Understanding Roof Opinions

Almost nothing is more frustrating to a buyer, seller, or realtor than conflicting roof condition opinions. It is also frustrating to the home inspector who provided the initial opinion when they get “the call”;  “so and so said this roof needs to be replaced and you said it had five years of life left” or,  “so and so said the roof needs to be replaced and we would like a second opinion”; and “your second opinion differs greatly from the initial opinion.” What happens when there are conflicting opinions? Typically, if the buyer’s home inspector said the roof needed replaced and anyone disagrees with their inspector, the buyer is disappointed as they wanted a new roof – they walk if they don’t get it. The Seller is relieved their opinion – that the roof was fine- is supported but they lose a sale regardless. The Realtor is often confused and feels powerless to deal with these conflicting opinions and probably wants nothing more to do with either inspector – regardless of who was correct. The inspectors are not happy either because now everyone involved is mad at them. Let’s see if we can help you understand how and why you get so many different opinions and, hopefully, help you discern how to recognize a bad opinion as it relates to a real estate transaction. First, a little background on shingles. Asphalt/fiberglass shingles used to come in many different quality grades, from the 3-tab, 20 year rated to the dimensional shingle with a 30/40/50-year rating (based on thickness). Current shingles, based on design improvements, are much simpler. 3-Tab shingles now carry a standard 25 or 30-year rating and all dimensional shingles are actually rated as “lifetime”; you do believe that, don’t you? For a lifetime rating, most industry professionals consider this to be a 40-year roof and it applies to most roofs manufactured since 2006. The shingles are a composite of a fiberglass mat with a resin coating, then a modified-asphalt coating and an adhesive coating which binds the stone/granules in place. It is the composite system which protects the home from leakage. Code requires a 15 or 30 lb. felt be installed over the roof sheathing prior to the installation of the shingle. In total, you have multiple layers of protection. In Florida, 3-tab shingles must meet the testing criteria established by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Guideline D225 and dimensional shingles must meet D3462. Granule loss is often reported as a basis for roof replacement. Granules have three main purposes:
  • To protect the asphalt coating from UV rays.
  • To add color or aesthetic beauty.
  • To provide fire resistance.
Granule loss rarely indicates damage. It is an indication of weathering or improper cleaning. Uniform granule loss is normal and indicates weathering or ageing. Granules are not what protects a roof from leakage – that is the job of the asphalt/fiberglass coating and the felt mat. Granules do protect the asphalt coating from UV and without the granules, in time, the asphalt may prematurely weather and crack but that takes time. Minor exposed coatings do not necessitate a need for premature replacement of the roof. Brittleness generally indicates either, a shingle well beyond its life expectancy or improper cleaning. If the majority of the shingles are brittle, I can almost guarantee someone has cleaned the roof with bleach. You will also expect to see significant granule loss uniformly in the roof. Second, a little background on home inspectors and roofers. Guess what – they are not equally qualified or motivated. Many home inspectors know what they know from what they read or hear from other home inspectors. To date, what they have gleaned from their exposure to roofs is that a 3-tab shingle should not last more than about 15 years and all dimensional shingles have a life expectancy of no more than 25 years. If they see any wear, loose starter shingles or damage they will often recommend replacement. Often, the inspector may simply recommend replacement as a risk avoidance reaction. Many buyers think of a home inspection as a home warranty, which is false. If an inspector opines there is a few years of useful life left and the roof leaks two months after closing, the Buyer feels the inspector should pay to have it repaired. It is completely out of context with the Offer to Purchase (As-Is) contract and the Standards of Practice for a Home Inspector. A roof can be satisfactory or functional without being perfect! You may be surprised to hear this but the modern roofing company is not in business to make repairs; there simply isn’t any money in it. They are in the business of selling new roofs. Nobody gives “free” estimates with the intent of telling you the roof doesn’t have to be replaced for another five years. Further, if they do tell you it can last awhile longer and it leaks next month, the misguided consumer thinks the roofer should fix the roof “since they said it could last another five years.” Now, let’s try to understand what conditions should be clear to almost anyone that a roof should be replaced. 1. Extreme curling/lifting/buckling throughout much of the roof. The roof is well beyond its life rating or the shingles were defective at installation or the workmanship was poor. Replace the roof. 2. Fishmouthing throughout much of the roof. The shingles will need to be replaced and the underlying cause of the damage (poor ventilation or moisture) will need to be corrected. 3. Over 70% granule loss throughout the roof. While the roof may still have 2-3 years of life left, most insurance carriers would be reluctant to insure it and it would warrant a recommendation for replacement. 4. Obvious workmanship issues such as significant nail pops, poor alignment, heavy damage or evident moisture in the sheathing consistently throughout the roof.


  You should note the one thing missing from our evaluation on roof replacement is the age. Why? Because the actual age, while it is useful information, is the least important thing to know. Age is not an indication of the useful life remaining as it does not indicate the external conditions which affect the shingle. A 20-year rated shingle can last 25-30 years or it may need replacement in 12 years. Exposure, damage, workmanship and maintenance determine the longevity of a shingle. Stating a shingle needs replacement due to age is not supported by any manufacturer or testing agency – and these are the only two authorities with credibility. Age charts issued by home inspector associations are simply another “opinion” and they are not supported in fact and should not be used as a basis for an independent roof evaluation. What if the actual age is unknown – how does the inspector determine the actual age? The true answer is, he doesn’t. There is no way to know. Shingles do not come with serial numbers or date stamps. A Seller, for example, may report the roof was replaced five years ago (which could be seven) but the replacement was not permitted. Again, while the information may be useful, it cannot be relied upon and therefore the inspector should discard it. An inspector cannot determine the actual age of a roof; he can only offer an opinion on what they perceive to be a useful life expectancy based on normal wear patterns such as overall granule loss, brittleness and uniformity of the roof system. The actual age is generally irrelevant. In Florida, we have an unprecedented and grossly erroneous insurance industry which attempts to minimize roof losses by basically mandating someone, other than them, identify the age of the roof so they can place a life expectancy of 70% on a 3-tab shingle and 80% on a dimensional shingle. They believe you should replace perfectly functional roof systems well before needed so they will not get any claims. In the interest of serving customers and creating revenue, they have a willing audience of unsophisticated home inspectors who are all too willing to do their bidding. So, all 3-tab shingles only last 20 years or 14 years for insurance purposes and all dimensional shingles only last 30 years or 24 years for insurance purposes. They are even willing to put an “age” on the roof when, as I’ve explained, is impossible to do. The whole system is predicated on useless and unsupported information and I do not have a clue how any inspector could ever justify their opinion of the age if forced to do so, in the absence of actual documentation. Yet, they do it. What buyers, sellers and realtors should understand is there is little credibility present in the majority of opinions due to inadequate knowledge, ulterior motives and general fear of reprisal. In most cases, you will need to consider all information and form your own opinion of the actual condition. Again, the matter is further complicated by unreasonable demands by the insurance industry. It is useful to know shingle manufacturers have complained and even threatened to sue Florida insurors over these unsubstantiated and overzealous rating guidelines. The insurors argue it is their right to use whatever risk management procedures they wish. While the manufacturers complain their product is being unjustly demeaned, in the end, they sell more shingles and ultimately, I suppose that is why they have not followed through on their threats of legal action. The insurance industry avoids losses. The roofers get more jobs. The buyer, seller and realtor get frustrated when deals fall apart unnecessarily and the consumer loses by having to replace perfectly good roofs to obtain/maintain homeowner’s insurance. To add insult to injury, there doesn’t seem to a single thing you or I can do about it. When it comes to roof evaluations, researching building permits to obtain the date installed (when available) may result in a disservice to both the Seller and Buyer based on the current posture of insurance carriers. If they continue to improperly rate shingle performance on age alone, without benefit of the actual expected performance rating or condition, inspectors may be condemning the sale without realizing it. Inspectors are required to provide an age on insurance forms (Roof Certification, 4-Point and Wind Mitigation) and insurors improperly refuse to accept an estimated age. As stated earlier, age is the least significant factor in the roof condition. No inspector can certify, with any reasonable basis of fact, the age of a shingle. We can only estimate the useful life remaining based on the current condition. We have an “age” problem in the process. Realtors, inspectors, and consumers should be demanding the insurance industry institute reforms to the evaluation process as it distorts the facts completely in favor of the insuror. I hope this presentation has given you a better understanding of the roof evaluation process. There are no national or state standards and the process is subjective. While we cannot remove the subjectivity of each inspector, we can hold them to a reasonable interpretation of industry guidelines for assessment of shingle roofs as developed by the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA), the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), or Haag Education. Most of these guidelines are used by the insurance carriers today. Simply stating, “the roof should be replaced” or “there is two years of life left” is simply not sufficient. Opinions must be based on fact and not conjecture. It should further be noted the standard As-Is, Offer to Purchase Real Estate contract provides that normal weathering or minor curling/cupping of shingles is not considered to be a defective condition. What should be included in a Roof Evaluation: Type of shingle _____ Roof geometry _____ Slope/pitch _____ Evidence of moisture in deck _____ Condition of flashing _____ Condition of drip edge _____ Evidence of moisture in eave _____ % of granule loss overall _____ Significant curling/cupping _____ Significant hail damage _____ Significant flaking _____ Significant Fishmouthing _____ Significant buckling _____ Significant blistering _____ Significant nail pops _____ Loose/missing shingles _____ Workmanship _____ Sealed Roof Deck _____ Meets FBC 2001 or later _____ Needs immediate repair _____ Needs replacement _____ Estimate of Useful Life _____ Basis of opinion: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Qualifications of Inspector: ______________________________________________________________________________________ License #: __________ Years qualified __________ If you use a roofer to obtain an independent evaluation, pay them and alert them that you would not use them to make repairs or for replacement if needed. Be upfront. You should not expect to get an independent evaluation for free (you generally get what you pay for). A proper roof evaluation should cost between $275 to $350 for most homes up to 3000sf although complex roofs may cost more. Understand roofs with slopes over 4:12 may not be accessible. Keep in mind, cheap roof inspectors are part of the problem.

Prepared by:

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William Chandler Certified General Contractor Licensed Home Inspector ASHI Certified Inspector

The author has over 38 years of building construction and inspection experience.

Property360 provides residential and commercial building inspections throughout central and northeast Florida. High value inspections are provided nationwide.

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