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Everything You Need To Know About Your Home’s Roof

Michele Lerner

One of the most common mistakes homeowners make is to wait until they see a leak inside their home before checking out their roof. After all, why look for trouble, right? Unfortunately, avoiding trouble in this manner could cost you a lot more money in the long run.

Roof maintenance should be done each spring and fall and after any major storm that could damage your roof, such as a hurricane, wind storm, hail storm, ice storm or blizzard. Depending on the type of roof you have and your ability to access it, you may want to consider hiring a roof inspector to check your roof for you to avoid personal injury.

Roof styles and materials

As you might expect, different types of styles and materials are popular in various regions because of architectural tastes and weather patterns. Among the most popular styles are:

Gable roofs. Gable roofs, which have a triangular shape, are inexpensive to build, shed water and snow and offer the benefit of extra attic space or vaulted ceilings. However, they are less common in hurricane-prone areas or places with frequent high winds because they are less wind-resistant than other roof shapes.

Hip roofs. Hip roofs slope on four sides and meet to form a ridge at the top, which gives the roof added strength in high wind and allows snow to slide off easily. However, the extra seams on these roofs make water leaks more common.

Mansard roofs. Mansard roofs have four sides with a double-slope on each side that meet to form a low-pitched roof. The advantage of this roof style is that it allows for additional upper level living space or for a future addition, but the low-pitched section doesn’t work well in areas with a lot of snow.

Barn or gambrel roofs. A barn or gambrel roof is similar to a mansard roof but it has only two sides. These roofs are commonly found on barns, farmhouses, and Georgian-style and Dutch Colonial-style houses. Although this roof style allows for extra space indoors, the shape isn’t ideal for areas with high winds or heavy snow.

Flat roofs. Flat roofs, often seen on commercial buildings, are becoming more popular for houses since people can add a roof deck, a green roof or garden, and solar panels to the roof. However, flat roofs are more likely to leak and are less popular in areas with a lot of rain and snow.

Roof materials vary by region:

Northeast. Asphalt shingles are common in the Northeast because they are lightweight, flexible, resilient and can insulate your house well and support snow.

Southeast and Northwest. Metal roofs work well in rainy climates because they aren’t affected by moisture and humidity that can cause mold and they protect your home in a tropical storm or hurricane.

Midwest. Slate tiles hold up well against the pressure of heavy snowfall and are among the most durable types of roofs.

Great Plains. Wood shingles provide insulation and yet allow air to circulate in the attic. They’re natural products and provide a rustic look that complements cottage, bungalow, Craftsmen-style, Tudor and Cape Cod-style homes.

Southwest. Clay tiles are extremely durable and energy-efficient, provide good air circulation and natural insulation They complement Mission, Mediterranean and Spanish-style architecture and can withstand harsh sun and heavy rain.

Maintaining your roof

Although there are some tasks specific to the material of your roof, all homeowners should regularly sweep, blow or wash debris off their roof. Leaves, sticks and trash that accumulates on your roof can cause a variety of problems such as allowing algae to grow, damaging shingles or clogging your gutters. You should also trim tree branches away from your roof to minimize the possibility branches causing damage during a storm and of animals getting into your house.

If you live in an area that gets snow, watch out for too much snow accumulating on your roof. To avoid a roof collapse, buy a roof rake and pull some of the snow off your roof.

Some tasks are specific to your roof type:

Metal roof. Check for rust and use a wire brush to prime and paint the rusted area. Keeping your gutters clean is particularly important for a metal roof, which needs to dry after rain or snow to avoid corrosion.

Asphalt roof. Remove debris at least three times per year and repair or replace loose or damaged shingles immediately. Make sure tree branches aren’t scraping the roof, which could cause additional wear and tear on the asphalt shingles. Check to see if any of your shingles are curling or buckling, which could mean they need to be replaced.

Slate tile roof. Schedule an annual inspection each spring to look for broken or slipped tiles and repair them.

Wood roof. Use a garden house to wash away debris and check for moss, mildew and mold. If you find mold, scrape it away and clean with a mix of one quart of bleach, one ounce of detergent and three quarts of warm water.

Clay tile roof. Clay tiles can crack or leak, so inspect them annually for leaks or broken tiles. Do an inspection with binoculars and a ladder rather than walking on the roof, which could be dangerous and cause more cracks. Use a power washer with warm water and mild dish detergent to clean the roof, but use low pressure to avoid cracking the tiles.

Remember, if you are uncomfortable doing any of these tasks, call a repairperson to help with this.

How to check for roof damage and make repairs

In addition to checking the roof itself, you should also:

Flashing, which is the material that seals your chimney to the roof , and mortar or caulk, which is used to seal roof joints, should be checked for cracks or deterioration that could allow water into your home or allow moss or algae to grow on your roof. If you find signs of deterioration, remove the debris and clean the area before resealing it.

Check for moss or algae when you inspect your roof. If you find some, install (or hire someone to do this) zinc or lead control strips. You can make strips yourself or buy them and tuck them between your shingles to prevent moss and algae growing back.

Look at your ceiling and attic interior for dark or damp spots or mold and then try to identify where the leak has occurred. Check your attic to see if you can see any daylight filtering through from the roof. A professional roof inspection and repair is far less costly than waiting until the leak gets worse.

Insurance and your roof

According to the National Roof Certification and Inspection Association, 39 percent of all homeowner insurance claims are for roof issues. You should check your homeowner’s insurance policy annually to make sure your coverage is up to date and that serious roof damage is covered.

Although damage from an ice storm, hail, wind, rain and falling trees is generally covered, a roof replacement required simply because of the age of your roof and normal wear and tear usually won’t be covered. However, if you have interior damage because of your aging roof, such as water damage from a leaky roof, the costs of repairing that damage may be covered even if you have to pay for your own roof replacement.

Hopefully, between routine maintenance and regular inspections, the roof over your head will protect you and your home for its full expected lifespan and beyond. The more you know about your roof and how to care for it, the more likely it is to provide you with lasting protection.

READ MORE: The Ups and Downs of Having a Home

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