Get to know your house: A handy roof reference

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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A quick reference for understanding your roof

It’s that dreaded sound: drip drip drip. You look up and see an unsightly brown spot on the ceiling accompanied by slowly dripping water. The likely culprit? A faulty roof. 

Roofs play a big role in keeping your house structurally sound, so any damage can cause major headaches. The question is whether or not the damage warrants a quick repair or a full roof replacement. 

Here are some steps you can take to learn more about your roof and determine the right approach for maintenance. 


Step 1: Figure out which roof is yours
Unless you built your house, chances are you haven’t paid much attention to what your roof is made of. However, it’s important to know what’s covering your home so you can take proper care of it. 

There are a variety of materials used for residential roofs, including:

  • Asphalt: One of the most popular roof materials, asphalt shingles are cost-effective and work in pretty much any climate.[1] 
  • Slate and tile: Slate and tile provide a more natural look than shingles, are easy to maintain and can last several decades.[2] 
  • Synthetic slate: This material looks almost identical to natural slate but is less expensive and lighter weight than its real counterpart.[3] 
  • Metal: Metal roofs last a long time, and as a bonus, they’re fully recyclable when they finally do need replacement.[3]
  • Clay and concrete: Clay and concrete are often chosen for climates with dry and extreme weather conditions due to their sturdy construction.[1] 
  • Wood: Wood is favored for its upscale look, but it comes with a heftier price tag and a shorter shelf life.[3]


Step 2: Determine its condition
Once you know what’s on your roof, it’s time to figure out how it’s faring. A leak is a tell-tale sign that something is up, but there could be other more subtle indicators of roof issues. 

Start by checking your attic for any leaks that haven’t made it through your ceiling. Keep your eyes open for streaks or discoloration, which could also be a sign of roof damage.[4] 

Next, head outside to see if your roof material is in decent shape. This is especially important after a severe storm. If any shingles appear loose, cracked or curled – or are missing altogether – you’ll want to get those repaired before more damage occurs. 

Another sign something may be amiss is if you see loose granules.[5] Granules give shingles their color, as well as their reflective property, which helps protect them from the sun. While some loose granules are a normal part of wear and tear, too many can cause the shingles to deteriorate.

Perhaps the biggest red flag of a faulty roof is one that’s sagging. This usually means there’s a structural issue, such as problems with the decking in the attic or the supports in the foundation.[6] In this situation you’ll want to contact a repair person as soon as possible, as this could quickly go from unsightly to unsafe. 


Step 3: Make a choice: Repair or replace?
You’ve noticed the leak and identified the source – now what? Should you spring for a new roof? Or could some repair work do the trick? 

This is an especially important decision to make if you’re planning to sell your house any time soon. You don’t want to invest money in a home you won’t be living in for much longer, but you don’t want to be caught off guard by a home inspector who recommends a roof replacement. 

There are a few variables to consider when making the choice of whether to repair or replace.

The first is how bad – and noticeable – the damage is.[7] If it’s just a few wayward shingles or minor holes, and it’s limited to small areas, then repairing is the way to go. 

The second factor to consider is whether it’s in your budget.[8] A full roof replacement can cost up to $10,000. If it’s not something you can afford, and there’s no current safety risk, you can buy yourself some time by making repairs. 

The third consideration also has to do with budget – but it’s an argument for full replacement. If the damage is widespread, and the repairs are adding up, then you might as well get the full roof replaced while the crew is on-site.[7] In the long run, you’ll save money doing the whole roof at once versus doing a part now and another part in the future. 

Fourth on the list is taking the type of roofing you have into consideration. Some roofs are much easier, and less expensive, to repair than others. For example, replacement isn’t usually the best choice for slate and tile roofs.[9] Unless your roof is 70-plus years old, even extensive repairs are still a smarter investment than a full roof replacement. However, asphalt roofs are relatively inexpensive to repair compared to other roofing; in fact, you could replace an asphalt roof a few times before the cost adds up to the installation of other roofing materials.

Last but not least is the age of your roof. Slate, copper and tile roofs can last more than 60 years, while asphalt shingle/composition roofs last about 20 years.[10] So, if your roof is past its prime, then it’s probably time to give it a whole new look. 


Step 4: Understand what insurance does – and doesn’t – cover
In general, homeowners insurance will cover roof repairs or replacement if the damage is due to a weather event or a sudden accident. However, if it’s just general wear and tear we’re talking about, your roof likely won’t be covered. Age matters too; roofs over 20 years old may only have limited coverage. Before making any repairs, check with your insurance company so you know what’s included in your policy. 


Buying (or selling) a house? Here are some common repairs to expect

  1. Types of Roofing.Home Depot

  2. 14 Common Roof Types: Pros, Cons, and Costs. Angi

  3. 12 Types of Roofing Materials and Their Costs. The Spruce

  4. 7 Signs You Need a New Roof. Bob Vila

  5. Loose Shingle Granules: Should You Worry? Elite Construction

  6. 8 Warning Signs That Your Roof Is Shot. Good Housekeeping

  7. Should You Repair or Replace Your Roof? Bob Vila

  8. Should I Repair or Replace My Roof? Huber Associates

  9. Knowing When to Repair or Replace Different Roofing Materials. Home Advisor

  10. How Long Does a Roof Last? (2024 Guide). This Old House