Need A New Roof
August 6, 2012 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Tell me what I need to know about replacing a roof myself, versus the cost of having someone else do it for me.

Wifey and I bought a house to renovate, really cheap and neglected but "good bones", so to speak. We're taking down the plaster and lathe, and after a recent really heavy rainfall we found evidence behind the walls of some slight seepage through the roof. The shingles are clearly, like, 50 years old -- there's really not much to them anymore, they're delaminating. It's a wonder they keep out as much water as they do. But, it's a sign we need to get the roof done sooner than later, before we put up new insulation and drywall to just get wet the next time there's a storm.

Now, I'm a very handy guy, but this is a 2-story house with a steep roof, very Victorian, and about 1500 square feet of roof, and I've never done a full roof replace (done repairs though), so I'm a bit intimidated. But, I've examined the roof from underneath, and the sheathing is in good shape, so it's pretty much just new tarpaper, membrane, shingles, and I want to put in some new vents.

My problem is: materials are going to be about $150 a square, which is manageable, but everyone's quoting me at least that much, if not more, in labor, which is a bit more than we can afford at this time. This is an uninhabitable house at the moment, so we can't mortgage it (not that my credit is all that great), and we're trying to do as much in cash as we can anyways.

So, tell me, what can I expect if I try to do this myself, with a few friends to help? How do we keep from falling off, as opposed to ranch/rambler roofs I've been on before that are low in both height and pitch? Are those fancy safety harnesses cheap/easy/rentable? Is there anything majorly different about an old steep roof I need to watch out for? Thanks much!
posted by AzraelBrown to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
Here's what I've discovered about this kind of thing.

That the expertise and equipment necessary to do this is worth the labor costs.

Chances are, especially with a roof with a steep pitch, that a roofer can knock it out quickly, and for about the same cost as you'll pay in:

1. Materials you mess up by not knowing what you're doing
2. Cost to rent specialized tools, ladders and safety equipment
3. Overages on basic materials (like nails) that he'll use on another job and that you'll store in an old mayonnaise jar in the garage for the rest of your life.
4. Whatever donuts, coffee, pizza, beer and lost weekends doing the same at your friend's houses in the future.

Let's not get into what happens if heaven forbid one of your buddies falls of the roof and gets messed up.

Keep getting quotes but I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Aw, dude, please reconsider doing it yourself. I have helped replace the roof on a modest little rancher and it was STILL something of a tedious pain in the butt. I know you're handy, but the requisite "learning curve" that comes with all home repairs is gonna suck BIG TIME if it takes place while perched on the steep, rickety roof of an old house.

One thing to consider: the construction industry has been hit pretty hard by the economic downturn of the past few years. Independent contractors might be more willing to negotiate/barter now than they would've been a few years ago. We have a contractor in the family, and we're setting up a website for his business in exchange for some interior work on our place.
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:37 PM on August 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm an avid do-it-yourselfer, and I let someone else replace my house roof. It turns out I probably should have gone with a different bid, but that's a longer story and hopefully I won't have to deal with it for another several decades, and I'm also not sure because apparently roofing people will look at pretty much any roof and cluck disapprovingly and tell you it needs replacing.

(I did do my own workshop roof, but that's a living roof involving an assembly that no roofer in my area has ever seen...)

Anyway..., I did have a note on safety harnesses: I also used to be a rock climber, and at the time I started climbing most places that taught commercially (ie: Outward Bound, etc) used self-tied "Swiss seat" style harnesses. You can tie one yourself out of of webbing (use webbing, not rope, it'll be more comfortable if you do fall). I'd find a local climber or rappeler and get them to give you a basic intro to belay tactics and hardware before you spend big bucks on harnesses and gear.
posted by straw at 1:40 PM on August 6, 2012

Scaffolding will be helpful for very steep roofs. Other than that, sturdy work gloves, sturdy foot wear and decent ladders are most of what you'll need. Oh, and probably a big roll-away dumpster.

My husband tried to reroof our 100 yr old rental house with a friend of his and they got along pretty well with minimal issues. (You'll want to make sure you work with your local city for ordinances and building permits, fire and ice layers, etc.)

The big problem for us was that ours had 8 layers of varying roof and non-roof material (including some old painted wood paneling - interior wall panels with painted yellow and orange flowers!) and big honking nails keeping them together. The actual physical pain of removing all of those layers (prying up 8 layers of nails and panels) was what made my husband hire people to complete the work.

But it sounds like you don't have that problem, thankfully!, so it sounds very do-able.
posted by jillithd at 1:41 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Scaffolding will be helpful for very steep roofs.

This, and the grippiest shoes you can find.

Also, how many layers of existing shingle/shakes are on it? Just one? Last time I had to do something like this, a couple of sturdy potato forks were really useful for peeling off the existing stuff in big sheets. Just don't drop 'em on anybody's head.

Also, if you don't have a good air nailer, get one.

This wasn't your question, but like everyone else, if it were me and I could just pay to have the damn thing done, I would, but then I hate roofing. My dad, who insisted on us doing roof stuff ourselves for years, finally messed his knees up bad enough and had all his kids far enough away that he just paid a crew to do his house. It took them a day and the work looks pretty quality. Hearing him talk, I don't think he'll choose to do it himself again.
posted by brennen at 1:49 PM on August 6, 2012

You can expect at least one injury of unpredictable seriousness (from "just" a bashed thumb, up to falling off the roof).

You can expect a mess of paperwork about code standards and your having met them. If you don't meet them, expect fines and possibly having to redo the roof. Yes. Again.

You can anticipate questions from your insurance company if anything ever happens to this roof (leak, storm damage) - having not hired an insured contractor, you may find your insurer doesn't want to pay either. Remember, they don't make money by paying claims. Don't give them any more reasons than they can already come up with.

You might expect to come across a layer of asbestos roofing, depending on when your home was built/roofed over.

You might expect your work to be delayed. If delay is caused by weather and you don't have a suitable plan B, bad things might happen to the inside of the home. If the delay is caused by something else, and weather happens in the meantime...bad things for the inside of the house. Again, insured contractors can be held responsible for things that you would have to just suck up if you do this yourself.
posted by tulip-socks at 1:51 PM on August 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

You might expect your work to be delayed. If delay is caused by weather and you don't have a suitable plan B, bad things might happen to the inside of the home.

Oh yeah: Tarps. Expect rain at extremely inconvenient times.
posted by brennen at 2:08 PM on August 6, 2012

Shallow one storey garage roof: piece of cake. Steep two storey house roof: annoying, risky. Don't underestimate the difficulty of access. I have a roof like yours and the garage like that and I redid my garage in a weekend, including some deck repair, but I would hire to get my house done just because of risk, hassle and grief of working 30 feet off the ground on a surface that wants to throw me off.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:14 PM on August 6, 2012

Based on my experience of replacing my own roof, helping friends replace a roofs, having friends help me replace my roof, and hiring a roofer to do my roof:

A lot of friends can do a pretty good job on a one-story house, and usually in one day (or weekend). They will need guidance and refreshment, and you will be obligated to help them with their tasks.

You can do your own roof. But, what if rain is on the way and it is partially stripped? Panic time. The pain of the really hard work might stop you part way through the task, or might not. The paid of falling off the roof, while working hard or hauling up materials, will not pass quickly. Beware when you are really tired, and you will be, of doing something stupid up there.

Professional roofers are tough guys. They can work hard and quickly. Our last two jobs, about 1,500 square feet, were done in 2/3 of a day. They took the trash away, and the roof looked great.

See if your roofer will finance the job. Make sure that they are insured, and have that certificate of insurance sent directly to you.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 2:15 PM on August 6, 2012

If it really needs to go soon but maybe not just yet? Slap some flashing compound on the suspect area and wait until spring/ you have the cash to hire it out.

If you want to do it anyway? You'll need a dumpster/someone to take away the old shingles, a helper, and depending on the roof maybe a tin-break (metal flashing bender thing) rented from Home Depot, and maybe scaffolding depending on the roof. And a day laborer or two.

Read up about it in Fine Homebuilding or any better book about home building and have at it. You'll trash at worst a quarter of your materials (or at least seems to be my learning curve at it's worst) and have a bunch of stuff left over. But if the roof is simple and you're feeling like your back is strong and your knees not too achey (and you're not afraid of heights), just getting it covered well enough should be easier than putting up clapboard siding (properly) but marginally more difficult than sheet-rock.

(on preview, what Midnight Skulker said, especially about financing it.)
posted by From Bklyn at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2012

OH! I did not mention! Our rental house is a two-story with a steep-ish roof, but no gables or fancy eaves or crazy curves or anything. It was a tall 'A' on the top story and a shorter 'A' on the main level. If I had a fancy multi-gabled place with curves and extra corners and hangy-outy roofed bits, I'd pay someone else to deal with it.

So, definitely consider the complexities of the roof, too!
posted by jillithd at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2012

Have you gotten quotes from a metal roof company? With the price of asphalt going through the roof(sorry) the price of metal roofing has become more competitive. If you do go this route get the standing seam metal roof in a light color. If you get asphalt shingles again get a light color-it makes the house substantially cooler in the summer and in most clients not any colder in the winter. Also the time to get any roof mounted equipment thought about like a solar hot water heater (it is amazing how quick this can pay off) or Solar PV than you should at least make arrangements for the mounting points later.

And yeah, doing this on your own is going to suck big hairy ones, get a pro to do it, save money elsewhere. If the roof aint right aint nothing else going to last due to water damage.
posted by bartonlong at 3:29 PM on August 6, 2012

I've roofed my own home in the past and did it well, but as others have said, with a one story home with a shallow roof it's pretty easy. But steep roofs are a whole nother ball of wax, much more difficult to work on, much more dangerous. If you try it yourself (which I personally recommend against) make sure you have an insurance policy that will actually cover someone falling off. And that means, not hope that it covers this situation, but actually covers it.

Don't do a steep roof yourself. Even roofers hate steep roofs.
posted by johngumbo at 4:31 PM on August 6, 2012

Maybe you could do the tear down (e.g. stripping off the old roof, disposal etc and re-decking) and then have the pros come in to put on the new roof? That could cut your costs.
posted by jaimystery at 4:33 PM on August 6, 2012

You know what roofers often have that you don't? A shingle elevator. Just consider how many packs you'll have to hoist up. It's not impossible, but since I get antsy climbing an extension ladder with a can of paint, I can't picture doing it with a pack of shingles on my shoulders.
posted by plinth at 5:19 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are tackling something in the neighborhood steeper than 9 in 12 pitch, you are going to want to install some jacks. I like foot pedal ladder jacks installed on secured vertical 4x4 (you can marry up long 2x4's depending on heights) to create a platform for the edge work. Then get your roof jacks spaced for available ladder lengths to reach the peak. Order the finish material to be roof loaded, and make sure you spread the load. I prefer to have the tear off done and the roof in the dry with 30# felt and drip edge installed prior to loading finish materials. Good Luck.

Everyone on the roof should have a properly anchored safety line secured to their lanyard and harness. There, I've covered myself.
posted by vozworth at 6:18 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If this were a flat roof, I'd say go for it. But it's a steeply pitched roof, and that means there's a metric ton of things that can go wrong. Hire it out and save yourself the potential for disaster.
posted by azpenguin at 11:14 PM on August 6, 2012

A lot of friends can do a pretty good job on a one-story house,


Slight derail, but- if asphalt shingles, the side that touches the roof may have a smear of tar that is covered with clear plastic. He's supposed to take the plastic off so the tar can heat up and create a seal once the shingle's nailed to the roof.

I've seen professionals neglect this step because it's kind of a pain.
posted by BWA at 6:47 AM on August 7, 2012

I renovated a Princess Anne, and did: plumbing, sewer plumbing, plaster/lathe repair, drywalling, gas pipe repair, ran electrical lines, replaced insulation, installed switches, installed storm windows, repaired hinged doors, painted, replaced my low-shallow roof, and repaired my high-steep roof.

Roof work was far and away the hardest and most dangerous job. If it's not a small repair, or an extremely low, shallow pitch, hire a professional. Best $10k I've ever spent, and I'm a cheap sonofabitch (like most renovators!).
posted by IAmBroom at 8:54 AM on August 16, 2012

(Oops - meant to say I had someone ELSE repair my high-steep roof, after doing the low roof myself.)
posted by IAmBroom at 8:54 AM on August 16, 2012

As far as the plastic strip goes: probably not necessary.

Can't agree enough on the idea of a compressor and a nailer. Time savings and bodily wear and tear are hard to beat, plus, then you'll have a compressor!

I think the question of whether the insurance will cover you if your work fails is a not insignificant one. Your work could be better than the contractor you would've hired, and it still might leak, and you still might be screwed depending on how your insurance company plays it.

Other thing to consider is whether there is some possibility of need for lead abatement when removing old material. You might be surprised at what you find under those 7 layers of shingles. I wasn't expecting painted boards but there they were.

As someone who totally would prefer to diy, sometimes to the point of self-delusion, hire out.
posted by BleachBypass at 3:20 PM on August 23, 2012

Plus, if I am thinking of the correct roofline, you have all sorts of valleys and nuttiness to deal with. An A-frame is cake, but weaving shingles together at some weird steampunk roofline-space-time intersection would be a bitch. (Look for articles in FHB on how to do it.)
posted by BleachBypass at 3:23 PM on August 23, 2012

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