You don't expect your roof to look perfect after several years of layman service, but that doesn't mean you should dismiss minor flaws as nothing to worry about. Some so-called "minor issues" can be the first step toward a major roof failure. Here are four potential problems you should watch out for if you want to avoid roof repairs or even an entire roof replacement.
1. Debris in Gutters
Many homeowners view their blocked gutters as nothing more than a source of social embarrassment (if they view them at all). But this innocent-looking accumulation of leaves, dirt, bird's nests and other debris can do significant harm to your roof. The gutter can't drain properly if it's full of garbage -- and if it can't drain water away from your roof, that water will stay right where it is, causing damage and hosting termite populations that may not visible from a glance.
The fix to this problem is simple enough. Check your gutters regularly and clean them out as needed, especially if you're expecting rain or recovering from a recent storm. Place filters over the gutters to help keep debris and pests out of them.
2. Ice Dams
Ice dams are another form of gutter blockage, this time involving that "harmless" substance, frozen water. A snowy roof and freezing outdoor temperatures set the stage for this calamity in the making. As warmed air rises through your home up to the roof, the snow on the roof melts, causing the water to slide down the edge of the roof. Unfortunately, the water freezes again by the time it gets there, creating a pile of solid ice extending from the gutter back up onto the roof, where it may melt and freeze all over again.
This cycle of melting and freezing poses a serious threat to your roof. The water can eventually get under the shingles and damage the structural supports, while the sheer weight of the ice places an extra burden on the shingles and beams. If you have lots of freezing precipitation each year, consider fitting your gutter with a heated cover that prevents the melted ice from re-freezing on the roof.
3. Moss Growth
Moss can enhance the beauty of an ancient wall or hillside, but you certainly don't want it "beautifying" your roof. This dense mat of tiny leaves grows wherever there's a ready source of moisture and moderate temperatures, which means that it can proliferate in the cracks between your shingles for a substantial part of the year. Moss also acts as a kind of sponge, gathering dew and rain that works its way beneath the shingles and slowly ruins the roof underlayment.
Remove moss from your roof as soon as you see it, but proceed with caution. Using a forceful tool such as a pressure washer can rip the shingles right off, leaving you with an even bigger and more expensive problem. Instead, use a commercial product designed to kill moss, or add a weak acidic or basic solution to change the moss's pH without damaging the shingles.
4. Smooth or Curled Shingles
Your roof's shingles have a tough job. They must bear up under years of exposure to UV rays, heat, cold, rain, hail, ice, snow, wind, and whatever else Mother Nature decides to unleash on them, so it's only natural to see a few signs of wear after a while. Unfortunately, too many owners shrug off these early warning signs of a roof in distress, only to wind up paying lots of money for roof repairs later. Beware of:
- Smooth shingles - Asphalt shingles are normally coated in fine granules. These granules not only add to the aesthetic appeal of the shingles, but they also provide protection against solar radiation and extreme weather. These granules eventually rub off, accumulating in the gutters as grit, so watch out for this debris during your gutter cleaning regimen. The smoother your shingles become, the more vulnerable they are to serious damage -- and when your shingles stop doing their job, the rest of the roof gets damaged too.
- Curled shingles - When shingles start to curl up, they lose their ability to cover the roof properly. This enables moisture to leak in, causing damage to roof beams and possibly the attic. Mold can also become a major problem, hastening the roof's overall deterioration. Curling usually indicates a roof nearing the end of its useful life. (If your roof is already 15 or more years old, it's definitely time for a roof replacement.) But if you have a relatively young roof, you need to replace these shingles immediately before things get worse.
Take care of your roof, and your roof will take care of you. Keep an eye on those "minor issues" and fix them before they become major ones!