conditioner is not out of the question! Here's a nice visual summary.
On a final note, speaking of roofing in Houston, we might be remiss if we didn’t also mention GAF’s relatively new Cool Series Shingles. Check them out here. Traditionally, only shingles with white granules have been considered “cool” by energy-saving standards. And years ago most shingle roofs here in Houston were indeed white, specifically to try and reflect the sun’s rays and keep the house cool.
But things have changed with GAF’s new Cool Series Shingles. These Energy Star composition shingles look the same as GAF’s famed ‘Timberline’ shingle, and they come in the same beautiful earth-tone colors favored by so many neighborhoods in the country for so many years.
However, these unique Cool Series Shingles are endowed with special proprietary cool granules with unique formulas to reflect light - much more so than traditional composition shingles. This modern reflective technology actually lowers the temperature of your roof, meaning less transfer of heat to the space below, and a reduced temperature in your attic. Which means potential energy cost savings – and more comfort in the hot Houston summer.
If this sounds ‘cool’ to you and you’re intrigued, please give us a call here at Ernie Smith & Sons Roofing. There’s no better place than Houston to put these energy-saving strategies to work, where it really can make a difference, and make real financial sense.
And for any Greater Houston Area roof project, or repair, or just questions, contact Ernie Smith & Sons and we’ll be more than happy to get you squared away.