Roofing basics

It’s a whole lot wiser and more economical to fix your roof before it leaks than to procrastinate. If you do you may find you will then have to fix your roof, ceiling, interior walls, and flooring. The best way to ensure that you won’t have to go back up on the roof anytime soon is to buy the highest-quality roofing materials you can afford. Asphalt shingles are the shingle of choice, and installation is well within a homeowner’s skill. Asphalt shingles are either tab or architectural. Tab shingles are the ones that took America by storm in the 1950s. Architectural shingles are essentially tab shingles with a fancier bottom edge.

Top-notch architectural shingles are guaranteed for 40 years, sometimes longer if the manufacturer’s installation instructions are strictly followed. They’re thicker than low-cost shingles so they resist curling and cupping and generally withstand more abuse from weather extremes. If you happen to have asbestos roof shingles, hire a professional to do the removal and repair. If you’re doing your own work and you’re comfortable working with sheet metal, you can buy galvanized steel or aluminum in bulk rolls and custom-cut it to fit. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend a little more for prefabricated flashing.

THE VARIETY OF ROOFING SHINGLES IS WIDE. Cedar shakes are split from wood (cedar shingles are sawn); 3-tab shingles are the most common shingle; the textured look of architectural shingles comes from laminating small pieces of shingle to a solid shingle base; roll roofing, designed for roofs with a low slope, goes on quickly but is less durable than other materials.

ROOFING REQUIRES A VARIETY OF FASTENERS. Coil nails fit in a nail gun. Use staples in a hand or hammer stapler. Nail down shingles with hot-dipped galvanized roofing nails. Roofing cement comes in a can and a tube; it is used to seal seams and help hold down flashing.

FLASHING KEEPS WATER FROM LEAKING IN WHERE TWO PARTS OF THE ROOF MEET. Vent flashing goes around the plumbing stack that comes out of the roof; use step flashing along chimney edges. Prefab valley flashing goes in the valley where two sloping roofs meet. Cut custom replacement flashing from roll flashing. Gutter aprons and drip edges are used to protect the edges of the roof.

WEAR THE RIGHT GEAR - Roofs are slippery, especially once you've stripped them down to the plywood. Wear the right shoes. Sneakers with flat rubber soles that will grab and hold are great but seem to attract nails. Steel-toed work boots may not be as comfortable but they prevent injuries. Put your tools in a tool belt when working on the roof. Tools set on the roof will obey the laws of gravity and quickly end up on the ground—or someone's head.

Roofing types:

Architectural shingles are solid shingles without water lines like those found on three-tab shingles. Architectural shingles have a textured appearance. They are available with longer warranties than three-tab shingles; however, installation of both types is the same.

Cedar shakes and shingles are wooden. Split shakes, such as the ones shown here, are thicker and last longer. Installation is generally done by professionals.

Clay, or terra-cotta, comes in a variety of shapes: flat tiles, shaped tiles, and the Spanish barrel-shaped tiles. Terra-cotta dates from Roman times but became popular in North America in the 19th century. It's available in its natural, red-clay color, as well as yellow, green, and blue glazed tiles. The tiles were originally made by hand. Makers formed the barrel-shaped tiles by spreading clay over their thighs. Original tiles not only bear the shape of the maker's leg, the surface often contains a handprint made hundreds of years ago by a now-anonymous craftsperson.

Properly installed, slate roofs are said to last 150 years. In some parts of the country, slate was once standard utilitarian roofing, as likely to be found on a barn as on a fancy Victorian home. Today, however, slate is hard to get and expensive. If you're in the market for a new slate roof, have a pro install one (they're very heavy). To repair an existing roof, find an experienced slate roofer and ask what can be done.

METAL ROOFING - Metal roofing comes in three broad categories: standing-seam roofing, panel roofing, and look-alikes including tile, cedar, or slate. Traditional standing-seam metal roofing has large ribs that are crimped or soldered together; panel roofing looks somewhat like it but screws down. Metal roofing is durable and long-lasting, but with the exception of screw-down panels, installation requires special training and is usually left to professionals.

Getting ready for a roofing project

SAFETY HARNESSES ARE A WISE CHOICE - Talk to any roofer and you’ll hear tales of falls from high places. Because of the danger involved, OSHA now requires professional roofers to wear harnesses, and if people who walk on roofs every day of their lives need harnesses, so do you. The kind of harness you want is called a fall-arrest harness, as opposed to a rescue, suspension, or positioning harness. You'll need at least a 25-foot lifeline with a shock-absorbing lanyard (strap) and a roof anchor.

The harness slips over your body and legs and has a ring on the back for the lanyard. The lanyard has a shock-absorbing core that stretches to reduce the shock that occurs when the lifeline stops a fall. The lifeline is a heavy-duty rope, one end of which attaches to the lanyard, the other end to the roof anchor. The roof anchor attaches to the peak of the roof with heavy-duty nails. A good harness system will cost you as much as a good nail gun, but unlike a nail gun, it's required by OSHA and will save your life. Check the Yellow Pages to see if you can rent a harness, but if you have to buy, do so. If you do rent, get printed instructions for using the harness. If your home center doesn’t carry harnesses, check with a roofing distributor or look on the Web and in the Yellow Pages. Buy all the components from the same manufacturer to make sure they work as designed. Ask about kits that include everything you need.

HIRING A PRO? If you’ve decided not to do the job yourself, get a reliable roofer. Ask contractors you’ve worked with for names. Ask the roofers for references and phone numbers, and follow up on the quality of their work. Verify that the roofer is licensed and bonded, and ask for proof. Discuss who will handle disposal of the old roof. Have the roofer take out the permit so that you won’t be responsible for insurance. Get two or three estimates for time and cost. As a rule, it will take two or three workers about a day to strip the average roof, and another day or so to apply shingles.

Measuring for roofing - The first thing you should consider if you’re thinking about roofing is getting up on the roof to measure it. It can be done from the ground, and pros do it all the time, but it’s much simpler to do it on the roof. It's also the acid test: How willing are you to climb up to the ridge or walk over to the edge and peer over? If you’re nervous about climbing up to measure, or if you get up to the roof and freeze (as many a good soul has), hire a pro.

Start measuring by drawing a picture of your roof—not necessarily to scale—and then divide it into a series of rectangles and triangles. Climb up on the roof, watching out for loose shingles that could send you tumbling. Measure the height and width of each rectangle, and multiply them to get the square footage. Multiply the base and height of the triangles, then divide by two to find the area of triangular sections of the roof. Mark your measurements on your sketch and then do the math. Add 10 percent for gables and 15 percent for hips.

When you get to the retailer, tell the salesperson how many square feet you need. The experts can convert into the standard roofing measurement of "squares" and tell you how many bundles you need. If you're curious, a "square" is 100 square feet, and a bundle covers about one-third of that, depending on the shingle. A 30x30 roof is 900 square feet, or nine squares, and requires 27 bundles of shingles. Have them delivered.

PNEUMATIC NAIL GUNS - Nail guns make quick work out of driving the roughly 400 nails you’ll need for every 100 square feet of shingles. Use a coil-fed roofing nailer for roof work. One coil of nails is about enough to do a bundle of shingles. A box of coils will fasten approximately 2,000 square feet of shingles. Use 1 1/4- inch nails for shingles, 1 5/8 inch nails for roof caps, and 1 3/4 inch nails when reroofing by adding a layer of shingles. If you’re using only one nail gun, power it with a small compressor. Multiple nailers will require a compressor with at least a 1/2-horsepower motor and a 10- to 20-gallon storage tank. You’ll also need a Lot of hose. Have your retailer or rental agency help you match the amount to the size and height of your roof. If you’re only going to use the gun once, rent instead of buying. Whatever you decide, oil and maintain the gun as directed by the manufacturer.

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