You probably don’t give much thought to your roof on a daily basis—unless, that is, something is wrong with it and you need a roof repair. But your roof is one of the most, if not the most, important structures of your house.
First, a well-maintained roof extends the life of your entire home, preventing water and harsh elements from damaging other structures. If you live in an area prone to heavy rain, snow, or hail, you definitely appreciate the value of a good-quality roof.
A high-quality roof is also a bulwark against high heating and cooling costs. Whether you’re trying to stay within a budget or worrying about excess energy consumption and climate change, your roof is your first line of defense.
That’s why it’s so important to make a habit of checking your roof for signs of damage or potential weakness, and take prompt steps to keep it in good shape. This guide will give you a framework for understanding the different types of roof issues and how to approach a roofing repair.
How to identify the different types of roofing
You need to know what type of roofing you have to recognize the common problems you may eventually face and how to spot them before they become a home-repair crisis. Here’s a list of the most popular types of roofing materials:
This is by far the most popular type of roofing material, because it is both inexpensive and durable. Asphalt shingles are made from either fiberglass or organic materials; the fiberglass variety was developed in the 1980s and is the choice material for most roofers and homeowners today.
It can be difficult to identify modern asphalt shingle roofs because today’s models have been successfully manufactured to mimic more costly roofing materials such as slate, tile, or even wooden shakes. Examine your shingles closely if you’re not sure—asphalt shingles usually measure 12” x 36” and most have three cutouts, or tabs, along the bottom edge to give the look of three separate pieces.
Tile shingles are one of the most durable roofing materials available. That durability comes with a price, however: you’ll pay more for both tile roof installation and tile roof repair. Ceramic tile roofs also get high marks for style; if your home has a Spanish or Mediterranean flair, you likely have a tile roof.
Most roof tiles are curved to promote drainage; some may even be scored. Most homes with tile roofs have “real” tile roofs, where the tile shingles themselves form the home’s actual roof. In some areas, however, “cosmetic” tile roofs are more common, where tiles are installed over a functional, waterproof under-roof.
Slate shingles are made of natural stone and can last up to 100 years or more if properly maintained. They are most often green, gray, red, purple, or black in color. They are exceptionally resistant to damage by both water and cold temperatures, making them ideal for homes in more extreme climates. Slate is typically the most expensive in terms of installation and roof repair costs.
Slate roof tiles are usually thin, flat, and rectangular, although they can also have scalloped or geometric edges. It can be difficult to identify real slate tiles from fake ones, but because slate is natural stone, with a real slate roof, no two tiles will look the same. If you aren’t sure whether your roof is real slate, try the slate identification tool at Slate Roof Central.
Wood or cedar shakes and shingles
This is an environmentally friendly, naturally renewable roofing choice. Wood shingles fall somewhere between asphalt and tile roofing in terms of durability and affordability.
The words “shakes” and “shingles” are not interchangeable; wooden shingles are saw-cut and have uniform edges and smooth surfaces while shakes are often hand-split and have more irregular shapes and surfaces.
Metal roofing has become an increasingly popular roofing choice because it is both durable and affordable, although metal roof repair can be more expensive, since it should almost always be done by a professional. Metal roofing is usually made of copper, aluminum, tin, or zinc, and can be manufactured to resemble other roofing materials such as asphalt, wood, tile, and even slate; because of this, it can be difficult to identify at a glance.
Metal roofs are usually made from either interlocking press-formed panels that are attached to the roof deck, or from vertical seam panels fastened by gasketed screws and movable clips that allow the panels to expand and contract in hot and cold weather.
What are the most common roof problems?
All roofs, no matter the type of roofing material used, can suffer the usual list of problems requiring roof repair, including faulty installation, leaks, damage from the elements, and most common of all, lack of routine maintenance. But each of the roofing types mentioned above has its own unique set of potential problem spots. Keep in mind that if you identify any of the issues listed, it’s always a good idea to get professional advice before you tackle a DIY roofing repair.
Problems with asphalt shingles can be either cosmetic or functional—and in some cases, a bit of both. Here are things to watch for:
Blistering, or elevated sections on the surface of the asphalt shingles, can be simply part of the normal aging process, although it can also suggest a manufacturing defect. You can spot this defect on visual inspection.
Curling is usually a symptom of a moisture problem. Occasionally you can do simple localized shingle repair by gluing down the affected shingle, but if the moisture problem is systemic, you may need to replace the entire roof.
Raised shingles may be caused by improper installation, making them unable to withstand strong wind. If you’re wondering how to fix lifted shingles, your best bet is to contact a licensed contractor. Improperly installed shingles may void your manufacturer’s warranty.
Surface cracking that stops short of tearing is usually just a sign of aging, although strong winds or weather-related shifting can also cause minor cracks.
Tearing is usually related to high temperatures which cause the shingles to split completely. This can affect the integrity of your roof, so it’s a good idea to contact a professional if you noticed torn or split shingles.
Granule loss is usually a sign that your asphalt roof has reached the end of its functional lifespan. However, if this happens to shingles that are less than 20 to 30 years old, it is premature, and you should definitely get a qualified roofing professional in to diagnose the cause of the problem.
Roof tiling repairs, as with slate roof repairs, are made more difficult because it is nearly impossible to walk on these types of roofs without damaging intact tiles. In most cases, you or the roofing contractor will need to remove tiles to create a path to the problem area before beginning a repair. Here’s what to look for with tile roofs:
Cracked or slipped tiles expose the underlayer to UV damage and deterioration, which can begin in just 90 days if the problem isn’t fixed right away. A damaged underlayer may allow moisture to seep into your home.
Whitish staining usually occurs as a result of water absorption and may indicate that the tile is nearing the end of its functional life span. Greenish staining is more common in humid climates and may indicate algae formation.
Damage to the soffit and roof edge is caused by water buildup behind the mortar on the first row of tile. This is typically due to an installation error and may require replacement of the affected areas.
Spalling generally occurs when water is trapped underneath the surface and isn’t able to evaporate, causing pressure to build within the tile. This happens most frequently with tiles that have been coated with crystallizer.
Slate roofs are relatively uncommon and there are not many professional roofers experienced in working with slate. As a result, many of the problems with slate roofs tend to be the result of installation errors, shoddy repair work on an older, existing slate roof, or lack of maintenance—you need to be vigilant about inspecting for leaks. Keep in mind, however, that you should avoid walking around on your slate roof, because it breaks and cracks easily.
Cracking is a common problem usually due to fracturing within the stone itself, a natural phenomenon.
Crumbling happens when slate reaches the end of its lifespan; with softer slates, this can happen as early as 60 years or so, but most often closer to 100.
Flashing failure is common in all roofing types, but due to slate’s extreme durability, you’ll likely have problems with the flashing before you have problems with the slates themselves.
Slate roofs are designed to be easily taken apart and put back together, so that if you have localized problems with flashing or cracked and broken tiles, it’s easy for an experienced slate contractor to simply remove and/or replace the affected sections without replacing the entire roof.
Wood shakes and shingles
Wood is an organic roofing material that requires regular maintenance and removal of tree litter and other debris to keep it in good shape. Here are common pitfalls of wood roofs:
Rot can occur even with treated shakes and shingles. When shakes dry out after years in the sun, they soak up water like a sponge when it rains, eventually leading to rot. This occurs most often on south-facing parts of the roof.
Moss and mildew can grow around and between your wooden shingles, which causes them to lift, exposing your roof deck to the elements.
Cupping and curling occur when the sun dries out the wooden shingles; this will eventually cause leaks.
Metal roofs have fewer maintenance issues than other types of roofs, but they are prone to a few unique problems:
Denting can occur as a result of hail, an errant golf ball, or other flying object. This is usually a cosmetic issue, not a functional one.
Expansion and contraction occurs as the temperatures rise and fall. Usually, metal roofs are installed to allow for this movement, but in some cases, excessive expansion and contraction will lift sections of the roof, requiring repair or replacement.
Punctures and tears often happen if there is foot traffic on your roof, typically during routine roof maintenance. Small tears can occasionally be sealed with caulk, but because metal roofs have more natural movement (contraction and expansion) than other roofing materials, these repairs don’t last long and you may need to replace the affected section.
If your roof isn’t properly sealed, it could develop rust and corrosion from rain and snow.
Blow-offs can happen if the flashing is poorly attached or the fastener gaskets have worn out. You should replace the fastener gaskets at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals during your routine roof maintenance.
Unfortunately, many roofing problems aren’t noticed until a leak occurs and there is water damage to the home. Regular roof maintenance, whether DIY or left to a professional, is essential to keep small problems from becoming a major repair issue.
What is involved in routine roof maintenance?
Most roofing professionals recommend routine maintenance twice a year, usually in the spring and fall. Regardless of the type of roof you have, you should include these tasks in your routine roof maintenance:
Clean the gutters and remove all debris from the roof itself. Depending on the type of roof you have, you can sweep it, hose it down, or use a blower to remove the debris.
Trim any branches that are hanging over your roof.
Inspect your shingles for signs of cupping, cracking, curling, or other signs of wear, and replace missing shingles. You may need to hire a professional to replace them depending on the type of roof you have.
Check for signs of algae, mold, and mildew. If the problem is minor, treat the affected areas with a solution of bleach and water.
Examine the flashing for signs of loosening or damage.
Look for cracks in the mortar joints around the chimney if you have one.
It’s always a good idea to consult a professional to learn any specific maintenance tips for your particular roof type. He may also recommend sealants or other treatments to extend the life of your roof.
Remember, foot traffic can easily damage metal, tile, and slate roofs, so get help from a roofing pro to learn the proper way to do routine maintenance and inspections so you don’t inadvertently ruin your roof.
When to DIY and when to hire a professional
Before you jump into DIY roof repairs, a word of caution is in order. Walking around on a roof is inherently dangerous; there is the obvious risk of falling, as well as the hidden danger of damaging your roof simply by walking around on it. It’s difficult to keep your balance on a pitched roof even in calm weather, but if a gust of wind comes along, you could easily find yourself on the ground.
What roof repairs are covered by homeowner’s insurance?
Most homeowner’s policies pay for repairs caused by events such as wind, hail, ice, snow, and fire. It usually also pays for leaks caused by falling objects, such as a tree branch, as long as you weren’t negligent. Your insurance company could refuse to pay for damages caused by a falling tree if you knew the tree was dead or rotted and you failed to have it removed before it could damage your home.
Insurance may or may not cover unattached garage, shed, or patio roof repair depending on whether you have “other structures” protection in your policy.
In general, homeowner’s insurance does not cover roofing repair related to normal wear and tear.
If you’re looking for roof repair insurance, you may be able to get help paying for leaks and other roof issues with a home warranty policy. The age and condition of your roof at the time you apply will affect the type of coverage you can get.
What are my roof repair financing options?
It’s difficult to come up with a “typical” roofing repair estimate given all the variables involved—roofing material, type of damage, extent of the repair. That said, the “average” cost for roof repairs is about $770, with the high end exceeding $4,000.
If the damage is extensive and you are looking at replacing your roof, your costs range from $5,000 to $10,000 on average, with costs of up to $30,000 for the most expensive roofing projects.
As with all home improvement and repair projects, it’s always best to pay cash when you can, but with roof issues, you can rarely afford the time it takes to save thousands of dollars. In many cases, roof financing is your best option.
You can learn more about roof financing here.
Financing roof repairs with a home equity loan
If you have adequate equity in your home to cover the cost of your roofing repairs, a home equity loan may have the best interest rates compared to other options such as a personal home improvement loan or home improvement credit card.
However, there are usually high application fees and closing costs, including an appraisal, associated with these loans, and it usually takes 30 days or more to get your money—if your repair is urgent, this may not be the best option.
It’s also important to keep in mind that your home secures a home equity loan, which means that your lender can foreclose if you don’t make your payments as agreed. Most home equity loans have a term of 20 or 30 years, so you’ll be paying for your roofing project for a long time, and if you want to pay it off early, you may have a substantial prepayment penalty.
Zero-equity home improvement loans to finance roofing repairs
Zero-equity home improvement loans are usually available for up to $35,000, enough to cover most roofing projects. Although they have higher interest rates than home equity loans, they offer several advantages for financing your roof repairs:
Shorter terms of between 3 and 7 years, and there are no prepayment penalties if you want to pay off your loan ahead of schedule.
Fixed, dependable monthly payments so you can responsibly budget for your roofing project.
No application costs or hidden fees; you pay a simple loan origination fee when your loan is approved.
Quick approval and time to funding—in many cases, your application is approved in as little as 24 hours and you get your money right away, usually 2 to 3 days.
If you need cash to pay the deductible on a covered repair under your homeowner’s policy, a personal home improvement loan is a convenient way to get it fast so you can get started on your repairs right away.
Personal home improvement loans aren’t secured by your house, so your credit might take a hit if you don’t pay as agreed, but your home is safe from foreclosure.
Home improvement credit cards for roof repair financing
If you have a small roof repair project of less than $1,000 or $2,000, and you can pay it off quickly, a home improvement credit card is a great option. Here are some things to keep in mind about home improvement credit cards:
Most come with a 0% introductory term of between 6 and 18 months, so if you can pay it off in that time, you avoid finance charges.
There is no cost to apply and the approval process is fast and simple. You’ll have access to your credit line usually in just a few days.
Credit cards usually have the highest interest rate compared to your other financing options, once the introductory term expires.
Payments are variable depending on your balance and the interest rate, which makes it harder to budget.
This guide obviously can’t cover every aspect of roof maintenance and repair, but it does give you a few things to consider before you begin your project. Because your roof is so important to the overall integrity of your home, it’s always a good idea to consult a roofing professional with any questions about roof repair.