Why Do Roofs Fail

January 19, 2024

Though you see your roof nearly every day, you probably don’t think much about it. A roof is composed of many layers, and the inner mechanisms are not visible. So, even if you were regularly inspecting your own roof, it can be hard to tell if it’s failing, or needs attention. Even an experienced roofer can oftentimes not see issues until the roof is taken apart.Inevitably, most homeowners will have to replace a roof at least once in their lifetime, but why do roofs fail?

1.      Workmanship.

Most roofing manufacturers offer“lifetime” warranties on their products. That’s because the material itself is designed to last a lifetime of wear. However, the majority of the time, the material itself does not fail – but the workmanship does. By design, installing a roof seems like a relatively simple task, and many people take the DIY route when replacing their roof. However, the fact is, a roof is actually a complex system of layers that require proper installation from skilled professionals with the right training and tools to ensure it all works together correctly. It is important to select a knowledgeable and experienced roofer to ensure that the components of the roof are installed in a way that will prevent leaks.

2.      Neglect

Most of us know we should be cleaning our gutters regularly, but spring turns to summer, summer turns to fall, fall turns to winter and suddenly it’s been three years since you set your ladder up to clean them. Having clean gutters isn’t just to avoid a downpour of water over your front door. If neglected, too-full gutters can cause water to back up underneath the roof system, deteriorate the underlayment and cause leaks. Or worse, gutters full of dirt and debris can fall, taking the fascia it was installed on with it. This happens all too common, especially in snow-country where standing water inside the gutters freeze. Suddenly, the gutters you neglected to clean have turned into a hundred, if not thousands of dollar mess.

Roofs need attention too though. Roofs inherently have weak areas that, if not regularly inspected and corrected, can cause huge problems. Roof flashings, for instance, over time can lift – this is a relatively simple repair that can be made before it becomes a problem, but if left unnoticed, it eventually can cause a leak that damages the interior of the home. Roof valleys are especially susceptible to leaks, and if not cleaned out regularly, can accumulate a mess of dirt and debris that deteriorate underlayment and eventually leak.

3.      Poor Ventilation

Uncommon knowledge: Roofs need to breathe!If you didn’t know this, don’t fret – the need for ventilation wasn’t even documented until the mid-20th century, this means you can very easily be living in a house right now that was not originally designed to allow the roof to breathe.  Improperly ventilated roofs can cause a plethora of problems, one of them being roof failure. The temperature on a roof can be nearly double the outside temperature. Attics without ventilation trap heat, built-up heat inside can damage your shingles from the inside out. A well-ventilated roof will allow hot air to escape the attic, protecting your roofing material. In colder temperatures, ventilation helps prevent a phenomenon called “ice damming”. Ice damming happens with heat from the attic causes snow to melt near the ridge, as the melted snow runs down the edge of the roof it refreezes, creating an ice dam (and icicles!). As ice and water build up along the edge of the roof,melting snow/water backs up underneath the shingles – wreaking havoc on your interior.

4.      Weather / Acts of God

Tree limbs or, in some cases, entire trees– can fall on your roof and damage the roof and sheathing. In some cases,trusses and other structural damage can occur from this. High wind speeds can pull up roofing material, heavy-wind driven, hail and heavy snow can all cause damage to a roof. A less thought of cause of damage is from rodents, squirrels,and woodpeckers.

In most cases, there are no preventative tactics for eliminating damage caused by weather/acts of God, but hiring a professional roofer can help mediate the damages that occur.

5.      Age

Unfortunately, nothing is designed to last forever, and roofing is no exception. Regardless of the type of material used,no roofing can last forever, and age is the most common reason for roof failure. Over time, the natural changes in temperature, weather, and other elements break down roof material and underlayment. Even in perfect conditions,age alone will affect the performance of the roof over time.

Only the luckiest homeowners will escape having to replace a roof in their lifetimes, whether because of poor workmanship, neglect ventilation issues, acts of God, or age. While most of these are unavoidable,properly maintaining the roof, and regularly inspecting its condition can keep you from being surprised when it inevitably needs replacement.