The first sign that you need to repair your roof may happen when you look up
at your ceiling and see an unfamiliar stain. This definitely falls in the
category of "unwelcome surprises."
The first step in avoiding surprises from your roof is to learn more about
it by examining it. Get as close as possible to it without putting yourself
in danger. Flat roofs should be easy to inspect by walking around on
them-assuming you can safely get on the roof. Roofs with a shallow slant
will probably be easy to investigate, as well. General safety rules
apply: always wear shoes with non-slip soles when walking on your roof, and
never walk on a wet roof. Remember that most asphalt-based roofs get gummy
during the afternoon when the sun is hottest, so plan your roof inspection
for early or late in the day to avoid damaging the roof.
If, however, you need to use scaffolding to move around your roof, it is
best not to attempt walking on it. Instead, climb on a ladder and peer at
the roof through binoculars. While examining your roof, also inspect the
flashing to ensure it has not pulled loose. Flashing consists of metal
strips that line the seams between your roof and objects like your chimney
or a skylight. These strips help to shed water and they should lie flat and
tuck neatly under the roofing and into the neighboring object. If it
doesn't lie flat it can allow water to drain straight into your home.
While on your preliminary inspection look for these trouble signs. If you
have a flat top roof, watch for bubbling and ponding. Bubbles are simply
air pockets that occur where the roofing has lost its adhesion. These
bubbles can be six inches across or more. A certain amount of ponding is
normal on any flat top roof-water will remain in small "ponds" after the
rain stops. Small, isolated sections of your roof may experience this
effect, but if more than 15 percent of your roof stays covered with water 24
hours after the rain has ended, it's time to call for repair work.
A sure sign that a sloped roof with asphalt shingles needs attention occurs
when granules of the shingles begin to wash off and expose spots of asphalt
or a majority of the shingles begin to curl. When one of these things
happens, plan to re-roof.
If you have wood shingles or shakes, replace your roof when one-third of it
shows signs of deterioration, such as dry cracking or curling of the
shingles. Metal roofs show their age by corrosion and peeling flashing.
Clay tile, slate, or masonry shingles are getting old when the tiles start
to crack or break apart and slide off the roof. Excessive moss growth is
also a sign that water is collecting in certain areas, which should be
Sources: Mike McClintock, The Washington Post; the National Retail Hardware