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You can help your roof last longer

Here are a few questions from our readers that I think you will find interesting.

QUESTION: My roof is getting old and it won’t be long before I need a new one. I know roof replacement is expensive. Is there anything I can do to prolong its life expectancy and put off having to replace it for a while?

ANSWER: Yes, there is.

First, if you know when the roof was installed remember that a standard 3-tab roof shingle has an average approximate 20-year life expectancy. The newer dimensional shingles last longer. Also keep in mind that shady environments have the tendency to shorten the life expectancy while sunny environments increase it.

Add to the above that the weak spots in the roof that are sensitive to leaking and failure are seams and valleys, ridge cap (the shingles at the very peak of the root), lower shingles near the gutters and most often penetrations through the roof (chimney, vent pipes, skylights, etc.). Older shingles have the tendency to get brittle as they age. I have seen some homeowners go up there on an older roof to make repairs and cause more damage than they fixed because they were not careful where they were stepping.

Here are some things you can do or hire to have done to extend the life expectancy of your roof.

Cut back overgrowth. No leaves, vines or branches should touch your roof or create excessively shaded areas.


Remove any debris from the roof surface such as; dead branches, pine needles, leaves, etc. You want your roof to be exposed to sunlight and air movement.

Clean your gutters so that they can shed water and ice off the surface as intended.

Remove any excessive moss build-up caused by shady conditions if necessary (although sunlight will lessen and dry moss once you cut back the overgrown trees). There are moss removal products that are easy to apply available at your hardware or builders supply.

Replace or repair any damaged, crooked or missing shingle tabs that may have been impacted by past high winds.

Check and repair the ridge cap shingles that have the tendency to show irregularities more often than the flat areas.

Check the valleys and lightly re-tar or seal any damaged, cracked or openings discovered.

Finally, thinly re-seal plumbing stacks, roof vents, chimney flashings and other penetration that shows wear, openings, separation, peeling or drying out.


You will note that above I stated “lightly re-tar” and in another item stated “thinly re-seal.” Roof sealing adhesives typically work more effectively when not over-applied. When there is too much of the sealant product it has the tendency to shrink, contract and crack faster. The thinner the application, the more elasticity the material has and it will usually last longer.

Just for the record, last year I had the same concern on my roof and hired a licensed contractor (roofer, builder or carpenter). Two of his employees came out, spent about 3 hours on the roof. It cost a few hundred dollars and hopefully I will get several more years out of my roof shingles.

QUESTION: I have a big brick chimney on my house. I just noticed that the bricks near the top have these white stains on them. Is this something I should be concerned about and if so what should 1 do?

ANSWER: Yes, it is something you should be concerned about.

Those white stains are called “efflorescence” and are an indication that water, snow and ice are penetrating the top of the chimney and saturating the bricks below. Over time, these wet bricks will become damaged from the expansion and contraction caused by freezing and thawing weather.

Bricks are not impervious to damage and certain softer types are more prone to this condition.

At the very top of the brick on the chimney there is either a fieldstone cap or more commonly (and less expensive) a bed of concrete tapered at the perimeter edges to encourage water runoff. These concrete caps are called ”coping.”

You noticed that I said “bed of concrete” and not the mortar that the masons use to lay the brick. The reason for this is because concrete is harder than mortar and more resistant to cracking. Often mortar is actually used in this area accidentally and will need repair sooner.

The top of your chimney needs to be re-sealed with a thin layer of an appropriate product. You may want to have a licensed “chimney sweep” perform the task who can simultaneously check the inside of the chimney, remove any debris and clean it if necessary. They are more comfortable with the high ladders needed, have the equipment on hand, do the job quickly and prevent more expensive repair. Also make sure that anyone you hire is insured. This is considered a hazardous task. Good luck.


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