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How Long Should I Expect My Roof (or Roof repair) to Last?

Posted on 25 September, 2014 at 11:49
Quite often, I'll meet customers with roof issue who'll comment, "I was told when I bought the house that this roof was guaranteed for life!" Or, 10, 20 or 30 yrs, depending on the roof type..
In this article, I'll offer a realistic guideline to what the life expectancy of various types of roofing materials should actually be. I'll also touch on how and how often each should be inspected and maintained to maximize its life cycle. That will vary widely depending on your particular house, location and of course, the type of materials used.
Shingled Roofs generally are the simplest of all roof types' lifespans to predict. That's because manufacturer's throughout the 20th century pretty much perfected their formula for knowing almost exactly how long each of these types can be expected to last. If you'll notice, each bundle of shingles will announce it's own life expectancy in big, bold letters. Whether its a 20, 25, 30 or 50 year pronouncement, in my experience each one is almost spot on as to when deterioration ultimately sets in. For those of you with common 3-Tab style roofs, most older ones will carry a 20yr "Limited" warranty. During the past 10 years or so, the 2 major manufacturer's (GAF & Owen's Corning) have begun replacing these with their 25yr models, although they look exactly like the 20yr shingles. For single family residences, the most commonly used Laminated or Architectural type Shingles are the 30 year variety. Look-alike 40 and 50 year shingles are usually reserved for commercial and multiple unit complexes, due to the much higher cost. That plus the fact, most of us can't wrap our heads around the idea of staying in one place for more than 30yrs.
As I stated here, as well as in previous articles, this life expectancy- while quite accurate on its own- largely depends on the cooperation of outside elements. Here in the Southwest, as in many other parts of the world, it seems to me at least that the "100 year storm" has become a quite frequent occurrence. I honestly don't know how that term came into existence but these strong storms can pack enough wind, hail or wind-driven rain to obliterate any shingle's life expectancy. The damage is usually pretty evident. However, often times these storms will cause wind lift in the shingles which merits much closer inspection. This will result in loosened or bent shingles which will fail prematurely, although it may take years before you actually notice. If this happens, its quite crucial to catch it early. While manufacturer's warranties include an exclusion absolving them of liability, this type of damage is usually covered in your homeowner's insurance policy. That is unless its not noticed until too long after the fact. Its very common for us to be called to repair shingled roofs where those wind lifted shingles have broken off or leaked through. Usually by then, so much time has passed that most insurance companies won't even consider covering the resulting damage. Any good shingle repair- like ours- should always outlast the original roof. But if after any strong storm you notice lifted, loosened or displaced shingles, its a good idea to make a call to your insurance agency.
Tile Roofs. These types of roofs are some of the trickiest and frustrating to predict. With these roofs, I very frequently hear the homeowner describe the realtor's sales pitch as including a "lifetime" roof. Reminds me of my father's description of lifetime guarantees, "Not your lifetime, the life of the item"- when it dies, the lifetime guaranty dies with it! There are a few reasons these can be so frustrating. First, the tiles themselves are just the roof's primary defense against the elements. In a perfect world, yes they will last our lifetime. But in our imperfect environs however, seasonal winds frequently shift, displace and can even lift and break even the heartiest of those tiles. That's where the roof's secondary defense- the underlayment- is tested, sometimes to extremes. The underlayment most often used beneath is a heavy type of asphalt coated felt paper- or cardboard, if truth be told. Usually nailed onto it are wooden 1x2s or "Batten" strips. As you might imagine, this secondary surface is meant to repel water for only short periods of time, until the damaged tiles are repaired or replaced. The problem with that is obvious- most people don't want to even think of walking around on their tile roofs to inspect for damage. And by the time a leak is noticed in the ceiling beneath, the underlayment and even some of the batten strips can be so deteriorated that wide swaths of tiles now need to be removed to repair and replace what's underneath. This can be and often is a very costly undertaking. To prevent this from happening to your roof, its vital that you have a qualified professional you can trust, inspect your roof at least every few years and more frequently if you live in an area prone to the above mentioned storms. As is the case with your vehicle or your own health, preventative maintenance always costs much less than waiting until disaster strikes! With regular checkups and maintenance, your tile roof actually may last your lifetime.
Low-Slope or Flat Roofs.
The lifespan of these can be almost as difficult to assess as with tile roofs. That's primarily because of the variety of products which are used on today's flat roofs, many of which can appear exactly alike on the surface. Whether yours is smooth surfaced or mineral surfaced, asphalt products used most often here have the same finished look yet greatly vary underneath, which will vastly affect the life expectancy of each. For example, to the untrained eye a simple rolled roof when new- with a 5yr life expectancy- can look exactly like a torched or self adhered APP roof, which can last 10-15 years. Likewise, a smooth torched roof can have the same appearance of a Built-Up-Roof, which are meant to last even longer. any of these latter surfaces can then be coated with either an aluminum or elastomeric coating to extend their life almost indefinitely. But those coatings also make them harder to differentiate. Other factors which can affect the life expectancy of any of these low-slope materials are ponding areas, vegetation and other debris, scupper sizes and flow rates, adhesion to adjoining building materials, exposed flashing- to name a few. That said, the biggest culprit in curtailing the life of a low-slope roof is lack of maintenance. Seasonal changes affect these roofs more than others mainly because the asphalt materials used on them expand & contract during hot & cold weather respectively. This expansion/contraction effect seems to be amplified in this situation where (1) Unlike shingles, these materials are laid out in 12' to 16' lengths and (2) Unlike tile underlayment, these asphalt sheets are continuously exposed to the elements. Its not a matter of if but WHEN this push and pull begins to wear at the seams, joints and other places. That's why its so critical to do a thorough check of your flat roof, if not after every season, at least once a year. Especially if yours is "Santa Fe" style with a parapet wall and scuppers around it. Its imperative that its kept free of debris and rainwater's allowed to flow freely. Also that even the smallest cracks and other defects are properly repaired as soon as they become evident. Leaving them untreated will allow moisture into the sub-surface materials which will greatly add to the repair cost later, even if no leaks are evident from below.
Metal, EPDM & Other "Lifetime" Materials:
As with most of the other types of roof surfaces discussed above, any break, shift or defect in these materials which allows moisture onto the sub-surface will cancel out its life expectancy and most assuredly void the warranty. In these cases, it may even be worse, as the sub-surface materials below them aren't meant to repel any moisture at all. After any excessive wind storm, it is crucial that you do at least a surface check of these materials' integrity, as well as the joints and adhesives used for each.

As you may notice, the common thread of any roof surface's life expectancy is regular checkups and maintenance. Even a "Lifetime" roof usually requires a lifetime of care. If you prefer to have a trusted professional check your roof and offer his assessment, most will do so at no charge. If he does come back with a list of items needing correction or repair, a second opinion might be warranted. Even if you do end up having to pay for repairs and/or maintenance, I usually adapt Ben Franklin's quote in this case, "An ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure!"

Categories: Roof Repair Tips

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36 Comments

Reply Nikil
17:43 on 27 January, 2015 
Good roofing work
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9:32 on 28 January, 2015 
Hi dude your realistic guideline to what the life expectancy of various types of roofing materials should actually be which is so helpful and educative also. I am so excited to get this idea here and I am waiting to get more info in the next post.
Reply Luke Martin
8:45 on 29 March, 2017 
This is one of the most common questions asked by many homeowners that ‘’How will their roof last’’? Apart from manufacturer guarantee it is important to do regular check-up of your roof. A well maintained roof can last for longer time. Weather and other natural factors are also responsible for the life of your roof. So, it is always best to choose the right roofing material according to the area you live in. Moreover, always look for green roofing material. Metal roofs are becoming popular because of longevity, sustainability, energy efficiency and they are strong and durable too.
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Strong roof is the route to strong human because this creates confidence in ourselves to face any challenges in the life and live happily under any situation so that new things can be learned and challenges can be overcome.
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9:00 on 4 December, 2018 
Roof is one of the major selling points when a home is being put up for sale. Buyers would want to make sure that the roof is not too old and it has been maintained properly. The roof is one of those features in the house that need to be inspected before you buy a house. If the roof is already leaky or it has not been properly maintained, expect to have a new roof installation in your future. The question is: "Are you willing to take the risk?" Having a new roof installed is not exactly cheap. If you are a current homeowner, whether you are considering a resale in your future or want to settle in your home forever, it pays to take care of your roof to increase their useful life.
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