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How Do You Know If It’s Time for a New Asphalt Roof

Unless you have residents calling you up every time it rains, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about replacing your old, sloped, asphalt shingle roofs.  On the surface this makes perfect sense.  You don’t change a light bulb just because it’s been in the lamp for a long time; you wait until it burns out.  Unfortunately, the two situations are not analogous.  A burned out bulb may be inconvenient, but it is not causing thousands of dollars worth of damage to your building until you can swap it out.  Also, when you do decide to replace your roof you can’t just run down to Walgreens and buy one with the change you find in your couch cushions.  When your roof gets close to the end of its useful life you need to be ready with a budget and a plan.

So, how do you tell how long you do have?  The unpleasant answer is that there are no guarantees.  A number of factors beyond your control may play a critical part in the longevity of your sloped asphalt roofing system.  They include, but are not limited to, the quality of the labor and materials used on the original installation, the functionality of the roof’s ventilation system, the exposure to environmental conditions (wind, sun, pollution) and non-essential foot traffic (hanging lights, adjusting antennas, etc.).  Depending on the severity, any of these conditions could significantly shorten your asphalt shingle’s life expectancy.  So, what are some things we do know that can help us make this determination?

Let’s start with the age of the roof.  This is where a lot of people get confused.  Don’t be fooled by the number that was on the packages of shingles you bought (e.g. 30 year).  Maybe roofs last that long somewhere, but not here in Minnesota.  Hot summers and cold winters take their toll on shingles.  Assuming the issues mentioned in the paragraph above are not playing a significant factor, a realistic estimate would be closer to 10-12 years of solid, problem-free life and maybe another 5-8 years where the roof is really on borrowed time and periodic repairs may be necessary.  How do shingle companies get away with this misrepresentation?  Because of space restraints you’ll have to read my other articles where I expand on this, but the fact of the matter is, if your sloped, asphalt shingle roof is in this age range, you better start getting your plan together quickly.

The second thing to consider is the observable condition of the roof.  Obviously, be careful not to damage the roof while making these determinations.  Things that should be cause for alarm are lifted and missing shingles, curling ends and shingle blistering (which looks exactly like it sounds).  Even more disturbing is granular loss on the shingles.  I’m not talking about finding a few granules in the gutter, which is completely normal.  I’m talking about bare patches on the shingles themselves.  Those ceramic granules not only make the shingle look pretty, they protect the asphalt in the shingle from the sun’s harmful UV rays.  If the asphalt in your shingle is exposed to the sun it’s only a matter of time before it shrinks and decays, leaving you with a hole in your roof.  When your roof starts exhibiting any of these problems, again, you better start figuring out how you can get the roof replaced in the relatively near future.  If you’re not comfortable determining the condition of the roof yourself, have a competent roofing contractor take a look and give you an honest evaluation.  If you play your cards right you can probably find someone to do this at no cost.

As I alluded to earlier, most people feel the litmus test for a roof is ‘is it leaking?’  While leaking is a great indicator that there is a problem, it is not the best gauge for determining the general condition of the roof.  First, it’s possible (and probably more likely) that a leak is due to something other than degraded shingles.  Most leaks turn out to be some kind of flashing issue.  If this turns out to be the case, a simple repair should correct the problem.  I suppose I should note that the older shingles get, the more brittle they become and the more difficult and less successful these repair attempts become.

Second, if you wait until someone notices water inside, you may have waited too long.  Water could be coming in for a long time before the tell-tale stains on the ceiling show up.  It may be ruining insulation, forming mold, damaging walls and rotting out decking.  What if the leak is occurring in a vacant unit?  Waiting for a leak is just not a smart or reliable plan for determining a roof’s condition. 

I’m not trying to say everyone should buy a new roof tomorrow (though that would be good for our business), I’m just saying that like any investment your business makes in a depreciable item, you need to be ready at the end of its useful life to get it replaced.  If you wait too long the money you end up spending to make repairs, replace sheetrock and paint could have gone towards the new roof you need.