Dear James: Over the past six months, I have noticed dark spots on my bedroom ceiling after it rains. I don't know if my roof needs to be repaired or replaced. How will I know when it's time for an entire reroofing job? — Carol S.
Dear Carol: The actual life span of a roof system is determined by many factors: your local climate and environmental conditions, proper building and roof system design, material quality and suitability, proper application and adequate roof maintenance.
A worn roof can lead to leaks as well as ruined plaster or drywall. If not corrected, it can lead to rot in the rafters, walls, ceilings and even the floors. It is a good idea to inspect your ceilings regularly for stains or discolorations, which often indicate roof problems.
If a shingle roof is over 20 years old and you notice any leaks, a complete reroofing job is probably best. If it is under 15 years old and the leaks are concentrated in only one or two small areas, making repairs is your best option.
Inspect the underside of the roof with a bright flashlight from inside the attic. A few pinholes in the sheathing are normal. These usually swell shut when the roof is wet. If you see signs of water leakage near the pinholes, though, stick a piece of wire through the hole to see if it, too, easily penetrates the shingles.
You should check your roof twice a year — in fall and spring. If extensive work is necessary, the summer months will provide warm dry weather for the repairs. The heat is particularly helpful when repairing old asphalt shingles.
Scan the ridgeline. It should be perfectly horizontal. You can assess the rafters by looking along the plane of each roof section; they should be straight. If there appears to be any sagging, it could indicate structural problems from a prolonged leak.
Inspect the roof's surface. Look for obvious damage first — curled shingle edges, cracked tiles, warped wood shakes or missing shingles. Inspect the flashings for rust spots and broken seals along the edges.
Look for heavy wear around the valleys (the places where water runs off into the gutters). Inspect flashing areas around the chimneys and vent pipes and check for cracks, gaps and missing caulking. If you have metal gutters and downspouts, look for rust spots and holes.
With asphalt shingle roofs, look for black areas that show the shingles are cracking. If shingles are brittle, they may have lost their protective inner oils, in which case, you will need to reroof. Look for thin weatherworn shingles that have bald spots where the protective granules have worn away.
If there are only a few bad spots, you can probably do the repair work yourself. There should be many do-it-yourself books at your local library that can guide you through the repair process.
If your house has wooden shingles or shakes, check for curled, warped and split shingles. Look for any spots where the nails have become loose or rusted. If only a few spots need work, you may be able to make the repairs. If wood shakes are dry (crumble easily between your fingers) or extensively warped or cracked, reroofing will be necessary.
With properly installed tile or slate, a roof will generally last a lifetime. However, individual tiles can chip or break. If a tile is cracked or broken across its face in either direction, it should be replaced.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.