The latest time some teen-agers set the nearby ravine on fire, we decided it was time to replace our 20-year-old shake roof.
But with what? New wood, pressure-treated with fire retardant? Fiberglass/asphalt shingles? Metal? A cement or clay product? The answer didn't come easily.
Simply knowing we wanted a roof that wouldn't burn wasn't enough to evaluate a salesman's pitch. So we started a three-column chart: cost per 100 square feet, advantages and disadvantages.
After talking with some neighbors, we began our search for information and brochures at local retail and building supply stores. Since the fire ratings of some materials are affected by which under-roof is selected, we learned there's more to re-roofing than the layer that shows. We needed to know how many pounds our house framing would support, what weight felt or cap sheet (with or without mineral coating), and if we wanted a slat, plywood, chipboard or greenboard base.
Many homeowners we spoke to simply trusted their contractor to "do the right thing." This concerned us since we were learning little things such as how the number of nails or staples that are driven into an asphalt shingle affects how much wind it can withstand. Most roofers we watched used three, negating the higher wind warranty requiring six.
So our next stop was the library. Consumer's Guide and comparable publications gave us good basic information. Books on roofing familiarized us with flashings, valleys and techniques of installation. Our chart expanded.
Between the "Home and Garden Show" and roofing supply companies we learned the most. We saw three- to four-foot-square sample sections of many materials and had our questions answered--often with conflicting replies, reinforcing our need to research which was right. Contractors showed us photographs and gave us addresses so we could see various colors in natural light. This was a great help since we both had difficulty visualizing the finished job.
After reading every word in the brochures (noting such statements as "not suitable in freezing temperatures" and "not recommended where winds exceed 40 m.p.h."), we found ourselves studying the disadvantage column of our chart more than any other.
We checked our city's fire code requirement, discovering that each city and county has its own. Since we have a second story to paint, roof "walkability" was important. Maintenance of solar panels, air conditioners or skylights must also be considered. To prevent bending or breaking, we learned, many cement, metal and slate products can be stepped on only at certain points.
One fact we found out later was that TV antenna guy wires can be attached only through wooden or asphalt materials. This situation is easily overcome if you have a standard chimney, a sturdy post anchored to the under-eaves or if you put the antenna in the attic--except for metal roofs, which interfere with attic reception.
Because of the time and labor involved, the steepness of our roof and the cost of dumping we decided against stripping off the old shakes ourselves to cut our cost. Overlaying an old roof with steel, we discovered, can decrease the price about a third. Although two roofs offer better insulation, according to our fire department, the double roof may delay both the detection and ventilation of a fire inside your home. We also found that some warranties are invalid if one material is put over another (especially asphalt products). And remember, the total weight of all materials must not exceed the limit of your roof's bracing.
Because contractors must walk the roof to make a bid and shakes split easily, we waited until we narrowed our material selection to three before making any appointments.
Using their license numbers and the information on their business cards, we checked out whether each contractor had any complaints or litigation pending against them. The latter information is obtained by calling the Complaints Disclosure Department of the Consumer Complaints and Protection Coordinators. The southern CCPC region, at (714) 994-7450, extends from Buena Park to the border. The central region, at (818) 543-4735, covers from Buena Park to Northern California.
We then called the State Contractor's Licensing Board (800) 321-2752, verifying that their licenses would still be in force while they were doing our job. The roofer's workman's compensation insurance can be verified by calling the Home Improvement Department under the CCPC heading in the white pages of the telephone directory; liability insurance can be checked by calling the contractor's insurer directly.