“The joys of home ownership!” We are sure you’ve heard that snarky quip before when complaining to a friend or colleague about your latest home improvement challenges or debacles. Houses never seem to be “done” but rather in a near constant stream of maintenance tasks that pop up like a whack-a-mole game. As soon as one is done, you are on to the next project.
Lucky for you, your roof can actually exist in a fairly maintenance-free state, at least as far as big repairs are concerned, if you take the proper steps. We have written previously about how the roof is probably the most critical part of your house. It is imperative, then, that you take small, but necessary steps to maintain your roof so that you are not stuck with a big headache and an even bigger repair bill.
The roof's primary function is to redirect water away from your home. If you fail to maintain it, the water that is supposed to be moving away from your house might just come right inside. Failing to maintain a roof doesn’t mean that your eventual repair will only impact your roof, it could very well create problems inside exterior walls, inside your attic, and even compromise your living spaces. Up until now, we have focused on a lot of different advice about your entire roofing system. Everything from insulation to solar panels. We have covered dos and don'ts, the good, the bad, the ugly. In this article, we’ll show you some helpful tips on how to go about doing basic maintenance on your roof so that you’re not stuck with an “uh-oh” moment. We will show you what to look for, how to spot problem areas, and what to do about them. These maintenance tasks can also help your roof withstand extreme weather more easily or can make the damage less severe in the event of storm damage.
Benefits of Doing Routine Roof Maintenance
We are assuming that you know the overall benefits of maintenance for anything: car, health, computers, they all defer that dreadful day when they are simply inoperable or need extensive repair. The same is true for roofs, except the way you approach that maintenance is a bit different from how you might approach something like your health.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: roofs are the most important part of your house. A good, well-maintained roof will save you tons of money on other expenses throughout the years of home ownership. If your roof is in disrepair, it means that other things inside the house, some even structural, are at risk of being damaged or destroyed. If your roof is letting in water or on the verge of doing so, you will be on the hook for paying for a lot more than just a roof patch or replacement.
The key to maintenance is to catch signs of anything problematic early. Much like diseases, if they go unchecked or ignored, they can quickly grow into a major problem that can have serious financial ramifications.
Not only does roof maintenance protect your home, it teaches you about how your roof interacts with your house and how to look for signs of trouble. Skills like this will help you immensely on your current home and any other property you end up owning in the future. You will feel more confident in your ability to troubleshoot problems and will feel more in control of the condition and safety of your own home.
Learning more about the intersection of the roof and house is great because it can reveal other problems, non-roof related ones, as well. Following a little bit of water from a clogged gutter could shed light on an exterior wall issue or perhaps a foundation problem. Many problems can be diagnosed by starting at the roof line and doing a little bit of investigation.
Remember, your roof is one of the largest parts of your house and it is exposed to both the outside and the inside. This dynamic is truly unique and allows for multiple problems to go unseen or hidden for years.
Finally, roof maintenance has one final perk, saving money. No, not saving money as in “I spotted the problem before it became too big,” but the fact that it gives you time to set aside money for an eventual roof replacement. As one of the most expensive items on a house to replace, being able to squeeze all the life out of your roof is imperative. Every year you get out of having to replace your roof is one extra year to set aside some money for when it finally gives out. There are always other ways to finance your roof [link] but we certainly recommend having some available money regardless.
DIY or Call a Pro
Basic maintenance on a roof can certainly seem daunting and, depending on the roof, it certainly might be! Before you do anything to your roof, you should study it like you would a school subject. The wonderful part about living in the age of the internet is that the whole of human knowledge is available at the click of a few buttons. You can find resources galore on your specific type of roof so that you feel like you are armed with the right knowledge before you get into the nitty gritty of examining your roof.
You will want to take some time to learn everything you can about your roof. What kind of finishing material it has, what kind of shingles, what the pitch is, how many spots are flashed and so on and so forth. As the old saying goes “knowledge is power!” and in this case, more power to fix a problem yourself, or with minimal intervention, means more money in your pocket.
We understand that DIY roof maintenance is not for everyone and not all parts of roof maintenance are even for the DIYers out there. If doing it yourself isn’t quite your speed, spending the money on a seasonal or annual checkup is still less money than you’ll spend on major rehabilitation or replacement. Even if you don’t end up doing it yourself, knowing what they are looking for when they come out to do a checkup still gives you power to ensure that you aren’t getting swindled.
Remember, your insurance is not going to cover roof replacement from generalized wear and tear, it will only pay for a new roof or roof repair if it’s a natural event or sudden catastrophe. It’s important to understand that you are on the hook for everything that happens to your roof. With that in mind, paying maybe a few hundred dollars, at most, every year for maintenance will seem worth it in the long run.
There are plenty of roofing contractors in your area that offer annualized or seasonal roof checkups. In Utah, one of the best times to get one of these roof doctors to your house is after winter, especially if you have asphalt shingles. The cold weather, condensation potential, and ice damming can take massive tolls on a roof. It is also harder to detect roof leaks and other problems in the winter as it is cold out and your roof could very well be under snow cover. If there are problems from winter, they will almost certainly get exacerbated by the punishing summer sun and rain. The last thing you want is a thunderstorm rolling through and making its way into your house because of an undetected leak in winter.
As with all pricing models, roofing contractors will offer you different packages and price points based on your roof’s size and finishing material. It is going to be on you to do your due diligence and figure out what works best for your roof and your pocketbook.
What to Look for Before Maintenance
Let’s say you’ve decided to undertake basic maintenance for yourself. Great! We think it’s an excellent way to save some money and increase the longevity of your roof and learn a thing or two along the way.
If you’re going to take the DIY route, this cannot be said enough: Safety first. More accidents happen on the roof every year than any other part of the home. Falling from a roof can paralyze or even kill you. It’s not just the fall, either. Millions of homes in America have above grade powerlines that feed electricity to their home. Touching one of these with a metal ladder or accidentally hitting one with some other tool can also severely injure or kill you. No roof is worth putting yourself in harm's way, so if you’re on the fence or just not confident about handling a certain roof repair, call someone who is qualified and insured to handle the situation.
Keeping safety in mind, the first and easiest spot to check for roof problems is on the ground, specifically near watershed areas. For houses with gutters, that would be at the relief of the downspouts or in the gutters themselves. For houses with rain chains or no gutters, it will be wherever the water ends up landing near your house.
On gutters, you are looking for debris, anything that happens to make its way off your roof and into your gutter. A clogged gutter can cause a whole host of problems beyond your roof and, as with every roofing problem, catching it early can make a world of difference. This advice is applicable no matter the finishing material used on your roof, steel, tile, slate, you name it. Looking in the gutters or for patterns around your watershed will help determine if something else is going on.
Asphalt roofs are a bit different. You are specifically looking for granules of asphalt roofing in your gutters. There will always be some, but when there are a lot, it’s important to figure out why they’re ending up there. Granules are a sign that your shingles are deteriorating. As the shingles age, they break down and get washed away when it rains. What you will need to do is figure out if this is a localized problem (a bad section of the roof) or if its a sign that your whole roof is under duress and its lifetime is coming to an end. Every situation is different and there are tons of variables involved, do your homework and if that leads you to a dead end, call a pro.
Keeping your roof free of debris or potential debris is important as well. This is true of any roof. You don’t want anything extra up there that could cause damage to whatever you’ve got in place for a finishing material. The most common ailments are trees that overhang your roof. We have seen our fair share of branches that have come free from a tree and cracked roofs, rafters, and sheathing. If you’ve got a tree that looks menacing, it is definitely best to trim it up. If they are large branches that look like they could do a lot of damage, call a pro. If you try and take it on yourself and cut the branch wrong, it could land on your roof and cause damage anyway. This is the worst of both worlds, as insurance likely won’t pay for your mistake and you still caused damage to your roof that you will have to repair.
Tree branches too close to a roof can also lift shingles and tiles in heavy winds. Trees that are actually touching a roof are always a bad sign, they will cause nothing but a headache once that means Utah winds start whipping by your house. Take care of trees earlier than later to prevent as much damage as possible.
Critters can also cause significant damage. Squirrels have often been known to make their way into attic or vent spaces. It is likely that if they make it in, they did it by exposing a weakness in the roof. You will often see chimneys or other penetrations wrapped with chicken wire to prevent this very problem. If they make it in, they can destroy framing inside the space they are nesting in. On a more disgusting note, squirrels have definitely been known to make it in and not make it out, allowing for a less than desirous odor inside once they die.
Bats are also common problems in attics. While bats are environmentally amazing creatures, the last place you want them is in your house. While we’re not here to scare you, bats are the primary carrier of rabies in the United States. Vaccinations for it, should you need it, can also be incredibly expensive. Bats can fit through holes the size of a quarter, so it is not always easy to spot how they are getting into your house. It is also likely that if you see one, you’ve got more. There are companies that specialize in “bat-proofing” houses. They use specialized technology and cameras to make sure they find every available penetration and seal them up. While these access points aren’t always on the roof, more often than not, they come in from the eaves and soffits on vented roofs. If improperly secured, these are easy spots for bats to get in. If you have had problems with bats in the past, we definitely recommend calling a professional to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it.
There’s another living being that likes to attach yourself to your roof and cause problems: moss. Moss is common on houses that have very stark north-south exposures. As we all learned on that one grade school field trip, moss always grows on the north side. If you have a house that’s north side receives little to no sun, you should check for moss. Most of the time it doesn’t stick too long and naturally gets worn off, but if it doesn’t, it can make it’s way underneath your shingles, lift them, and cause damage. Also given the sponge-like consistency of moss, it can wick water up underneath your shingles and cause damage to anything underneath. Thankfully, it can be removed simply with a large brush or broom or with power washing.
Perhaps the easiest way to spot a problem with your roof is to just look at it. Becoming familiar with how your roof looks is a great way to spot something if a problem arises. It’s easy to notice the difference in something you’ve seen a hundred times. Taking a minute to give your roof a once over when you’re outside could mean the difference between spotting an early problem and not.
If you can get at eye level with your roof, you will really be able to see any sagging or lifted shingles. Gazing at such an angle to get a sense of the full plane on which your roof sits is an excellent way to see any anomalies as well as noticing things like moss or debris.
Becoming familiar with your attic space is a good rule of thumb as well. Knowing how it vents, what it’s supposed to look like, and how to spot problems is a great way to catch any potential problems before they get too big. And as we said before, it is the first place you’ll find any unwanted house guests.
In the winter, you should be able to see any condensation issues that arise, you may even see light frost on really cold days. Most of this is normal, but when you get large chunks of frost or ice inside your attic space, it is time to address that before it does more damage. Extreme weather can always cause roof issues, so after any type of weather event, you should spot check your roof for changes or emerging problems.
If you have a hot roof, then you don’t have to worry about checking your attic space, but know that hot roofs have been known to cause asphalt shingles to fail faster than normal. However, more manufacturers are creating asphalt shingle to be hot roof ready from the start. Just know that if you make your roof a hot roof after a roof is already in place, it could cause your shingles to curl. If this is the case, there’s only one option: total roof replacement.
Utah doesn’t get as much snow as say, Minnesota, but heavy snows, especially in the mountains, can still arrive. If you’re in a part of the state or country that gets heavy snow, investing in a roof rake will be well worth it. A roof rake is exactly what it sounds like, a giant rake for pulling snow off your roof. Some snow on your roof is completely normal, but during large snow events that will take a long time to melt, you’re creating the perfect opportunity for ice damming. As the snow melts from the underside, it rolls down the roof but freezes as the weather cools at night.
Raking off significant portions of the snow off your roof allows it to melt faster and reduces the chance of ice damming occurring in the first place. It also makes your roof more efficient because you would rather have a warm roof from the sun than a cold one from the snow. Just be careful with that roof rake and watch for overhead power lines.
Gutter and Flashing Maintenance
We mentioned gutters earlier and they are an important part of your roof system. If you plan on going up on your roof to check for other potential problems, clear your gutters out if they seem full. If left unattended, they will back up with rotted leaves and other debris. When this happens water can overflow. While this isn’t always problematic, it can be because of capillary action. Capillary action is where water basically defies gravity and will stick to the underside of an object. If your gutters are close to your house, this process could easily get water into your soffits and cause damage. You also don’t want to be dealing with clogged gutters in winter in case you get a rain on top of snow or a fast snow melt, being up on a cold ladder in winter is one of the worst things imaginable.
A great way to avoid all of this is to install leaf guards on your gutters. Leaf guards are specialized products that allow water through while preventing larger pieces of debris to make their way in and clog your gutters. Leaf guards are offered by plenty of companies and are compatible with almost all types of gutters. They can be installed by yourself or with the help of a professional. However you want to go about it, we think they’re well worth the time and money, especially if you have trees in your yard or close to your roof.
Finally, make sure that you always, always check your flashing. We wrote an entire article [link] on flashing and its critical role in your roof health. Flashing refers to the materials used to seal a penetration in your roof, like a skylight, chimney or power supply. These almost always are the first things to fail on a roof.
It is not always easy to check flashing from the outside, but you will definitely be able to tell from the inside. If your flashing has a problem, you will see moisture coming in at the spot of the penetration or a little bit downstream from it. You can check your flashing from the inside of your attic if you have access. If you can, get up there while it is raining outside to see if any water is making its way under your flashing and into your house. Hopefully there isn’t any, but even if there is some water, you can find fairly simple and cost-effective solutions to fix the problem.
How to Fix Common Problems
You’ve found a problem, now what? Despite being an intimidating part of your house, many roof problems are fairly easy to fix. Oftentimes, leaks can be rectified by putting in a new row of shingles or using a rubberized roofing cement that seals that part of the roof. But use caution: if you put too much on, you won’t be able to replace that section of shingles easily should you need to.
Shingle replacement is fairly easy to understand as well. A roof has overlapping rows of shingles to ensure that water never makes its way up and underneath the shingles. You should be able to follow the pattern that already exists on your roof if you need to replace some loose or damaged shingles, you may even have some leftover from when your house was last roofed.
Damaged or failing flashing can also be cured with roofing cement, but you should know that it is not a permanent fix. If you decide to go this route, know that a new roof is not too far behind. While roofing cement can hold for years, it doesn’t always. You will need to be prepared to address the problem adequately and sometimes, you find it might just be better to go ahead and replace the whole thing.
Of course, it may not be worth your time to go and try and rectify these problems yourself. That’s fine, there are plenty of roofing companies out there that would love to take your business and help you get whatever problems you’re having, taken care of. But the more you know, the more smoothly projects will go even if you hire a professional.
You may or may not want to take on roofing projects yourself. However you want to go about doing it, it is your decision and that decision is likely the right one. Roofs are intimidating, they are big, and they are massively important to the life of your house. It is important to get any maintenance that you’re doing done the right way the first time.
You can, however, always look for signs of trouble, even if you don’t want to get on your roof. Simply getting to know your roof, noticing how it acts when it rains, what it looks like in normal conditions, and keeping an eye out for anything out of the norm is a great first step toward making sure that your roof maintenance will be taken care of and that the life of your roof will be extended as long as possible.
You may also choose to simply pay someone to worry about it so you don’t have to. This is a great option as well. The benefit to this is that a trained professional is going to spot the things that you don’t and they will likely be able to act more quickly than you in getting it fixed, plus, you don’t need to exert any of your own effort or even be at home to solve the problem.
Whatever you decide to do, know that any type of maintenance is likely saving you money. As we said above, if it’s not saving you money in direct repair costs, it is at least giving you time to save money to eventually replace your roof. There’s only one wrong way to maintain a roof and that’s by not doing anything. If you are executing any of the above steps, you are on the path to saving money, saving time, and saving a whole lot of headache.