17 Tips for Roofs and Gutters

1. Be uber-picky about the placement of your gutter downspouts.  Walk through any old Portland neighborhood and you’re likely to see fabulous turn-of-the-century houses with elegant porch pillars fronted by multiple downspouts that look like giant suspenders hanging down from the front porch’s roof. While the need to get all the water to run off the house often dictates downspout placement, you don’t have to settle for gutters being placed so prominently.  “You need to look at the house and the gutters aesthetically,” says Tom Leach, the owner and the president of Tom Leach Roofing in Portland, who frequently works on historic houses. “When you have a contractor come out to look at and do your gutters, you need to communicate your wishes about placement and get them written into the agreement.” If your options are limited for placement, you can place the downspouts at the back of the house or opt for rain chains, which are less obtrusive and function just as well as downspouts. “If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, you won’t end up with a plugged downspout if you go with rain chains,” says Craig Junker, the owner of River Roofing in Bend, Ore. “And when it ices up, an icicle grows from the bottom of the chain, which also looks nice.”  

2. Look at a variety of roofing materials before you select one. Since a new roof is an expensive proposition, take the time to choose roofing that you like and that fits your budget. A roof with standard laminated shingles costs about $5,000 whereas a roof with specialty tiles can run $20,000 or more. As this price disparity indicates, there are a lot of choices available. “Shingle technology has really developed during the last few years,” says Junker. “There have been advancements in composition shingles, and it’s easier to get the look of real wood shakes without the weight of wood.”   If you pine for a slate roof, the technology has advanced so that slate roofs can be installed without the expense of having your roof re-engineered. And if your dream home is a centuries-old Tuscan-style villa, there are new red clay tiles that look as if they’re 100 years old. Another way to pick a roof is to drive around your neighborhood and note the addresses of roofs you like. “A lot of times clients will drive through a neighborhood, and they’ll see a roof they want,” says Larry Mueller, the owner of Milwaukie Roofing in Milwaukie, Ore. “I tell them to write down the address, and I’ll go take a look and see which product it is.” Many roofers, such as River Roofing, have samples available in their businesses. Other places to shop for shingles are the three Woodfeathers stores in the Portland-metro area (go to woodfeathers.com for the location nearest you) and Allied Building Products (visit alliedbuilding.com), which has locations throughout Oregon.     

3. Study your house’s style before you order that metal roof. If your turn-of-the-century house has a distinctive or intricate roofline, that’s not an accident. The features in many old houses – think cornices, dormers and gables – combined practical as well as aesthetic features. Give some thought to what makes your house look like an integrated whole, from the foundation to the ridgeline. “In some houses, the roof is an important part of the architecture,” says Leach. “If the roof design is an integral part of the design, then you need to take that into account when choosing what kind of material you’re going to use.”

4. Let technology work for you when it comes to cooling your attic in the summer and keeping your house warm in the winter. Your roof can do more for you than just protect you from the elements. For example, photovoltaic roofing can absorb the sun that beats down on your roof and turn it into energy. However, regardless of roof style, a properly ventilated roof prevents your roof from overheating in the summer and limits condensation in the winter, both of which can cause a roof to fail. “The best thing you can do is have a balanced ventilation system, where you have equal amounts of intake and exhaust,” says Mike Satran, the president of Interstate Roofing in Portland. “Inside your house, make sure all the ductwork and vents are clean and that vents such as dryer vents are properly installed and vent to the outside.” One of the most effective ways to ventilate your roof is to install a ridge vent on the roofline of your house. A ridge vent provides even air movement and requires no electricity to operate because it functions with the natural flow of air. “A ridge vent provides continuous ventilation, which is important,” says Leach. “Ventilation has become a big deal in roofing lately. If you can make your roof stay cool during the summer, it will last longer.”

5. If people are going to notice your roof, make them say, “Wow!” In addition to choosing a roof to fit your homeÕs architectural style, think about your house’s placement on its lot. Is the roof the first thing people notice about your home? Is it dominant, low-pitched or flat? Is your house on a hillside or sitting in a valley? “If the major feature of the house is the roof or if your house is set below a road, you should step up and get the absolutely best roof you can because that’s what people see,” says Satran. “Houses that are two stories tall and have a low-pitched roof or that are on top of a hill, you can’t see their roofs no matter what you do. Think before you invest money in a fancy roof that you won’t even see.

6. Before you shop for shingles, assess your Plans to stay in your house. The average life of a roof in Oregon is about 20 years. When choosing new roofing materials, ask yourself a few questions first to make sure you get your money’s worth out of the project. “The biggest difference in roofing today is that the architectural shingle rather than the old three-tab shingle is the standard,” says Mueller. “That means you’re considering shingles that are designed to last 20, 30 or 40 years.”If you plan on staying in your home for a long time, you might want to pay extra for a 50-year, lifetime or specialty roof. But if your growing family or retirement plans have you upsizing or moving to a warmer climate in the next few years, don’t put on a roof you won’t see the benefits of. “Getting an idea of your price range is really important,” says Junker. “That can help narrow your options and make it easier for a homeowner to make good decisions. Also, think about how long you need the roof to last. Are you planning on selling the house in the next five years or do you want to pass on a well-maintained home to your children?”

7. Make sure your downspout isn’t the source of water in your basement. Your new roof is shedding rain and your gutters are full of water gurgling through the downspout, yet you keep finding puddles in the basement. Sometimes the problem isn’t with your gutters, but with the layout of your yard. Check to see how the water flows from your downspouts. The position of the downspouts as well as the slope of your yard may be sending the water that’s rolling off your roof into your foundation. “If the downspouts are funneling water into your basement, you need to reposition the downspout or regrade the ground to send water away from the house,” says Leach.

8. Hire a pro to assess whether it’s time to invest in a new roof. If you insist on walking on top of your roof to see whether it’s time to call the roof estimator, you’re putting yourself in danger of falling off the ladder and doing harm to whatever life is left in their aging roof, as your footsteps can dislodge protective surface granules and diminish waterproof effectiveness. If you must go up there to check things out, go to the National Roofing Contractors Association website, which details how to correctly position your ladder (extend it at least three feet beyond the gutter and angle it one foot back for every four  feet in eave height) and to know what to look for (shingles that are buckling, curling or blistering, which indicates the end of the shinglesÕ life expectancy, typically some 15 to 20 years in Oregon.). “Most of the time the roof material itself is buckling or blistering, or the surface is cracking between the granules, and you can look and tell if it’s cracked all the way through,” says Mueller. “Once it starts cracking and blistering, you need to get your roof taken care of in the next couple years. There was a period through the mid-Õ80s when there was an oil embargo and everyone started putting fillers into their shingles instead of premium asphalt because petroleum was so expensive. Roofs put on then are starting to go bad now, and those shingles can crack severely.” Other problems to look for include eroded areas, separated seams, missing shingles, loose flashing and missing or broken clay and slate tiles. Any place where there is a corner, such as chimneys, dormers or vents, should be carefully inspected for leaks.

9. Consider having your gutters attached to your house with gutter screws rather than spikes. When the wind whistles down the Gorge, it can blow the gutters right off your house, knocking pieces of them to the ground or damaging your home. While you can’t completely windproof your gutters, you can increase the odds that they stay where they belong if you have them installed with screws rather than spikes. “Gutter spikes are so large that they can chew the wood out and they don’t hold very well,” says Leach. “What you need to have are the long gutter screws to hold the gutters onto the house. Over the years, the spikes can work free, which can be a problem in a storm. That’s common around here, to have that happen and have a gutter come loose.”

10. Realize that the cheapest roof isn’t always the most cost-effective. It may be tempting to lay new shingles over the old ones if your roof seems to be in good repair. But while your roof may appear to be in good shape, the plywood, underside of the shingles and underlayment may have issues that you can’t detect from an inspection of the surface of the roof. “You’re always better off removing the old roof,” says Mueller. “Every time you add another layer of roof, you take a chance on that roof’s imperfections. If a shingle has a bend to it, it bends the new shingle, which opens up the granules and makes it vulnerable to sun penetration. You lose five years off a shingle’s life when you layer it over an old shingle.

11. Use marbles to ensure your gutters are aligned. If you’re putting new gutters onto your house yourself, it can be tricky to get them straight, even if you put a chalk guide along the wall. If the gutter is misaligned, instead of running through the downspout, the water can collect in the gutter or not flow evenly off your roof. One way to make installation easier is to begin with the correct size of gutter that you need. “If you’re on a ladder trying to clip pieces of gutter together, that can be tough,” says Leach. “It’s easier to hire somebody to run the gutter for you and then you can put it up yourself.” Once you’ve attached the gutter, a simple experiment will let you know whether the gutters and downspouts are properly aligned. “If you want to know if the new gutter works, put a marble in the gutter,” says Mueller. “If it rolls into the downspout, the gutters will work.”

12. Make your roof a moss-free zone. Nothing ruins the visual and physical look of your house faster than a mossy roof. Keeping the moss off is one of the best things you can do to keep your roof in good repair and keep your house looking great. While moss itself doesn’t harm roofing materials, it does trap water in the roof. Since the moss prevents the water from evaporating, the trapped water puts extra wear on the roof, which shortens its life. “Moss on the roof is one of the biggest roofing problems we have in the Northwest,” says Mueller. To keep your roof moss-free, apply a zinc-based product such as Moss B Gone, to it. These powders and sprays help loosen the moss, which makes it easier to brush it off the roof, and help prevent the moss from growing back.

13. Opt for a little roof or gutter bling to improve your home’s curb appeal. Copper gutters, a wrought-iron weathervane, maintaining the thatch-like rolling edge of the roof on your 1920s English Tudor – sometimes the little things make a big statement to the facade of your house. And, in the case of copper gutters, what looks good may last longer, too (though at a higher price). While copper gutters and downspouts can cost three times as much as their aluminum counterparts, if properly maintained, they can last 40 to 50 years. “Longevity and appeal are a major reason why homeowners are having copper gutters installed,” says Junker. “As the gutters age, they get a patina, which not only looks nice, but it helps to hide the dings and surface damage that occurs over time. They also conduct heat nicely, so as the weather warms up, that heat helps melt the snow in your gutters.

14. If you live in a part of the state where weather conditions get extreme, hire a roofer who knows how to keep your shingles and chimney atop your house. A heavy load of snow tumbling off your roof can do a lot of damage not only to your home and property, but also, potentially, to a neighborÕs. “This is particularly important if you own a second home in Sun River or Bend, and you aren’t there all the time,” says Junker. “You want the snow to stay on the roof, so your roof needs to incorporate a snow-retention system. If you use a metal or a smooth-faced tile, the roof won’t hold the snow and if a large chunk of snow suddenly slides off of the roof, it can do a lot of damage, which can be a liability issue.” Similarly, for a home in high-wind areas, you need to ensure that the roof stays down. The last thing you want during a rainstorm with gale-force winds is to have a waterlogged living room. “In high-wind areas, instead of putting in four nails per shingle, you put in six,” says Satran. “You can also hand-seal the roof. You go on top with some tar and slip it under the shingles so you have some extra protection to help the shingles stay down. And manufacturers such as Malarkey Roofing Products in Portland have specialty shingles. Instead of blowing up in the wind and breaking off, the shingle blows up, curls and lays back down.

15. Realize that a roof is only as waterproof as its underlayment.  Along with quality shingles, you need waterproof underlayments. Make sure to hire a pro who isnÕt going to cut corners on the ‘invisible’ parts of your roofing system. Your roof’s underlayment is a crucial layer between the roof and its decking because it protects your home against leaks. Also, certain features, such as skylights, are more prone to leaking and require extra protection. “You don’t always know when there’s a problem with your roof, because they don’t always leak water into the middle of the room,” says Mueller. “Water often leaks into walls, and you don’t even know it’s there.” The underlayment provides that necessary, waterproof barrier. “Without an underlayment, what can happen in winter is that you can have ice collect in ice dams on the edge of the roof as well as large amounts of snow,” says Junker.  “The heat of the house can melt the snow and ice. If you don’t have an underlayment, that water will find its way into the house.” A product like Grace’s Ice and Water Shield seals itself after being nailed and is easy to install.

16. If you insist on playing roofer, remember that there’s more to roofing than attaching shingles. What trips up a do-it-yourself roofer? Try something as basic as which way to lap the shingles. “Typically, someoneÕs decided that roofing’s not brain surgery,” says Mueller about finishing a DIYers roof job. “But even though shingle packages have instructions on them, it’s not easy to end up with a leak-proof roof. And many shingles are laid down in a pattern; if you get the pattern wrong, it looks terrible.

17.  Maintain your roof and gutters, and you’ll add years to their lives. You wouldnÕt go years without repairing problems with your plumbing, so don’t go years without maintaining your roof. Simple steps such as keeping tree branches off, sweeping debris, removing leaves from gutters and making repairs as needed can prolong the life of your roof because nothing on the roof will let it retain moisture. While your roof won’t last forever, preventing problems on your roof can ensure that you’ll replace your roof later rather than sooner. “If you keep your roof clean, keep debris off and make repairs, you can get an extra five years out of your roof,” says Junker.