Stripping is a good thing. Really.

Roof stripping, that is.  This is the process of getting rid of the old roof covering material, down to the deck.  In the process, if done correctly, you’ll learn a lot of things about what worked on your roof and what didn’t.  As all things that are good for you, there are costs and inconveniences involved, aspects which are exploited by those contractors who don’t have your best interests at heart.

What are some of the typical reasons you’re given why leaving your old roof on and going over is/are acceptable?  They include:

  • You’re saving money.
  • It’s more ecological (no landfill waste!).
  • It’s more secure.
  • It provides another layer of protection to your roof.
  • It’s recommended by the manufacturer.
  • There’s much less residual mess to clean up.

So many great reasons why you should just leave the old roof on, and go over!  And yet, pretty much all of these are false, based on the homeowner’s lack of knowledge of how the roof system is supposed to work, and compounded by the contractor’s desire to get the job done as fast as possible, get paid, and move on.  If you are presented with the suggestion that leaving your old roof on is an acceptable strategy, there are a number of things you should be aware of before you agree to this.

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Getting three quotes is not enough…

When you look up various web sites advocating consumer help or protection, you often get the advice to ask for three quotes.  The idea is that by getting these quotes, you are protecting yourself from contractors that are going to overcharge you, or from contractors who are undercharging because they are unqualified.  This is excellent advice, but it usually doesn’t go far enough.  As always, the really important stuff is in the details (the fine print).  Let’s examine the issues.

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Metal roofing – the green solution for your house.  Or is it?

Compared to (most) asphalt shingle roofs, (most) metal roofs last much longer and perform much better, as long as they are properly installed.

Metal roofs are considered to be more ecological than asphalt roofs, as their longevity usually means that the metal roof is the last roof the home will need.  This longevity also means that fewer manufacturing resources are needed to produce this roof, compared to the resources needed for asphalt shingles over the life of the house.

However, this longevity of product may not be enjoyed by the homeowners, if the installation was not properly done.  Even if the installers followed the manufacturer’s recommended installation practice, a roof may fail prematurely IF the roof covering was not properly integrated with the rest of the house structure.

So let’s look at what “should” be taken into account when considering a roofing solution.

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Roofing materials – what choices do you have? Part 1

There are plenty of marketing pieces on the web and elsewhere touting this material or that material as the “Best” or the “Most-Cost-Effective”, or the “Best Performer”.  This post isn’t going to be one of them.  Rather, I’ll direct your attention to the gap between the consumer expectations (based on marketing claims), and the actual performance.  This isn’t to say that the manufacturers are lying through their teeth, but more that they are trying to encourage you to associate certain properties with their product that may not be justified by test results.

The first thing to recognize, is that each material has both strengths and weaknesses.  There is a set of conditions for which the product is superbly suited.  There is another set of conditions under which its performance will be entirely unsatisfactory.  Roofing materials are part of the building envelope, and as such, are subject to the rules (the building code) which govern the minimum standards for construction.  Certain materials have specific tests that define certain properties or performance criteria of these materials, and the building codes usually reference the minimum performance that under those tests is acceptable.

Manufacturers develop installation instructions and guidelines to ensure that their products will not be placed in situations where their weaknesses are exposed.  Therefore, if the product is installed in conformance with the guidelines, then its behaviour should be in line with the manufacturer’s claims.  This puts the emphasis on proper installation – where it is assumed that the installer knows the weaknesses of a product, and if the product is installed in a situation where the weaknesses will show up, to provide the appropriate additional protection to minimize the weaknesses.

A common example of this is the use of asphalt shingles on roofs where ice-dams can form.  Asphalt shingles are designed to be a cheap, reasonably-long-lasting cover for roofs, and work by shedding water.  To work well, they have to be installed on a slope that is sufficiently pitched to allow the water to run off freely, to be secured appropriately, and to have enough roof heat to allow the tar strips to bond the top and bottom layers of the shingles together.  They are NOT designed to be waterproof.  If a roofer installs them on a roof where he knows that there is a history, or likely possibility of ice damming, he knows he needs to install additional waterproofing (in the form of an ice-and-water shield membrane) to compensate for the fact that the shingles will let water in.  Depending on the severity of the underlying issue, additional measures may also need to be taken to ensure that the weakness of asphalt shingles in this situation do not lead to an immediate problem.

Most homeowners are obviously not aware of the subtleties of proper installation, the nuances of “appropriate use”, and the different ways things can fail.  Since their source of information is usually the glossy brochures of the manufacturer, their perception of what they are buying, may be quite different from the reality.  Let me illustrate.

Slide 1 - Benefits

Above is a diagram illustrating a collection of benefits that a particular product can give.

Slide 2 - Benefits and weaknesses

Real-world products also have weaknesses of various kinds.  Often the “Weakness” is visible only under certain situations.  An example of this would be the ability of a smooth metal roof to shed snow.  If you WANT the snow off your roof, then this is a benefit.  If, on the other hand, the falling snow can damage property or cause injury to people, then this is a weakness.

Slide 3 - Benefits according to Marketers

Marketers present their products to be as attractive as possible, and try to associate all kinds of feelings and projected desires so that consumers are moved to buy the product.  There is a lot of subliminal messaging going on, both through the text and the imagery used, to create a favourable impression of the product.  It’s not to say that the marketers are lying or misrepresenting their products – but they often set up the ad so that we infer more than they actually say or claim.  Examples of this would be “green” claims, or images with happy families, or beautiful couples in front of something unrelated.  Another method is to use references to warranties to imply a durability that is not actually claimed in either the marketing literature or in the warranty.

Slide 4 - Benefits according to Consumers

Of course, most people looking at advertising and marketing material end up with an impression, and link that with a set of assumptions, giving a perception of the product that may be much more favorable than the product deserves.  If this is a product presentation by a salesman/woman, then by now the process has become entertainment, with suspension of disbelief, and willingness to dream being part of the mix.  Salespeople love it when it comes to this – because people work hard to make their dreams come through, and why let a few inconvenient facts get in the way?

Slide 5 - Reality

In the end, you’re still getting only the actual benefits and weaknesses that the product inherently has.  As noted before, the knowledge, skill, and care of the installer go a long way towards minimizing the weaknesses, and maximizing the benefits.

How does this impact our decisions as far as selecting the products for our roofs?  Tune in for another post.

(c) 2014 Paul Grizenko