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Roofing #101: Is Your Roof Prepared to Pass the Test of Winter Weather? 

The roof is one of the most important structural elements of a home. But how well your roof holds up over time depends on several factors, some of which you can influence and others you can’t change. The average roof is designed to last about 20 years, according to the National Roofing Contactors Association. The roof’s slope, material, and your local weather conditions, however, can all influence a roof’s lifespan—along with how well you, the homeowner, take care of the roof. If you’re not sure your roof’s age or are aware that it’s closer to 20 years old than it is to brand-new, pay attention to these factors when giving your roof a periodic exam: 

Have you had inclement or unusual weather lately?
If you’ve just been through a hurricane, the wettest winter on record, or the hottest summer ever, your roof needs more than a cursory check-up. Wet, windy weather can clog gutters, while packed snow and ice can strain the roof. Hot weather can lead to drying and moisture may encourage moss.   

Are asphalt roof shingles curled, cracked, or missing?
Typical asphalt shingles are derived from petroleum and other chemical products and are designed to last up to 30 years, but may need replacing somewhere between 15 and 30 years of age. Many roofing professionals suggest checking this type of roofing in spring and fall and making spot replacements of damaged shingles—which include shingles that are cracked, curling, broken, or missing. If only a few shingles are damaged, replacing individual shingles is fine (and very necessary—neglect this duty and leaks could appear). If many shingles are impacted, it may be time for a roof replacement.

Do you have leaks in the attic?
To find out, use a flashlight and examine thoroughly.  The presence of water in the attic is not always due to a leak. For instance, condensation or poor ventilation can lead to some water in the attic. But the appearance of water stains or drips may indicate your roof is leaking. If the stains or water appear below chimneys or near attic windows, it may mean flashing is the culprit.

Are protective mineral granules on roof shingles washing off?
To find out, check gutters and downspouts for tiny granules. If small granules of roofing material appear, that may mean the roof is aging and should be replaced within a few years.

Is roof flashing installed correctly?
Flashing is the material that connects the roof to other parts of the home that connect to the roof, such as chimneys, windows that protrude from the roof, skylights, adjoining garage structures, or vents. Poorly-flashed roofs are among the top causes of leaks.                                                           

Are gutters and downspouts rust-free and debris-free?
Improperly installed, rusting, or clogged gutters won’t direct water away from the house and could distribute water near the home’s foundation, increasing the chance of basement floods or foundation-related moisture problems.

What sort of roof do you have?
Once you know, you may get a better sense of how long your roof will last. Asphalt or composition shingle roofs can last up to 30 years, manufacturers say, but they may wear down faster in hot climates. Slate roofs can last up to 75 years, but once slates begin breaking, repair can become expensive. Flat roofs need to be examined for pooling water, which can lead to moisture penetration.                  

Do tall trees touch your roof or home, and could a branch fall on your roof?
Be sure to trim back tall trees or protruding branches at least annually to protect the roof not just from a limb’s unexpected fall, but also from leaves and debris that can pile up in gutters.

For more information on roofs and roofing, the National Roofing Contractors Association provides a detailed guide to types of roofs and vocabulary on different parts of the roof:http://www.nrca.net/consumer/fyi.aspx. WIN Home Inspection also makes roofs easy to understand: http://www.wini.com/articles/systems/roof.