The roof, the roof, the roof needs to be replaced
May 3, 2011 3:45 PM   Subscribe

What do you wish you'd known before buying a new roof?

We've got a 1400 square foot house that needs a new roof. There are several layers already up there; we've been told we'll need to get them all stripped off before a fresh layer is put up.

We live in an area where summer heat is more of a big deal than winter cold. Snow isn't an issue; fire safety is.

We're just starting our research. So what do you wish you'd known before you put a new roof on? Or what are some stumbling points that we should be looking out for?

BONUS QUESTION: At some point we want to add insulation to our attic. Are these projects ever tackled at once? Or which one to do first?
posted by BlahLaLa to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you're tearing off the sheathing on the roof, I don't see any advantage to doing both at once.

Get multiple quotes, get quotes from a local firm as well as a more well known company.

Big Company roofing firms are hard sell operations, they will upsell you when they can, they may even lie to you.

My last two roofs were done by a small local company, owned by one of my former boy scouts... he came in under the big company by a wide margin, using the same materials. It took a couple days longer because he had a smaller crew and worked the job himself. The quality was good, and, when he completed it he charged me about 15% less than we agreed saying "It didn't take as long as I thought it would."

Local, Local, Local! (and, the money stays in your community!)
posted by tomswift at 3:57 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

When they strip all the layers off, there's a good chance you'll end up with cracks in your walls -- things shift around as that much weight is removed.
Roofers tend to get started very early in the morning, especially in hot climates where they want to avoid working in high sun. It's also incredibly loud when you're in the house and they're on the roof. When I was in high school and we had the roof replaced, it literally sounded like the men were right there in my bedroom with me, yelling, throwing shingles, ripping up old roofing, etc. Combined with a 7 am start time, I ended up getting out of bed WAY earlier than I had planned to (it was during my spring break). It can be very disruptive, so plan carefully about being out of the house or doing things that won't be disturbed by the noise.
posted by katemonster at 4:03 PM on May 3, 2011

1. At my place in the North Bay (California), where temperatures range from a little over 100 F. at the hottest and ~25 F. at the coldest, with the average being 60's - 70's, the addition of a ridge vent has made hot days more tolerable without making cold days worse.

2. The company I hired was careless in their selection of roofing nails. They used nails that were longer than they should have been, which punched through the bottom of the wood. My eaves look like they've been strafed from below.
posted by Graygorey at 4:04 PM on May 3, 2011

Oh, Graygorey's mention of nails reminds me -- you want a roofing company that's meticulous about cleaning up after themselves, or you'll end up with several flat tires in the weeks after a new roof. I think our guys used one of those magnetic roller thingies to get up the metallic debris, and even with that we still found lots of nails hanging around on the driveway and in the yard. If you talk to previous customers to get references, they should be able to tell you how the company was with cleanup.
posted by katemonster at 4:09 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Get at least 3 estimates, they will likely vary by a factor of 10.

We had contractors outright lie to us about the condition of the roof, and when later contractors went up we asked them to take pictures (it's a steep roof and not visible from the street) which showed the previous guys had lied. So: get multiple estimates. Local is no guarantee. Ask around your friends and colleagues to see if anyone has used a company they've been happy with.

From other research -
Cedar shake shingles look great at first but can start to look bad quickly, like within 5 years. They are also less fire-safe than other choices, and prone to mold and mildew. You can choose to have them treated with either fire retardant or mold/mildew retardant but not both. I would avoid them unless you have a great reason for wanting them.

Some homeowners associations have restrictions on what you can choose, double-check with your HOA if you have one.

For asphalt shingles, which are the cheap go-to solution, there are several grades - the "architectural" shingles are the nicer grade and have more color variation so they look a little like slate or shakes etc - take a look at pictures online and you'll see what I mean.

Consider how dark you want the roof to be - darker = hotter in summer. But at the same time, if you go too light it may look weird.

If your roof has an unusual angle, that might affect your options - eg materials like slate should not be used on shallow roofs, only steep ones. If you are thinking about slate, you want a roofer who specializes in just slate, or slate and ceramic tile. Slate is very expensive. They make a fake slate that looks good but is somewhat cheaper, but it is still quite expensive.

When you're hiring a contractor be sure they are licensed, bonded and insured.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:25 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Consider adding one or more attic fans at the same time you have your roof done, and have the roofing company install them to preserve their warranty. If you live in a warm climate, consider getting attic fan(s) that are oversized for your square footage. Set their thermostats so that they come early -- 65°F or 70°F, for example. We have a ~1600 square foot house in Northern California with no A/C, and our attic fan made a HUGE difference -- the house still gets hot on hot days, but it's bearable. We got it for the actual size of our attic, and I wish we had installed two. We had it installed by the roofing company at the time they did the roof so they couldn't claim the installation voided their warranty.

We had our ceiling/attic insulated a few years after we had our roof done - we insulated the flat ceiling above our rooms, not the peaked roof itself. The insulation makes a big difference, and the combo of insulation + attic fan is a real winner.

Also, I absolutely agree with tomswift's suggestion to go local if at all possible. Just make sure the local firm has a good rep and is solvent, as an insolvent firm won't be able to warranty their roof if anything goes wrong down the road.
posted by mosk at 4:26 PM on May 3, 2011

The importance of proper flashing around things like skylights. If you have any unusual features like that on your roof, make sure you ask the roofer if they know what to do. Our skylight manufacturer has a pre-formed flashing kit and our first contractor still messed it up (we found out the first time it rained).
posted by tommasz at 5:31 PM on May 3, 2011

If you're in an area where wildfire is a possibility, think about metal roofing. Looking at burned-over areas last summer, the houses that survived nearly all had corrugated steel roofing.
posted by anadem at 5:37 PM on May 3, 2011

I had a new roof put on last fall. I got a bunch of estimates but I didn't go with the cheapest. I went with the guy that loved talking about roofs and I couldn't be happier with the work he did.
posted by maurice at 5:38 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding what anadem says. I live in a high fire danger area and before I got rid of my shake roof, the local fire department told me that they wouldn't even try to save my house due to roof.

I now have a metal roof that looks like shakes. It looks better than my old shake roof ever did and I'll never have to worry about it again. It has a 50 year guarantee!
posted by the_shrike at 5:41 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

From what I understand a metal roof is the way to go in terms of fire safety and longevity.
posted by jmsta at 5:47 PM on May 3, 2011

Get 4-5 bids, don't take the hard sell on expensive 45 year shingles but don't get the 10 yr ones either, be aware that 'neighbor who lives down the street' paid less for his roof because the pitch/square footage/removal of layers was less than yours will be, vet your choices with the BBB before you sign anything and remember dark shingles absorb more heat and will break down faster. Also more vents is better. Always. More vents. Vents. Nom.

(I wish I had known that their meticulous cleanup and our meticulous inspection of the yards afterward would still net me a flat tire within a week!)
posted by pink candy floss at 5:54 PM on May 3, 2011

I've had two roofs replaced with metal and have not had to do any maintenance on them at all. A neighbor with an asphalt roof made fun of the amount of expense and labor involved, until he noticed that I did not need to patch my roof every year as he did. It's nice to know that your roof won't catch on fire easily as well.

I've only notice two downsides. It can be loud in hailstorms, and the roof can be slippery if you are up on it doing your swamp cooler maintenance. YMMV, obviously.

As to which project to tackle first, if your roof is leaking it may cause mold to grow in your new insulation. If you have access to your attic from the inside of your house it will be no problem to add it later.

You don't mention what type of roof you have, I'm assuming it's a pitched roof, but if you have a flat roof there will be very different considerations.
posted by yohko at 6:02 PM on May 3, 2011

If you are doing asphalt shingles, look into the Energy Star shingles. They aren't much, if at all, more expensive than regular architectural shingles but supposedly are more reflective (they are a lighter color) and help keep your house cool in the summer. We were able to get a tax credit for using them, but I believe that tax credit expired.

Go local, and use Angies List and references when choosing.
posted by misskaz at 6:14 PM on May 3, 2011

Seconding the multiple quotes. And don't go with the cheapest -- with roofs it's still more or less true that you get what you pay for. Have a look at the type of truck and equipment the company has. Be wary of a guy, his buddies, and someone's old van. Also be wary of the superdetailed pickup, since you're paying for that too.

In the end, you have to trust your instincts.

Absolutely get a warranty.

If you want skylights, or those handy dandy solar tubes, do it now.

Also -- you will have a dumpster in your driveway. If you need to get rid of shit, serious amounts of shit, now's your chance. Plan ahead on that score. (You may need to work it into the cost of the estimate, or do what I did, and just play dumb -- that could have been anyone's bedframe.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:39 PM on May 3, 2011

"We live in an area where summer heat is more of a big deal than winter cold. Snow isn't an issue; fire safety is. "

Metal is the way to go if you can afford it. The roofing material itself won't burn, the metal isn't hurt by heat/radiation (unlike asphalt and wood shingles) and the higher end standing seam variants are maintenance free for at least 50 years. Metal roof with exposed fasteners lasts about as long but maintenance is required on the fasteners every 15-20 years. And there are lots of options that look like shingles if that matters to you (personally I like the look of standing seam, looks like money). Finally run off from a metal roof is cleaner than from a shingle roof.

Insulation is done from the attic unless you have a flat roof so those jobs don't need to be done together.

Lighter roofing colours reduce deck temps reducing in turn attic temperatures. White is the best if you don't have a colour preference.

If you are the kind of guy who goes up on the roof for any reason have the roofers install a permanent anchor point or two at the peak for a fall arrest harness line. Makes jobs like swamp cooler maintenance or hanging Xmas lights a lot safer.
posted by Mitheral at 6:44 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

And if you're in an area that gets heavy snow, you may want to look into getting "snow brakes" or "snow guards", little doobers that sit above the gutters and keep snow and ice from falling in big chunks.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:42 PM on May 3, 2011

(you may be eligible for tax credits for putting on a metal roof)
posted by at 6:50 AM on May 4, 2011

Be aware that with a larger company, they have many different crews, and the quality of the crew will vary. We ended up with a very young crew; they entirely skipped the cleanup. Some days they didn't show up when they should have, and we had to get someone else from the company to finish things after the crew reported that they were done.

A year later we had leaks going on; luckily our neighbor is a contractor, and for a few trays of cinnamon rolls, and us covering the cost of a ladder rental he fixed the flashing around our (unused) chimney. Consider paying a 2nd roofing company to inspect the roof when they're "finished" and immediately bring up any issues to them; the pictures our neighbor gave us of "before" left no doubt why we had leaks. However, without going up on to the 60 degree (pitch, not temperature) roof my wife and I saw no obvious problems.

Oh, and our (pre-existing) sky light started leaking just before winter, we didn't get someone to fix it in time, and it cracked and needed to be replaced. But their warranty doesn't cover sky lights, never mind that they should have been able to properly flash it. Hiring someone to inspect all flashing should have caught that sooner.

Lastly, when getting the quote, we had a roll-up awning that could be used to cover the attached glass-topped sunroom. It "somehow" got missed, and the crew said that all they could do would be to remove it, and reinstallation of it by someone else would void that part of the roof's warranty. In retrospect, I really wish we'd said good bye to them then and there. If they crew that comes on site seems surprised about anything regarding your house that was noted creating the quote / job description, it's easier to stop sooner than later.

If anyone is in the kitcher-waterloo-cambridge area, and wants to know a company *NOT* to use, memail me. It's not just us; my wife saw a house with a sign up front "Do you want to know why not to use XXXXXXX Roofing? Come see."
posted by nobeagle at 7:28 AM on May 4, 2011

katemonster is right about the clean-up.

Our guy was pretty good; he laid tarps over all the shrubs during tear-off to catch big chunks of stuff, but he never used a magnetic tool, so we found nails for *years.* (He also left coffee cups everywhere, but I was happy to have him work an extra 15 minutes a day instead of plicing his papers.) I roofed for a summer, and in retrospect we were woefully bad about clean-up: I cringe now.

Smaller, local guys will be good, but beware gypsy roofers who will do shoddy work and then disappear. Ask for references, and then call two or three (and even drive past the houses). Ask them a few questions about what's local code to see whether they'll just staple down some asphalt and leave, or if they really know what they're doing.

Working on the roof is very hot, so yes, they start early: we used to meet at the job around 6:00 AM, break once for lunch, and leave around 3:something.

If you're doing a lot of tear-off, the roofers may find that roof sheathing or soffets have to be replaced. This may cost extra, and will probably take extra time. It's got to be done to have a sound roof. *shrug* They're not too likely to scam you this way because hauling full sheets of plywood to the roof is too much work for a few ill-gotten bucks. :7)

If you get a dumpster, be aware that everyone in town will try to sneak their junk into it.

If your bathroom vents don't actually go to outside, now is a great time to fix that.

Keep an eye on how they flash along your chimney, and whether your valleys are cut short along a metal channel or overlap under the opposite side's shingles.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2011

Response by poster: Wow -- thanks for all the great advice, everyone. Keep it coming!
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:32 AM on May 4, 2011

Seconding wenestvedt's comment on identifying items that need to be vented. I wish I'd had an additional vent added in the attic, and had a vent installed just in case I can ever afford to have the stove properly vented. Also, if you've ever considered a solartube or attic fan, this would be a good time to commit. What isn't sealed when the roofers come will need to be sealed eventually.
posted by Graygorey at 10:10 PM on May 4, 2011

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