A lot depends on the condition of the roof, of course, but if you’re asking the question, I can only assume you have reason to be concerned about the condition of it as it stands now. Did you get a house inspection done on it before you bought it? If you did, you might talk with the roofer who did the inspection and ask about what his or her recommendations are. In the meantime, consider these steps:
If you haven’t had a full roof inspection, get one now
Many roofing companies will give your house a free roof inspection. Or, if they do charge a small fee for it, they usually discount that amount from any resulting work you contract them to do following the inspection. Take advantage of that, and get ahead of the game immediately by understanding fully what kind of condition your roof is in today. From there, you’ll know what your options are, and what each option is likely to cost.
It’s often not possible to tell if a roof is damaged simply by looking at it. Decades ago, after I had neglected the roof on my own house for a number of years, it was covered in moss and looked to be in serious disrepair. I eventually for a roof inspection and, expecting the worst, was delighted to learn it just needed to be cleaned and treated. One power wash alter, and an application of some kind of oil to preserve the cedar wood shakes (tiles) about a week later when it was bone dry again, and the roof looked as good as new. Had I left it for another couple of years, however, damage would have begun in the form of plants growing, insects moving in and openings allowing a storm to take advantage of a weakened roof. I got it just in time, and at a fraction of the cost of replacing a whole roof.
A shake tile roof, I am told, should last twenty years or more. If you get it power washed and treated every few years, it can last a good deal longer, and will cost you far less in the long run. Like almost anything good care and regular maintenance increases the life of a wood product roof a lot.
Get an estimate for the the roof work that needs to be done
You’ve got your roof inspection report and there are some issues that need to be addressed. In the best case scenario, nothing needs to be done. The second best scenario is that a cleaning and treating are needed, but beyond that, a roof may need some actual repair.
Sometimes it’s a question of replacing a few bad tiles. Other times, it’s a little more involved, and water damage has found its way through the tiles, the waterproof layers under those tiles, and has reached the plywood sheeting. Plywood sheeting is not meant to be a waterproof layer, but rather, the first later of structure underneath the waterproof layers intended to offer structural support for those plastic layers and tiles. This plywood layer is where, when water does reach it, you want to address the problem as soon as possible. A little damp for a short period of time can be OK. If the leak is discovered and repaired quickly, and before the moisture has had enough time to truly weaken the plywood, it may dry out quickly and not be a problem. If the plywood is damaged, you absolutely do want it to be fully repaired. This is where you’re getting into some cost, of course, because now you have to remove damaged plywood and replace it. On top of that, you will need new waterproof layering (PVC) and of course tiles. If water has reached the plywood, it is because that plastic layer under it has failed to some degree. It must be replaced.
The next layer down is the rafters in the infrastructure of the roof. These are pressure treated – meaning they are soaked through with preservative – for long life and provide the infrastructure for the plywood layers on top of them. It takes considerable time for these to be affected by water, but they can be damaged. What’s at risk is now everything in your attic, as a constant state of dampness and moisture invites all manner of mold to cause any number of secondary problems. Black mold, for instance, is difficult to clean up and can cause more expenditures in repairs. Still, it’s good to know exactly where you stand with respect to needed repairs.
A big roof leak is often better than a small one
Water damage can usually be repaired relatively quickly and easily if it’s done quickly. If the water has a lot of time to do its damage, that damage can be a lot worse. So, it’s often better that the leak is a significant one, and that you learn of it quickly, even if it means you get a bucket of water coming through a hole in your ceiling. All that can be fixed easily because you have caught it early.
There’s a lot you can check yourself, but a roof inspection is still a great idea. It’s often free and a professional roofer is definitely motivated to find a problem if there is one. After all, he’s first in line to earn the business if something needs to be done.
A home inspection is not a roof inspection
A home inspection takes several hours on site, followed by report preparation time, and must of course cover the entire house. There is plumbing, electrical, and all manner of safety and structural issues to examine for the home inspector. If there is a significant problem with the roof, he or she will find it, but because they have so much ground to cover, they may not catch minor problems. So, even if you have had a home inspection done, and the paperwork in your hand, consider that extra roof inspection to catch any minor problem now before it grows slowly into a big problem later.
Check back next week.