Ask the Experts: Is it Time for a New Roof?

A birds-eye view of Eichler roofs. Photo by David Toerge

If water is leaking through your roof, sure, it needs to be repaired, and perhaps even replaced. But what if you want to prevent leaks? How can you tell it’s time for a new roof?

There are numerous roof systems, both new and old, atop Eichler and Streng and other modern homes, from the tar-and-gravel that was used on many of them when first built, to modified bitumen, various synthetic single-ply solutions, polyurethane foam, and even steel systems.

Each shows wear in different ways.

“But no matter what the system is,” says John Rossi, 'chief honcho' at Cal-Pac Roofing, a Duro-Last single-ply installer based in San Mateo, “look at points of penetration, anything sticking out of the roof. Check to see the seals are nice and tight. Or where there’s a wall or the roof changes to another section. All those points of intersection need to be checked.”

Excessive ponding like this puts stress on the integrity of a roof—leading to damage and leaks. Photo by David Toerge

“Then check for any bare spots in the tar and gravel,” he says of tar-and-gravel covered roofs. “If you have a cap sheet [which provides a water-tight seal over other layers of roofing], look for any erosion of the material. If you have a spray foam roof with emulsion, see if it’s peeling or there are bubbles in the foam.”

“Flat roofs are more prone to leaks and to wear and tear, more so even than roofs with gentle slopes,” Rossi reminds us.

“You’ll see cracking and splitting, and the flashing starting to pull away, and rusting,” says Rick Abril, owner of Abril Roofing, Eichler specialists based in the East Bay, when your roof needs replacing. Abril focuses on foam roofs.

Cracks in the exposed tar of this roof are indicators of age, wear, and a great potential for leaking.

Climbing onto your roof can do more than tell you whether it’s time to replace. It can also push that dreaded day off.

“People should get on their roof once or twice a year to do a visual inspection and keep it clean,” Abril says. “If you keep your roof clean, you can extend its life ten to 15 percent, just by keeping it clean.”

He advises owners to regularly check the drains in their roofs. “If they get plugged up and water pools on the roof, it causes premature deterioration.”

“Anyone who can climb a ladder and can sweep and rake the roof can do it,” Abril adds.

And if you’ve got a foam roof, he says, “they do require maintenance at different intervals in re-coating the elastomeric coating.”

Fred Drees of Done-Rite Roofing, which serves the Davis and Sacramento area as a single-ply company, advises homeowners to check the edges of their roofs. “Most roofs on Eichlers and Strengs show problems at the angles, around the perimeter where the roof turns up to form a drain. The sun beats on it all day,” he says.

The ductwork on this roof is not only unsightly, its penetrations are common points of roof breakdown and leaking. Photo by David Toerge

This is what’s called a Dutch drain, an alternate to the standard hanging gutter. Problem is, as water collects there, the roofing material can be damaged over time. “You can see spider webs forming as the coating is starting to leave the asphalt,” Drees says. Added drainage can help correct the problem.

Roofs, of course, do not last forever – but it’s hard to predict when a roof needs replacement just based on its age. “There’s no rule of thumb,” Rossi says. “The average in the industry is for a roof to last eight to 12 years. So for every roof that lasts 16, some went out at four.”

“If you have a tar-and-gravel roof and it’s more than eight or ten years old, then you have to be practical, and you have to know that you’re on the back side of that roof’s life,” he says.

And what if your roof is leaking?

“You can patch an old roof – and you know what you end up with? An old patched roof,” Rossi says. “I don’t do it. We’d only patch if we did [the original installation on] a roof for you and you’re adding something or putting in a skylight. We’ll patch it together. But I would not go out and take anybody’s money and just patch them up. That to me is just a temporary fix.”

“To be honest with you,” Rossi says, “most people don’t want to do a roof, period. I bid jobs, people are doing $400,000, $500,000 remodels, and they gag over a $25,000 roof. People don’t want to do roofs. They’d rather have the gold fixture in the bathroom, because that’s something they see.”

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