A primer on getting the right roof over your home — and keeping it there.
BY KIM PEMBERTON
They are integral to protecting our homes, taking most of the brunt of our rainy weather on Vancouver Island, but with roofs, it’s often a case of out of sight, out of mind for many residential homeowners.
Yet ask any roofing expert and they’ll tell you homeowners need to make their roof a priority, from choosing the style and materials and getting it properly installed to maintaining it to ensure optimal performance and longevity.
“Do your research. You just don’t go out and buy a car. You need to do the same thing with anything to do with your home, especially your roof,” says Tim Stubbins, senior project manager of the B.C. building science division of WSP Canada, a multi-disciplinary consulting engineering firm.
“Some clients take it more seriously,” he says. “Our job is to provide the pros and cons [for roofing options] and hopefully they can make an informed decision.”
When it comes to choosing the best style for residential homes on the West Coast, there really are two main options, says Stubbins: flat or sloped. A sloped roof can be a hip roof, which has slopes on all sides, or a gable or pitched roof, with two sloping sides that meet at the top.
A slope style helps make the roof resilient against high winds and heavy rains and has varying degrees of a slope. A flat roof, while almost level, also has some degree of a slope so snowmelt and rain can drain off.
“Residential roofs are typically slope but if you get into areas with views, say White Rock, you’ll often see flat roofs that allow views for their neighbours,” says Stubbins.
In the Victoria area, where so much of our housing stock is heritage homes, most have roofs that are pitched, he says.
Either way, both styles can be made watertight.
“When buildings get constructed, architects have a vision and whether they choose slope or flat, is up to who is designing the home, but like any new building component, if you apply it correctly, then it will be fine.”
Stubbins says the only roofing type he is aware of that did have a problem was a concrete tile by a specific manufacturer that didn’t do well in “snow country” because of how much moisture the tile absorbed.
Concrete tiles are molded from sand-mix concrete coloured with different hues to provide a variety of choices. Since it is a heavy material, it does well in high wind areas. Stubbins adds that concrete tile can still be the right product depending on the quality and if it is installed correctly.
If homeowners want to upgrade their roof from asphalt to something heavier like concrete or slate, they should check with a structural engineer to ensure the weight can be supported, he says.
One of the new roofing systems that has come out in recent years uses solar panels that generally bring more benefits year-round in southern climates like California and Arizona. While they would do great in summer in B.C., chances are, they won’t fare as well in our gloomier fall and winter seasons, says estimator Darrel Holm of Top Line Roofing.
“The solar Tesla shingle stores power,” he says. “The problem is where we live, we get a lot of cloud cover and rain so won’t get a lot of [power] production.”
When making his own choice for a roof, Holm says he went with a laminate asphalt shingle, which are built with a heavier base mat and multiple layers of asphalt.
“It’s a good choice economically and for longevity,” he says. “Almost every house being built is going shingles. They’re cost effective and they work.”
While metal roofing has gained popularity in recent years because of its durability — routinely lasting twice as long as shingles — it’s also double the price of an asphalt roof, says Holm.
“You can put on two shingle roofs for the cost of one metal roof,” he says, noting that most asphalt shingle roofs typically last 20 to 25 years.
Metal roofs are recommended in regions that can experience heavy snowfall and wildfires since they are fireproof. Holm notes that if you are willing to splurge on metal roofing, ensure it’s of high quality and applied correctly.
However, homeowners with oceanfront property may find they won’t be able to get a warranty on the metal roof paint because of the salt spray, which is detrimental to metal. Normally, a paint warranty for a metal roof lasts 20 years, he says.
Composite shingles are made from a fibreglass base and topped with asphalt and mineral granules. They excel at flexing and adapting to the contractions and expansions roofs undergo because of weather changes.
While cedar shingles look attractive, Holm says he would steer clear of them because they aren’t as high a quality now since they are no longer made from first-growth cedar. Also, they aren’t practical in areas that get a lot of moisture, like the B.C. climate, or where wildfires are a possibility. And they are costly.
Staying on top of maintenance
When it comes to roof maintenance, Holm says homeowners should not take the risk of walking on their roof themselves but instead, hire a professional. Every year, gutters should be cleaned and if moss starts to accumulate, it should be removed.
“If your house is in the shade, you’ll get a higher degree of moss buildup, so do it yearly,” he says.
Otherwise, Holm recommends having a professional check the roof every couple of years or earlier, if you spot shingles that have come loose or need replacing. Because of expansion and contraction, the roof caps and pipe vents need to be checked as well.
And while many homeowners opt for a metal roof because they are low maintenance, it doesn’t mean they are maintenance free. Just like with an asphalt shingle roof, a professional should do regular inspections to identify potential problem spots, like denting, scuffing, galvanic corrosion or leaking.
Keep the metal roof surface free of dirt or debris and gutters and drains clear of leaves and sticks to prevent water accumulation that can cause metal corrosion. To protect the metal paint, ensure tree branches are away from the roof surface — scratches from tree branches can invalidate a paint warranty.
The final word on roofing applies to any kind of work done to your home — hire professionals.
“If people are going to shop for a new roof, they should contact a number of reputable contractors, and hopefully they’ve been around for a while, so they can show them the work they’ve done,” says Stubbins.