By Lee Wallender
Hear that sound? Those asphalt shingles above your head are calling out for help. They may look tough, but shingles are actually more delicate than one might imagine. In fact, they are only as good as your maintenance program. Treat them well and they will return the favor. Ignore their basic needs and you may eventually have water seeping into your house.
Too expensive to replace prematurely, your asphalt roof will stand the best chance of keeping you warm and dry until the end of its natural lifespan if you keep up a regular maintenance schedule. And best of all, it is easy enough to do.
Maintaining Your Asphalt Roof Before, During, and After Winter
Asphalt shingles, often advertised by manufacturers as having warranties ranging from five to 50 years and being able to withstand all elements, need more tender loving care than one would imagine. If they could talk, they would tell you that they will perform their duties faithfully, but only if they are treated right.
Maintaining your roof is a year-round job but it does not need to be a difficult project. Modest tasks performed by you on a regular basis at the right times can easily ward off those gut-wrenchingly expensive jobs that empty out your bank account.
With a ladder tall enough to safely reach your roof, you can follow this timeline to keep your roof performing in tip-top shape.
Early Fall: September and October
Depending on where you live, fall may arrive right after summer has ended or you may have a grace period of a month or two. This is the perfect time to finish off summer jobs and transition towards the winter: complete last of major roofing repairs that you started in summer and clean accumulated sludge from gutters.
Fall: Mid-October to November
When autumn rolls around and the leaves fall, it is time to access the roof with the ladder and inspect it for the last time before winter:
- Thorough and final cleaning of all leaves from gutters. Do this from the ladder, not the roof.
- Apply moss killer to the roof, either in the form of zinc-based powder or a liquid that you dispense with your water hose.
- Remove all debris from the roof such as leaves, branches, trash, and dirt.
- Remove as much as you can by hand and gently sweep the rest with a soft whisk broom. Do not power wash your roof.
- Make last minor repairs such as fixing flashing.
- Inspect the ridge vent (the line of shingles at the very peak of the house) and make certain that all shingles are secure.
Winter: December to March
It is neither pleasant nor safe to access the roof for much of the winter. Keep an eye on the roof from ground-level.
- Occasionally check roof from within attic. Use a strong light and train it on the bottom of the roof. During or after a rain storm, leaks will become obvious.
- Check for ice dam build-up and clear if necessary. Ice dams are solid strips of ice that form in gutters, causing gutters to overflow.
- If major repairs are necessary, call a roofing company rather than doing it yourself. They have necessary equipment to access the roof safely.
Spring and Summer: April to August
In late spring and summer, you can go full bore with roofing projects because there will be less chance of inclement weather.
- Clear out gutters and downspouts of debris that has accumulated during the winter.
- Undertake any minor repairs that you could not do during winter. Flashing around vents and the chimney may need to be repaired. Shingles may need to be replaced on a spot basis.
- Mid-summer is the perfect time for major roofing projects, such as entire roof replacement, adding penetrations like skylights and solar tubes), rebuilding the chimney repair, and replacing gutters and downspouts.
Warning Signs That Your Roof Is Deteriorating
Develop the habit of looking at your roof on a regular basis. Noticing roof and shingle red flags early on just might save you from a dreaded whole-house roof replacement.
The best-case scenario is to access your roof with a ladder and walk it during good weather. Second best: stand at the top of the ladder to get closer view than at ground level. Or observe from ground level. If you see any of these conditions, your roof may be rapidly deteriorating and in need of immediate repairs.
- Loose or Missing Shingles: Any shingle that is loose or missing is not doing its job and must be fixed immediately. Water will enter the attic as a result of loose or missing shingles.
- Missing or Misaligned Flashing/Boots: Metal flashing and rubber boots around chimneys and vent protrusions must be in place in order to prevent water from entering the house. These are difficult to observe from ground level.
- Curling Shingles: This condition may mean that the shingle is at the end of its lifespan or that there is improper ventilation in your roofing system. If a few shingles are curled, they can be replaced on a limited basis.
- Smooth or “Bald” Shingles: Shingles that no longer have their granular surface must be replaced as they have reached the end of their lifespan. Vigorously cleaning your roof with a power washer is one way to ruin shingles. Your will probably see granule build-up in your gutters every time you clean them long before you notice that the shingles themselves are becoming smoother.
Many roofing conditions can actually be observed from indoors, and often before you notice exterior conditions. You never want to reach this point, as it entails significant interior remodeling work.
- Ceiling Spots: Ominous brown or black spots on the ceiling signal the possibility of leaks through the roof. The color is the result of water filtering through shingles, tar paper, wood, and insulation.
- Damp Walls: Water leaking from the roof can sometimes come down though the wall, impregnating drywall and causing walls that never seem to get dry. After you fix the roof problem, you will most likely need to replace drywall.
- Blistering Paint: Large blisters of paint ballooning out may be the result of latex paint filling up with water – just like a latex balloon. Fix the roof issue, pop the blister to allow the water to escape. Most likely you will need to cut out that section of drywall and replace it.
- Wall or Ceiling Cracks: When the wall or ceiling is cracking it could mean structural problems or that your house is subsiding. Or it could mean that the studs and wallboard are waterlogged.
Repair a Leak in Your Roof
When you suspect that your roof is leaking, the time to act is now, not later. If weather permits and you have safe access to the roof, jump on this issue before other areas of your home are damaged. If the roof is icy, wet, covered in leaves, or otherwise unsafe, call in a roofing company. They have harnesses and other safety equipment that permit them to walk on unstable roofing surfaces.
- Locate General Area of Leak
The leak may first announce itself to you in the form of obvious symptoms like ceiling spots, ceiling paint bulges, an attic that smells unusually moldy, or wet walls. Keep this area in mind when you access the attic.
- Pinpoint Drip Point
Crawl in the attic with a strong light above the identified leak area. Use easily identifiable geography to help you find the location, using landmarks such as the chimney or certain corners of the house.
Train your eye upward from the leak area below. A laser level’s plumb feature is especially helpful, as it will force you to look vertical from the leak. In fact, the level’s red dot will exactly locate the drip point.
This is where the leak is dripping, but not necessarily where water is passing through the roof. Entry points tend to be higher up on the roof. The entry point may even be several feet high up on the roof.
- Test Leak Location
While you remain in the attic, have a partner run a water hose onto the roof and turn on the water above the leak location. It may take up to an hour for spots to form on the underside of the roof. The actual entry point will be towards the top of this spot, farther up toward the peak of the house.
- Remove Shingle
With your ladder, access the roof. Use a flat pry bar to remove the damaged shingle. Carefully slide it out. Be sure not to damage neighboring shingles.
- Replace Shingle
Slide in a new shingle. Coat roofing nails with roofing adhesive before driving them into place.
Maintaining and repairing your roof on a regular basis is truly the “stitch in time” that just might save you from costly roof replacement in the future.
Lee Wallender began remodeling homes when he transformed a World War I-era farmhouse into a comfortable new home. He has been writing about home remodeling on About Home Renovations since 2006.