Roof Maintenance … Do You Know What To Do?

Roof1Many of us are a bit remiss when it comes to roof maintenance. We give it our attention when we notice a water leak inside the home or perhaps we see a shingle or tile missing while working in the yard. In truth, it’s just as important to do regular roof maintenance as it is to maintain your major appliances. Why? Because with a roof, anything that begins very small can expand to something very large … and expensive to repair. So, it’s best to catch problems while they still are very small. Additionally, regular maintenance will extend the life of your home’s roof.
Though there are several different types of roofs that require their own types of maintenance, the following applies to all roofs:

  1. All roofs should be inspected every six months by a professional (annually) and/or the homeowner for the second inspection. Though it seems that the homeowner should be able to do both their own visual inspections, a good inspection means that you are stepping on the roof and closely scrutinizing it with an expert’s eye.

Roof2An elderly woman I know had her grandson visually inspect her roof for her … he viewed the roof from a ladder at the gutter’s edge. She continued to have problems with small leaks, even though he told her the shingles were fine. She finally had someone with some experience check the roof for her … he got on the roof and began systematically checking the shingles and looking closely at the areas between the shingle tabs. He found that the heavy asphalt shingles were disguising the wear in those areas clear down to the wood beneath. She needed a new roof. A professional would have been able to find the problem on the first inspection, saving the interior water damage she eventually experienced.

n exterior inspection includes looking for damage or other irregularities, particularly:

  • tiles or shingles that are loose, broken, displaced or missing;
  • curling at the edges or corners of the roof;
  • crinkled caulking and roofing cement;
  • warped or holes in the flashing;
  • discolored streaks, which means the presence of algae, mold or fungus that can eat away at your roofing material; and
  • standing water on the roof, the weight of which eventually can make your roof sag and collapse in the future.

Roof4Interior inspection of the roof includes:

  • clearing all attic vents of obstructions – they keep heat and moisture from building up under the roof;
  • closely inspecting the ceiling and drywall completely … if you suspect or feel moisture or discolored paint, there could be a leak in the roof; and
  • looking for any water stains or moisture anywhere on the roof decking or holes in the insulation caused by water drips.

Replace or repair any exterior or interior roof damage immediately before the problem becomes an even bigger one.

  1. Clean off all debris from the roof that can hold dirt and water, discolor your tiles or shingles, and eventually deteriorate the roofing material over time.
  2. Keep all overhanging tree branches trimmed back. These can scratch and gouge the roofing materials. They add extra moisture to the roof after it rains. Falling debris from the trees can clog gutters and create a debris build up on the roof.
  3. Speaking of gutters, keep these clean and clear of debris and dirt, both of which clog gutters and backs up water. The weight of water build up in gutters can bring them down just as quickly as ice build up in the northern part of our country.

Roofing materials in South Florida endure constant abuse from the weather, which requires regular cleaning and maintenance. However, the homes in our area also come in many shapes, colors and materials. The following looks at some specific roof types seen often in South Florida.

For warm weather regions, such as South Florida, tile is a great alternative to shingles … and very attractive. Tile roofs can have a life expectancy of more than 50 years; yet, they are more fragile in some respects than shingled roofs. Tiles are fragile and can be damaged just by a person walking on the roof (be especially watchful of exterminators, who are notorious for walking directly on tile roofs). You must use planks or a roof ladder – never just step on a tiled roof. This is especially true for older tiles, which become brittle with age.

 Roof6 Roof5

Terracotta roof at right and cement tiles, respectively.

Have your roof cleaned by a professional twice yearly. This will not only get rid of  discoloration and fungus growth, but it also will extend the life of your roof, ensuring it continues to look as good as the day it was laid. Pressure washing should not be used on any roof.

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Two dirty tile roofs.

The most time consuming maintenance for tiles is restoring a roof that has faded from the sun and weather elements. This entails:

  1. washing the roof;
  2. buffing the tiles to reduce a naturally occurring chalky deposit that collects on its surface;
  3. priming the tiles with a clear alkyd primer (if you do not prime, then you will have to sand each tile manually;
  4. painting with a heavy duty acrylic paint (try to use one that is mildew resistant); and
  5. sealing the tiles by applying a clear acrylic sealant for a lasting appearance.

Brightly colored, slurry coated tiles can fade within 20 years; however, the integral colored tiles retain their base color through the life expectancy of the roof. With cleaning/washing the roof and sealing periodically, you can prolong the life of both types of tiles.
Common in tile roofs is the growth of moss or lichen (fungus/algae), both of which can attract moisture and block valleys in the roof.

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Tile roofs with moss and lichen, respectively.

With cement tiles, also look for loose mortar under ridge and hip tiles. Repair any problems immediately.

Slate tile roofs require repairs and tile replacements be done mechanically; thus, you need to contact a professional to do the job.

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Two examples of slate tiles.

Roof14There are two main types of asphalt composition shingles – architectural and three-tab. The architectural type has a longer life expectancy but more expensive. For the best weather protection, both types should be rated impact resistant with a UL2218 class three or four rating.
Besides the inspection items listed earlier for all roofs, asphalt shingle roofs need the following checked as well:

  1. roof cement flashings should be checked every two to three years; these flashings are only to be temporary and should be replaced with metal flashings;
  2. there should be no more than two layers of shingles for most city building codes;
  3. Roof15buckling, splitting or cupping of shingles;
  4. exposed nail heads on the surface of the shingle;
  5. loose or missing granules from the shingles, showing patches of black asphalt from beneath:
    1. widespread wash-off of granules would indicate the need for a new roof;
    2. a small sprinkling of lost granules is normal; it’s the large amounts that create a problem; and
    3. losses in the areas between the tabs also indicate a new roof is needed.


  6. Moss and/or lichen issues are easier to resolve with asphalt shingles than with tiles. Just treat the roof with a fungicide and clean with a soft bristle broom for lichen (algae/fungus). For moss, mix one part bleach to four parts water and use a soft bristle broom in this solution to clean the roof. For both solutions, disconnect the down pipes and brush the shingles downward toward the front edge of the shingles;
  7. Give special inspection attention to valleys, which tend to deteriorate more quickly than other areas of the roof;
  8. Carefully check the flashings around anything that protrudes from the roof, such as pipes and chimneys; and
  9. Look at the trim, soffit and fascia around the roof edges … are any loose, displaced, missing or rotten?

On the interior, under the roof, also check the wood decking under the shingles to ensure it is solid and does not easily move using your hand. If it does, you may need a complete new roof … not just new shingles.

Wood shingles are a very attractive roof alternative, though they are often prohibited by area fire codes. They are more expensive than asphalt shingles and are highly susceptible to hail damage.

Moss growth also happens with wood shingles. Just use the same resolution as for asphalt shingles, except use a stiff bristle broom rather than a soft bristled one.

Loose or broken shingles just need to be renailed into place. They also are more apt to warp or split due to natural shrinkage and weathering. Excessive curling indicates a need to replace the entire roof.

Roof16Metal roofs are attractive, lightweight and have a life expectancy of between 40 and 50 years, if kept painted. Again, these roofs are more expensive to lay initially, but they have the least amount of maintenance over time. You also will see lower insurance premiums and energy bills.

Hail and other sources can more easily dent a metal roof. Dents, pinholes, rust and corrosion are important to look for during an inspection of a metal roof.

Ensure that different metals are kept separate from one another. If they touch and eventually become wet from the weather, they will corrode the metal roof panels.

Cleaning metal roofs:

  • To clean an uncoated metal roof, just add a few drops of dish soap to water and wipe with a cloth. Afterward, rinse with the garden hose;
  • A small amount of mineral spirits on a cloth will clean scratched areas, then rinse with clear water, dry and dab a small amount of paint to touch up the scratches; and
  • Use a gentle scrubbing cleanser to get rid of rust spots and mildly corrosive areas, rinse with clear water, dry, sand corrosive areas lightly to remove remaining rust, apply a metal primer to deter future rust, and touch up with paint – do not use a wire brush or scrape the metal.

Repairing metal roofs differs from other roof types in that it generally involves removing entire panels and replacing them with new. Never try to use compounds, caulk or roof cement for repairs.

Only walk on a metal roof where it is supported by structural beams underneath. Otherwise, you can dent and bend the metal.


The underside of a metal roof.

Roof 18Chip Coated Metal Tile is another type of metal roof, shown at right. The tiles are coated with an acrylic primer and chip coating, a beautiful effect. It differs from other roofs in that tiles may lift at the front edge, which can be repaired with additional nails and using compatible fastenings. If it loses its chip coating, it must be recoated by a professional. It also has a problem with moss and lichen, though regular, thorough cleanings will usually keep both at bay. Cleaning more often than other roofs, just use a soft bristle brush with dish soap and water. Additionally, you can have the roof treated by a specialist cleaning company to lessen the amount of needed cleaning each year.


In conclusion, keep in mind that even brand new roofs can have problems from extreme weather or a badly installed roof. So, don’t think you can wait a “few years” before doing regular maintenance and inspections.

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  • S. Florida Home Inspection Assoc.
    P.O. Box 32592, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33420
    Phone: 561-818-5593 Fax: (772) 325-0204 E-mail: