roof replacement - what do I need to learn now?

blackcats13March 24, 2009

So it seems that someone who was taking care of the house before we bought it was caulking up leaks in the roof, if I understood correctly, and that the structure of the roof might not be strong enough to hold the weight of the layers currently up there (at least 3). After my discussion with the (very knowledgeable) neighbor, I starting thinking maybe we shouldn't let the roof go another year or 2. I plan to get some people out to take a look and give us repair and replace quotes in the next couple of weeks to see what's what. In the meantime, I have some thoughts/questions floating around in my brain (as always).

1. We had an energy audit recently. One of the things in the report is: "Your attic space is technically ventilated, but there's so much vaulted ceiling area and so few vents in the soffits that it's doubtful the ventilation is having much effect anyway. You may as well open up the main ceiling to be vaulted as well." This is an interesting concept to me. Any comments?

2. We haven't seen any signs of the roof leaking, but obviously that doesn't mean it isn't. Apparently the previous owner knew there was leaking, because he tried to "fix" it. How worried would you be about this? We did have the roof inspected, though he didn't actually get up there (sadly), he did say it needed to be replaced. He also indicated the ... underlayment? seemed to be in good condition as seen from the attic access. Is this a "throw the emergency fund at it" type of repair? Or do we wait until we see visible signs? By that point, how much additional damage have we done by waiting?

3. If this is a 'do NOW' type of thing would you do the following. Put it on the empty credit card with 5.99% interest (until April 2010) and a 3% "balance transfer" fee. I can't say if it would be paid off by then or not since I don't actually know how much this would cost. While I'm not keen on taking on additional debt right now, I'm even less keen on the idea of the roof unknowingly leaking and causing more problems later.

Any thoughts, comments, advice, knowledge? Anything would help at this point, as this is not one of the areas I've studied up on yet.

Here is a link that might be useful: our house

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Don't repair your house on a credit card in this economy. If you can see the underside of the sheathing and it is dry you should be fine for now. What do you mean by vaulted ceilings? The term is so misused it has become meaningless to me.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2009 at 10:50PM
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I can't answer all your questions, but I can offer some advice based on my own experience.

First, from what I can see in the pics, your roof doesn't look that bad.

Nothing against the knowledgable neighbor, but if he isn't a contractor, appreciate what he has to say and seek professional advice. Don't give contractors the impression that you're worried about your roof falling in, because SOME may feed into your 'paranoia' for lack of a better term, and no offense intended by that comment.

I'm saying this because I've had situations where we obtained quotes on tuckpointing our chimney, and of course there's one contractor out there who tries to scare us into thinking our chimney is going to fall down tomorrow and it better be rebuilt for a whopping $25k. We got it tuckpointed by another contractor for $300 who laughed when we told them about the other quote. I'm not implying that ALL contractors are dishonest, I'm just saying this was my experience with this particular contractor.

If roofs weren't designed to support three layers of shingles, there wouldn't be an ordinance allowing this many layers on your roof in the first place. Three layers are the maximum allowable.

I would also go around the neighborhood and ask for recommendations for a roofing contractor rather than just pulling out of the phone book. Go to your local church and ask them. Word of mouth, in my opinion, is best, and sometimes contractors who don't spend money on advertising costs have more reasonable, lower rates. Get several quotes, and compare them. The more you do your homework, you'll get a good feel for what the job is worth. ASK your contractor for references, and contact prior customers and ask them questions - would they have done anything differently, is there anything they could recommend that you wouldn't have thought to ask at the very beginning, etc. Submit all change requests in writing.

Similarly, our roof was a three-layer complete tear-off, which of course is going to be pricier than just adding another layer of shingles.

Be sure EVERYTHING they're replacing is written in the contract - flashing, gutters, etc. I'd recommend a 'ridge vent' for proper ventilation, not sure if this is standard these days?? I'm not sure what you mean by, 'You may as well open up the main ceiling to be vaulted as well'?? This could be a simple matter of adding more vents in your attic when the roof is replaced. Problem solved.

If you need gutters replaced, now's the time to do it - you'll get a better 'package' deal, at least we did. I had some ill-placed gutters re-routed.

Since our entire roof was a tear-off, we added a master bath rough-in for just maybe $800 extra, as we were only paying for lumber - the roof was already being torn off, so all they had to do was expand the frame. Can you expand the roof anywhere? Now's the time to do it!

You can probably inspect the underlayment from inside your home yourself. Go around with a flashlight to check for signs of leaking. We were told our roof needed to be replaced as well, but we also saw signs of leaking and later found carpenter ants in our attic on the underlayer of original cedar roof shingles that were covered over. Not good. Also, for this reason, if there are any tree branches near your roof line, cut them away as carpenter ants will use this as a conduit to your roofline. They love moisture. Be sure to replace any rotting wood. We also used a pesticide in this area of our attic for the next two years just to be safe.

From a financial standpoint, I would look into taking out a home equity loan for the roof fund, if feasible. Even if you don't do the roof now, you know that the funds are available in an emergency if necessary.

When the time comes, be prepared that when the roof comes off, there will be less weight on your house, the house may have minor shifting due to less weight on the support beams, and you may or may not have very minor surface cracks in the walls afterwards (we have an old 1920's home), but nothing major that simple patching won't cover over.

If you use your attic for personal storage, competely cover your belongings with tarps or remove EVERYTHING and store elsewhere until the roof is done, and plan on using a shop vac when the job is done - nails, dust, etc.

Prior to the start of the job, clear areas in your attic so the contractor can properly inspect the roof from the interior as a precaution to locate potential weak spots. They'll appreciate that and I'd imagine they recommend it for their own safety.

Cover ALL plantings outside. The contractors will do their best to discard all materials on tarps, but it's inevitable that you will find nails and refuse on your lawn and in your plantings.

Don't let them talk you into storing a dumpster on your driveway. It will become so heavy you risk cracking your driveway, and residential driveways aren't designed to hold all that weight. You may have to pay a little extra to have a dumpster on the city street, and of course a permit may be required depending on your municipality, but I'd insist on it and pay the extra $.

Lastly, be good to your contractors and they'll be good to you. We supplied them with a cooler of refreshments (they were on the roof on the hottest days of the summer - talk about hard workers). They don't like to be watched over, it makes them nervous and you don't want a nervous contractor trying to balance their footing on your roof. Our contractors didn't like the fact that our neighbor plopped himself out there everyday on a lawn chair and watched them from dawn to dusk. Ugh. That's another story!

Very important - you should obtain a lien waiver from your contractor when final payment is submitted. This is especially important if you are working with a company who subcontracts their work. THEY are responsible for paying the subcontractor as part of your original contract agreement, not you.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 1:30AM
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I totally agree with everything timcoco wrote, but would add the following.

Labor is the major cost in any reroofing, so choose shingles with the longest warranty you can find; it will wind up being cheaper in the long run.

Many people - including me - believe "organic" shingles are a better choice than fiberglass in extreme climates.

Some codes - not all - do permit three layers of shingles, but that does not mean its a good practice.

Make sure your contract specifies the use of nails, not staples.

If you live somewhere ice dams can be a problem, covering the entire roof deck with an ice an water shield type product is well worth the extra expense.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 5:50AM
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That is some excellent information. I knew I could depend on the people here. Thank you!!

Going by what I remember of the conversation re: vaulted ceilings, if you were to look at the pic of our house and see how the roof peaks, then imagine that as a small triangle (a little above the top of the 2nd flr window), that's our attic space. The rooms on the 2nd floor have attic space above them, but the attic is not the entire 2nd floor/under roof space. I have no idea how to explain this, sorry. So I got the impression from him (auditor) that we should basically have the ceiling of the rooms on the 2nd floor follow the roof line all the way up, giving them cathedral or vaulted ceiling depending on the room. Does that make any sense at all? The consideration with that being the fact that we need to insulate the attic. If we tear off the roof, insulating it is easy. But if we don't tear off the roof we have to decide if we are going to put down more insulation on the "floor" of the attic and not raise room ceilings below, or insulate the rafters under the roof (which would be wasted when we DO replace the roof). I'm pretty sure I'm not being very clear about this.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 6:44PM
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Make sure that the disposal of the old shingles is included in the estimate.

Get EVERYTHING in writing, make sure when you are searching for estimates you are asking for and receiving quotes on the same items and services.

not only ask for references BUT go see the work and talk to the resident. Ask for one from several years back and one from recently. It will give you some idea of the type of work they do.

Do NOT pay in advance, a good company won't ask for it in advance it should be a red flag if they do.

Three layers is a lot of weight for a roof which will translate to a larger than normal bill for disposal if you need to strip it down to the base. REMEMBER too that the price of plywood will increase if their is a major hurricane like Katrine or Andrew.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 6:46PM
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Our contractors didn't like the fact that our neighbor plopped himself out there everyday on a lawn chair and watched them from dawn to dusk.

Neither did the roofing contractor on a house I built. Especially when the neighbour pointed out to me that the roofer had slipped in a few bundles of 20-year shingles among the 30-year shingles he was supposed to be installing.

Nosey neighbours have their uses!

Converting your attic to a cathedral ceiling is not a simple matter. It is structural work that requires engineering/architectural input.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 6:16PM
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Thanks Worthy, that's important info!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 9:55AM
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And that leads me to another question, say we just scrap the cathedral ceiling idea, if we are going to be replacing the roof (tear off) either this summer or in a couple years, is adding more attic insulation now a bad idea? Does it get damaged and have to be replaced when the roof is replaced? I'm talking about the stuff on the attic floor, not in the ceiling rafters.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 10:16AM
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It depends on the roofers. If they have to replace some of the sheathing, your insulation will be exposed to the elements. As long as they work carefully there should be no particular problem. I've replaced sheathing on a 20-year old cottage I owned. In an example of a classic mistake, the original builder hadn't used any eaves protection, so the first three feet of sheathing was rotted. We snapped chalk lines and ran a circular saw down the line. Which also exposed a carpenter ant's nest that I had suspected was somewhere up there!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 12:01PM
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Oh gosh! The "joy" of old houses!! There are several things we are just ignoring right now on the assumption that they may end up being much bigger fixes the anticipated (bathroom walls for one).

Thanks again worthy!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 12:32PM
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