For many homeowners, a new roof can be the single most expensive non-elective home improvement one makes. So before deciding to buy a new...

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For many homeowners, a new roof can be the single most expensive non-elective home improvement one makes. So before deciding to buy a new roof, you may want to take steps to prolong the life of the one you’ve got.

It’s often possible to inspect the roof yourself for trouble areas and, if you’re handy around the house, even make repairs. If, on the other hand, you’re afraid of heights or feel uneasy attempting such a project, then many roofing companies will provide free inspections and provide a written estimate outlining needed repairs. Keep in mind that roof scams are high on the list of home-improvement rip-offs.

Be wary of a roofing company that comes to the door offering to inspect your roof because they “just happen to be in the neighborhood.” Unscrupulous companies will make their way onto your roof and find several hundreds or thousands of dollars’ worth of repair work to do.

So remember our planning credo: Never be in a hurry to begin any remodeling work without doing lots of planning.

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Selecting a professional

If your roof needs repair, check your insurance policies first. You may be able to file a claim. Also check the warranty on your roof. It may require you to use a specific repair company.

Have an inspection and written estimate made by several licensed roofing contractors. You can then compare inspection reports, timing, materials, cleanup practices and cost estimates.

Resource


To check the credentials of a contractor, visit Washington state’s Labor and Industries Web site at www.lni.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/
Contractors
or call 800-647-0982.

Finding a roofing contractor can be a chore. References from friends, neighbors or a real-estate professional are all good resources for finding a reputable roofing contractor.

The National Roofing Contractors Association, a trade association, offers tips on selecting a roofing professional and information on roof maintenance (www.nrca.net/consumer/default.aspx).

In Washington state, all construction contractors must be registered with the Department of Labor and Industries, post a bond and carry general liability insurance. For tips, go to www.lni.wa.gov.

Looking for trouble

If the thought of climbing on the roof brings on high anxiety, consider keeping your feet firmly on the ground and using a pair of binoculars.

Look for loose shingles or wood shakes or, if you have a tile or slate roof, missing or cracked pieces. In any case, keep traffic on the roof to a minimum to prevent damage to shingles or tiles.

On shingle roofs, look for curling, fraying and tears at the edges. Don’t forget to check the flashing around chimneys, vents, skylights and other roof penetrations; they should be tight and in good condition.

Many roof leaks are actually flashing leaks. Flashing is a solid waterproof barrier that prevents moisture from entering an area that cannot be completely sealed with a roofing material.

Although most flashing is constructed of galvanized sheet metal, lead and copper also are frequently used. They are more flexible, which makes them the better choice for use with roofing material that isn’t flat, such as clay or concrete S-tile.

Clean up rusted flashing with a wire brush, repair it with high-quality caulking and paint with a rust-resistant paint. Replace severely deteriorated flashing and vents.

Clogged gutters and downspouts also can cause leaking. Clear sticks, leaves, tennis balls and other debris from drains, scuppers and gutters.

Water test

Locating a leak can be daunting. Often, a visual inspection isn’t enough to determine where a leak is coming from. In that case, a water test is in order.

You need to venture onto the roof to do this test effectively. Use a firmly braced or tied-off ladder equipped with rubber safety feet, and wear rubber-soled shoes to avoid slipping. Affix a safety harness to an anchor on the roof, a tree or a solid object on the other side of the roof to give yourself more protection. Using a garden hose, run water onto the areas where a leak is most likely to exist.

For example, if you have a water stain on the ceiling just in front of the living room fireplace, concentrate your water test on that general area. The chimney flashing may be the culprit in this case. Have a helper in the attic to see where the water is making its way through the roof.

When performing a water test, always work an area no more than 4 feet wide, starting from the lowest part of the roof and working up, standing on dry roofing. Once you reach the ridge, begin at the eave with another 4-foot section. This allows you to tackle one area at a time and prevents you from working on a wet roof, which can be a slip hazard.

After you find the source of the leak, you can try the repair yourself or call in a professional.

Sometimes all that’s required is a dab of roofing adhesive, a touch of caulking or a small shingle patch.

Other times, flashing, vents or sections of roofing must be torn out and replaced, in which case you should definitely hire a roofing contractor.

Seatttle Times staff contributed to this report.