Should You Repair or Replace Your Roof?

By James Dulley

December 6, 2018 4 min read

Dear James: I have noticed some damp dark spots on my bedroom ceiling from an old leaky shingle roof after it rains. How do I know whether it is best to have the leaks repaired or have the entire roof replaced? — Jen B.

Dear Jen: If you are already seeing dark spots on your ceiling, don't wait too much longer to get it repaired or replaced. The dark color is mildew that has developed from long-term dampness. This dampness may also have already caused some rot damage to the structural lumber in the roof and attic.

Although there are several telltale signs that the entire roof needs to be replaced, replacing it or repairing it is not always an obvious decision. The best method is to inspect it yourself and get the opinions of several roofers. Keep in mind, though, that the roofers will be more inclined to suggest replacing the entire roof.

There are many factors that impact the life of a shingle roof. These include the initial quality of the shingles, local climate conditions, proper roof design, proper attic ventilation and general roof maintenance. The general roof maintenance includes keeping the gutters clean, removing organic matter (tree limbs and leaves) and checking periodically for damaged shingles.

As a rule of thumb, if your house has standard thickness shingles, you can expect about a 20-year life from them. Many of the warranties on these shingles are also 20 years. Some thicker architectural shingles have much longer warranties. If the shingles are less than 10 years old, unless you find many leaks in many different areas, it would be wise to just repair the damaged areas.

If your shingles are in the 10- to 20-year-old range, doing an inspection yourself will help you make your decision. First, go up into the attic with a flashlight and inspect the underside of the roof sheathing for signs of dampness. It is often difficult to find the exact location of the actual leaks because water may follow along a rafter quite a distance before it drips off to the ceiling below.

You may be lucky and see damp spots on the sheathing where the water has come through. Probe these spots with a thin screwdriver to see if the sheathing is still in sound condition. Sheathing often has small pinholes, which are not a problem. When you find a pinhole, VERY GENTLY poke a stiff wire into it and see if it easily penetrates the shingles.

Get a helper and a good-quality ladder so you can view the roof. A typical sign of roofing problems is curled edges on the shingles. This may be caused by age or excessive heat from inadequate attic ventilation. If you can touch one of the curled edges, you will notice it is brittle. Extensive curling will require a tear-off of the old shingles and an entirely new roof.

Inspect the flashings, where the shingles meet the walls or chimney, for signs of rust or damage. If the shingles look good, the flashing can be repaired. Check valleys where two roof planes come together; this area gets the heaviest water flow during a rain. Inspect the boots around the base of vent pipes through the roof. They do fail and can easily be replaced without replacing the entire roof.

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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