With more non-emergency construction in the state opening up May 1, it might be time to get on top of some home improvement.
And what better way to, quite literally, get on top of things than by looking at a roof?
According to Diana Ireland, co-owner of Ireland Contracting in Glenshaw, some signs a shingle roof is on its way out include missing shingles or shingles that are “cupping” — when they sink in the middle and raise on the edges. Both are signs of normal wear and tear.
Gary Ireland, who also owns the business, added a few more signs a roof needs to be replaced: leaking, shingles that are straining and a large increase in granules — the crushed stone and minerals that make up shingles — in the gutters.
Chris Sapp, owner of Roof Runner in Freedom, said granules in the gutter can also be a sign of poor roof ventilation, rather than normal wear and tear, also a sign that roof needs a replacement.
As with a car's engine, proper intake and exhaust are essential to a shingle roof's health.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, roof or attic ventilation helps remove moisture that can help lengthen the life of shingles. Importantly, the ventilation helps keep the roof cool in both winter and summer. That keeps the sun from baking the shingles in the summer and heat from the house from melting ice and forming an ice dam that can damage the roof when it re-freezes.
Gary Ireland said one warning sign of improper ventilation is frost in the attic during winter.
“It's not a leak, but moisture from the house that ends up in your attic and freezes,” he said.
Ventilation is now part of many building codes for that reason, and Gary Ireland said they check to ensure a home's ventilation is up to code before putting on a new roof.
Generally, there are a few types of attic or roof ventilation. Soffit vents go on the underside of a home's eaves and draw in cool, fresh air, and are more common in homes built after the 1980s. For older homes, other type of eave intake systems that go under shingles could work better, Gary Ireland said, as could power intake fans.
For exhaust, there are a number of different options. Ridge vents go at, naturally, the roof's ridge and let warm, moist air escape. That task is also handled by wind turbines — no, not the type that transforms wind to electricity — or power fans.
But, Gary Ireland said, mixing a ridge vent with a power fan would be a mistake.
“Those systems will fight each other,” he said.
Ventilation is vital to a long-lasting roof, Sapp said, and poorly ventilated roofs could more than cut the lifespan of a roof in half.
“Why would you want to pay for a roof and then seven years, eight years down the road, all the granules are in your gutter?” he added.
Shingles are the most common type of residential roof, Sapp said, but there are a few downsides. While some shingles are given a 30-year guarantee, Sapp said the roof won't last that long.
“You're not going to get your 30 years out of shingle. The warranty's 30 years, but you'll never get that,” he said. “You might get 20 years, if you're lucky, before stuff starts to go.”
Storms can also blow shingles away if they're improperly installed or if the wind is particularly strong.
But shingles are also less costly than alternatives. Owens Corning three-tab asphalt shingles cost about $1 to $2 per square foot, and the labor to install is less specialized than metal or rubber roofs. And if shingles are the chosen route, Gary Ireland recommends Owens Corning shingles.
In terms of alternatives, metal roofs have become more common in homes, though they've been used in commercial structures for years and were the roofs du jour in all types of construction in the past.
Sapp said metal roofs are significantly more expensive, but they can last a lifetime.
“And then you don't have to worry about them falling apart like shingles,” he added.
If metal roofs are the chosen route, Sapp suggests ice and water sealing the whole roof to prevent sweating. He also recommends looking for a contractor who uses clips, or a lock system if the roof is flat.
“I would never put a screw through a metal roof like they do with barn screws,” he said.
Another “not bad” alternative is a rubber roof, though they're easier to put holes in, Sapp said.
“They'll last you roughly 20 years before the flashing starts dry rotting,” he added.
In roofing, there are a number of fly-by-night contractors, both roofing companies agreed.
“Uncle Buck in a travel trailer, they are going to walk away and you're going to need a new roof,” Gary Ireland said.
Both contractors recommended looking at the experience, certification and reviews of prospective companies before hiring them. Gary Ireland said the wide variety of roofs, intake system and even home designs makes it necessary a contractor examines the home directly.
“(It's) so important to evaluate each house separately,” he said.
And in terms of individuality, Sapp said it's necessary to pay attention to the contract a roofer presents to ensure quality of work.
“The most important thing is, they better read their contract. They better say in their contract, directly, 'We're going to tear your roof off to the existing wood deck,'” not just the felt underlayment, Sapp said. “There's a lot of things they should spell out before they sign that contract, because (the homeowner isn't) going to be up there.”
Associate managing editor Donna Sybert contributed to this report.