Being a homeowner is a great feeling: you never forget the phone call when the realtor tells you “I’ve got great news about your offer”, or the day that you turned the key in the lock and stepped into YOUR house for the first time.
What the realtor probably failed to mention, however, is that being a homeowner is also a source of a LOT of stress: there is no shooting off a casual email to the landlord to say “hey you should know that the AC isn’t working”. You also suddenly have to care about things like termites, septic tanks, and a million other things that you never even noticed when you rented.
One of those million things (and one of the most important) is the roof. It’s pretty hard to overstate how crucial this element is to keeping your house a great place to come home to.
I recently had to give the bad news to a customer that they urgently needed to replace the roof, which was VERY disturbing since they had not budgeted for this major investment, having chosen instead to start with the “fun” renovations: a beautiful new kitchen and bathroom, plus all new living room furniture. This is why home remodelers/flippers/investors always say “top down then outside in” as a rule of thumb in home repair: if your roof is likely to leak, whatever is invested in the interior of the house is in danger. You don’t go out and buy gold bars without first buying a strongbox to keep them in!
A new roof is a big investment, there’s no doubt about it: a properly installed and warranted roof is not cheap, and before we get into whether you should consider replacing vs just a repair, my first piece of advice is don’t expect it to be cheap.
My wife is from Argentina, and one of my favorite (of the millions) of Spanish expressions that she uses is: “lo barato siempre sale caro”; meaning, “cheap turns out expensive”. In English, we say “buy nice, or buy twice”. That does NOT mean that you should overpay beyond fair market value, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of calls that I get on a weekly basis to go out and inspect/repair a roof installed by another contractor that is leaking, and suddenly it’s impossible to get ahold of the installer.
But if it IS going to be a big investment, you want to make sure that it’s actually necessary, and that a small repair wouldn’t be enough to get you through a few more years. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you think through this decision:
1. Repair Newer Roofs, Replace Older Ones
Don’t nickel and dime yourself to death with a roof that is near the end of its life.
Repairs are cheaper than replacements, but you need to determine if the repair is likely going to give you at least 2-3 more years of not worrying about leaks every time a storm blows through. If you have a 3-tab roof, you ought to be able to get 15-20 years of life out of it as long as it was installed correctly, and there’s no significant storm damage. A laminate (architectural) shingle typically is going to be in the 20-30 year range, with those same conditions.
Don’t try to be Jerry Seinfeld with his “golden boy” t-shirt! If its time has come, be merciful and pull the cord, and let your roof go to its eternal rest where the rain does not fall, algae grows not, and hail doth no longer pummel.
Keep in mind that contractors are not going to fully warrant a repair, but they will with a replacement, so peace of mind is a factor to consider when putting it in the balance.
If you have a newer roof, it’s very possible that the shingles themselves are in good shape, but you only need to worry about a couple trouble spots: think chimney flashings, skylights, pipe boots, etc. Before spending 5 figures on a new roof, it would be wise to have a solid roofer check to see if you can extend the life of the roof.
If you don’t know the age of your roof, a simple way to get a rough idea is to see how much algae (dark discoloration on the shingles) is growing on them. If there’s a significant amount, it’s likely to be older. You can also put a ladder on the eave and inspect your gutters: if you have a good amount of granules from the shingles built up, that’s another sign of aging/deterioration. A good roofer is like the carnival worker that guesses your weight: we can usually get pretty close.
Signs of an older roof:
Frequent interior leaks
Frequent ice dams in winter
If you can find a roofer who tells you that you DON’T need to replace your roof, you may have a rare gem on your hands! An honest roofer is like an honest lawyer: if you can find one, keep his card. Of course, the key is that they be both honest AND competent, because you don’t want to be told that your roof is fine, and then something goes wrong the next week.
2. Keep an Eye on the Weather
Not only should you pay close attention to the interior of your home (including periodically checking the underside of your roof in the attic) for water entry, but be aware of any large storms that have rolled through. This could definitely affect your decision/timeline regarding repairs and replacements.
If you see missing shingles, this is at least a repair, but possibly more: if enough wind damage has occurred, you might be able to file an insurance claim and have the roof replaced. Don’t just file a claim without getting it inspected first though: a good contractor can tell you if the repair/replacement should be significant enough to warrant a claim (IE significantly higher than your deductible).
If there has been a hail storm in the past 12 months at your property, same advice applies: I won’t go into all the details of hail damage in this post, but even if your roof is newer, you might have damage that will lower the life expectancy of your roof, void your manufacturers’ warranty, and warrant a claim/replacement. Don’t sleep on it though, since most insurance carriers won’t cover it past 1 year from the storm date, and the damage won’t be evident until well after that point.
For any storm damage inspections, get a HAAG certified storm inspector, not just a roofer. Insurance companies pay for an inspector like this to evaluate your property after a storm, but as a homeowner you can get the inspection for free.
3. Establish Your Budget
Like any other major investment, it’s always better to be thinking about it in advance versus scrambling to find a solution when the time comes.
Don’t expect your roof to last beyond the manufacturers’ expected lifespan: many get confused when they see “limited lifetime warranty” on a roof, but the focus needs to be on the word “limited”, not “lifetime”. That means they warrant the roof against defects (not installation, and not storm damage!) for the anticipated lifespan of the materials, not your lifetime. So, as you approach that date, be thinking about your budget!
Try to update your mental budget as the years roll on as well: a roof budget 5 years ago is VERY different from one today. We are in a post pandemic world, which means absolute chaos for inflation and supply chains.
If a repair can legitimately get you through a few more years, that’s likely the best choice, unless you’re planning on selling your house and want to increase curb appeal/sale price, or you want to refinance your house and get the maximum appraisal value possible.
If a replacement is necessary, you want to find the approximate fair market value range for the project, to make sure you don’t get ripped off, or get an inferior product. Check out this video for some more tips on how to find that range.
In establishing your budget, think through some of these questions:
How long am I going to live in the house?
If I’m planning on selling, what type of roof/warranty will help me most?
How much do I care about style, and can I afford to care? Should I consider a metal roof, slate, cedar, specialty shingle, or is a standard asphalt roof the smartest move for my budget?
Are building materials likely to go much higher in the near future, or can I afford to wait awhile and save up?
Can I save money by combining several projects at once? Or should I focus only on my roof?
Financing everything is kind of the American Consumer Way, which has a LOT of dangers. But, if you can finance large investments at 0% (or at least low %) in a high-inflation market, that’s free money. Put the cash into other assets that produce good yields, and every year you pay for the roof, you’re paying less. We’re sitting on 7% yearly inflation at the moment in the US, so think about making inflation pay YOU.
There’s a LOT to think about when making this investment, but you don’t have to think through it alone: we don’t do salesy pushy nonsense at BMP. We’re serious people who like to help other serious people think through what they actually want/need, and provide a solution. Give us a call or an email if a conversation about improving your property would be helpful.
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