Credit: Credit: courtesy Troy Marshall, Marshall Roofing

If a homeowner calls Mark Kaufman Roofing, of Port Charlotte, Fla., about getting a new roof installed, it's either because they know the roof is 15 or 20 years old ? about the maximum life span for a shingle roof in Florida ? or because the roof is leaking.

Indentations, Kaufman says, are a tell-tale sign of a failing roof. Soft spots are especially obvious if you climb the roof, which Kaufman does, taking a camera with him. "I can go up and find places I can step right through," he says. Pictures ? Kaufman develops them in his truck and includes them in the proposal ? convince the disbelieving.

Once, up on a roof, Kaufman photographed the well-worn roof of the house next door, and within a month his crew was busy replacing that roof as well.

Inside and Out

Whether a roof is at the end of its life might or might not be obvious from the ground. But it will be clear if you go up on the roof. Troy Marshall, owner of Marshall Roofing, in Lorton, Va., says that "when I walk a roof, I pretty much know if there is going to be any leaking inside there."

What indicates that the roof is shot, besides those dips?

  • Without actually getting on the roof, curling, burnt, or missing shingles are a tell-tale sign of a shingle roof at the end of its life. That, plus stress fractures or spider cracks, indicates that the surface area is deteriorating. So does an absence of granules from shingles or a gutter full of granular material.
  • On the roof itself Marshall looks for nails that are popping or pipes with their sealant eaten away. Lorin Miller, of Miller Custom Exteriors, in Fredericksburg, Ohio, says that he looks for flashing problems. "Sometimes we find that they replaced the roof but not the flashing," he says. So the roof could be 10 years old, but the flashing has been in place for 30 years. And that would be the likely entry point for water. "If that's the case, you might be able to re-flash the chimney" and other roof penetrations, Miller says, "and the roof might have another 10 years of life in it. You have to help the homeowner make that assessment."

I Need to See Your Attic

Marshall also requests that homeowners show him to the attic, looking for stains and dark spots on the sheathing. Going in the attic is "like taking an X-ray to see if you have pneumonia," he says.

Miller agrees. "I don't just put a roof on and go," he says. "I'm there to solve a problem." And the problem may be lack of ventilation or adequate insulation. If that's the case, a new roof will deteriorate at a far more rapid rate. You won't know what the real problems are, he points out, without an attic inspection. And "the greatest surprises come in the attic."

That could be mold, mildew, or other evidence of moisture accumulation. Miller says he recently ventured into an attic where "all the sheathing was delaminating. The inner layer of plywood was hanging in strands. It had cooked off." He was the fifth roofer to look at the house but was the only one to go in the attic. When he emerges from doing attic inspections, he says, "the first thing people ask is: What did you find?"