Depending on where you live, the end of winter means different things. Maybe it’s the anticipation of an explosion of colorful wildflowers, or maybe it’s just a break from all the heavy, wet snow on absolutely everything. Either way, those warming days when winter starts to turn to spring are ideal for checking your roof for damage from the past season’s storms.
You don’t have to be a roofer to do a simple roof inspection on your own home. There are a few common symptoms of a sick roof that can tip you off that you need to get a set of professional eyes on the job.
Safety First: Looking Up or Climbing Up?
Before we go any further, it’s important to stress the safety considerations involved in roof inspections. Walking around on a roof is dangerous business, even if you’re an experienced roofer. This is why roofers often wear harnesses and other types of safety gear. For the purposes of the style of homeowner roof inspections we’re discussing, you’re not going to set foot on the roof — period. No ifs, ands or buts. Instead, you’ll use no more than two handy tools: a pair of binoculars and a tall ladder.
All roof inspections should start on the ground with your eyes and binoculars, you’ll want to be certain that the fascia is intact and in good shape all around your home before you lean an extension ladder against it. If it isn’t, a six foot stepladder is called for. As always, when using any kind of ladder, make sure someone is nearby to help you stabilize it and to call for an ambulance if you were to fall. Ladder work should be considered potentially dangerous, so proceed with care. Use your binoculars whenever possible, save the ladder work for those hard to get to spots.
Sign of Trouble Up North
Now that we have the disclosures out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the thing. Since about 80 percent of the roofs on North American homes are asphalt shingles, that’s what we’re going to focus this roof inspection on. Follow this checklist as you go around your house, completing one whole side before moving to the next.
Fascia Begin at the beginning. Check the fascia for signs of rot or water damage, including soft spots, green algae or places where the board is starting to come apart. If the fascia is pulling off of your house, dig deeper and look for rot or damage before proceeding. This may call for expert help.
Soffit Your soffit keeps critters out and lets just enough air in for proper ventilation. If screens are torn or vents are blocked, this is a good time to clean them out. If you’ve got other problems, it might be time to replace these work horses.
Gutters They’re not really part of the roof, but they’re roof accessories, so make sure your gutters are also looking good while you’re checking the roof. Sagging or signs of separation will warrant further examination.
Drip Edge In the space where your shingles stop and the open air begin, there’s a thin strip of metal called the drip edge. It literally does what it says, it moves drips and drops of water from the shingles and away from the fascia. If you have gutters, you may not be able to see this from the ground, but if you can see it, just check that it’s not rusted, bent or broken.
Shingles Shingles are pretty cut and dry when it comes to aging and damage. Either they’re torn off, curling up, missing grit or growing moss or they’re more or less ok. The black streaky stuff on your lighter colored roof isn’t anything to worry about, especially if there are big trees over your home. This is just a harmless variety of algae that grows on shingles that aren’t algae-resistant.
Flashing Anywhere that your roof joins something else, like a chimney or even creates a valley, there may be metal flashing to protect against leaks. Check that it’s not rusted or oxidizing and that any tar looks like it’s still healthy, not dried out. Rust is rust colored, irregular and almost stone-like, oxidation is white and powdery.
Vents There’s not much to know about vents, except that having plenty is great, and fewer isn’t as awesome. However, if you can see them well from the ground, check that they’re not too dented and if they’re the type that rotate, they’re functioning. Dents indicate they’re hail storm survivors and your roof may need to be checked by your insurance company for hail damage.
Chimney Since you have your binoculars out, go ahead and check any masonry chimneys you have. Just make sure all the chinking (the filling, if you will, between the bricks) is intact and the bricks are whole and where they should be. If any brick faces are breaking off or the chinking is crumbling, this is cause for concern and a call to a brick mason sooner rather than later.
From the ladder, pretty much everything on the ground list applies in the same fashion. You’ll just be closer and possibly have an easier time discerning the details. Although there are some people who will tell you that you must walk the roof (or at least climb the ladder), the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors seems to think it’s perfectly fine to inspect a roof from the ground to determine if it needs further examination by a roofing expert.
How Often Should You Inspect Your Roof?
If your roof is less than five years old, a quick look now and again, along with a longer exam after a severe storm or high winds, should suffice. Roofs between five and ten years old should definitely be inspected yearly, though more often is obviously better. Any roof older than ten years should be inspected quarterly, along with a professional inspection from a roofing contractor once a year.
It may seem like a lot of hassle, but a compromised roof can damage a lot of other things, too. Along with the insulation in your attic, the sheetrock in your ceiling, your attic-mounted furnace and even the lumber holding that roof over your head could be at risk. It’s a small investment of your time to ensure that your home remains safe and mold-free.