Roofing Work

All you need to know about roofing

Whether you will contract or do it yourself, there are specific decisions that need to be made. Color is extremely important not only aesthetically, but also as a matter of energy efficiency and durability. Installation of additional ventilation including power ventilators is important for comfort and energy consumption. Tool and clothing tips are important to the do-it-yourselfer. Read the following sections and combine the facts (and opinions) with your personal preferences and tastes, so you can decide which best suit you and your home.


The question that almost always takes the most time and thought is color. The color of your roof not only complements the exterior of your home. It also affects the comfort of the interior, future energy consumption, and the life of the roof itself. Manufacturers distribute small sample pads of their various colors of shingles. Most shingles today have a random patterning. Manufacturers try to show you the prevalent colors in their samples. If you have narrowed the color choice down, your roofing supplier also has larger sample boards (approximately 2′ x 2V2 ). These are sections of the roof as it will look after it is laid. Holding a sample board up against the various exterior features of your home will give you a good idea of how the colors will work together. The small samples and larger boards can be borrowed from your supplier. If you are dealing with a contractor, he may be able to refer you to a home with a color combination similar to or exactly matching the one you are considering. Manufacturers have set up test roofs with their various colors and types of shingles. Their tests show that a black roof absorbs three times more BTU’s from the sun than a white roof! (A BTU, British thermal unit is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree F.) In the summer, black roofs can actually burn your hands, scorch your rear end, and blister your feet through your jogging shoes. The darker the roof, the more heat you are soaking into your attic. A dark roof will throw so much additional heat into your attic that your existing ventilation can’t get rid of it. Then the heat spreads through your attic insulation and down into your living space. This either makes you more uncomfortable or makes your air conditioning work much harder. Now we are talking additional costs all summer, every summer, as long as that dark roof exists. The black roof, which gets much hotter than the white roof during the day, drops down to the same temperature as the white roof at night. This means the black roof is experiencing a much wider range of expansion and contraction. If a black roof is the only thing you would dream of then make sure you also put in plenty of ventilation. Ridge vents can be installed along the peak of your roof, or domed vents (pot vents) can be installed in the back (or somewhere not noticeable). Power ventilators with automatic thermostats can be installed. Small diameter metal vents can be installed in the soffits (the horizontal board or plywood under the eaves). Assuming you have an insulated attic, a black roof will not help heat your home in the winter. It is true that even in winter the black roof continues to absorb more heat than the white one. However, if your attic is properly ventilated, the cold winter winds will carry the heat in your attic away before it can help heat your living space. Don’t even think about blocking the attic ventilation in the winter. This would make your attic “sweat” with condensation and trapped moisture from your living space. The sickening smell of rot would soon prevail. Why do so many new homes have black or dark roofs? When a roof gets hot, the asphalt sealing the grit to the shingle gets more viscous. When the asphalt holding the grit gets soft, it is very easy to scar the roof. On a white roof, you may either have to work on a shaded section of it or get off it completely during the hottest part of the day. If you scar it, you have to replace the damaged section; or you will see it from the ground from then on. If a black asphalt scar happens on a black or dark roof, you can’t see it Nail: I have seen contractors use toe boards (2 x 4’s nailed into the roof to enable the crew to stand on steep roofs). They nail them right through the shingles on new townhouses. The nail holes through the new roof were either sealed up with roofing cement or worse, not sealed at all. The crew’s shoes had rubbed most of the grit off the new shingles above the board. It was a black roof and you couldn’t see it from the ground, so they left it that way.
  • Component of the shingles. This tends to make the shingle more brittle.
  • Heat tends to bake off the oil in the asphalt component, making the shingle more brittle.
It has been my observation in a subdivision of 1,850 homes that black roofs needed replacement two to four years earlier than white roofs. Variations were caused by shade trees, owner-added attic ventilation, and orientation to the sun. On one split foyer home (basically a two story) in the middle of the summer, we overlaid a black roof with a new white one. The four days after we finished the work were the hottest, most humid four days of the summer. Our amazed customer called me at the end of those four days and said that during those four days, his upstairs bedrooms were cooler and his air conditioner had run less than it had since spring. On some homes, a black roof does look more elegant than any other imaginable color. Sometimes a black roof keeps the roof itself from drawing attention from more important architectural elements of the home. I confess that I installed two black roofs (under protest). I only did so after both customers agreed to adding considerably more ventilation. You may be faced with deciding between a dark brown or a light brown shingle, and you know you would be equally pleased with the appearance of either one. You are now armed with information. My advice is always to go with the lighter-colored roof.


Most modern shingles are self-sealing. These individual shingles have an asphalt strip across the width of the shingle approximately 5 to 6 inches from the top. This strip is there to seal down the lower, exposed edges of the shingles which will be laid in the next course up the roof. When the sun hits your new roof, the self-sealing asphalt strip gets gummy from the heat, and the asphalt works its way into the back of the shingle resting on top of it. A day of hot sun on a black roof and it is sealed down. A white roof will take three days to a week or more to seal. The old thick organic shingles didn’t have this self-sealing feature. Those old design shingles depended on the rigidity of the shingles to keep the wind from lifting them up and tearing sections from the roof. I can’t think of any case where it is preferable to use a shingle that is not self-sealing. Nail: A contractor can get still get cheaper shingles that are not self-sealing. If you stressed low bid too much and didn’t know about this self-sealing feature, guess what you would get. Shingles come in a paperbound bundle. What keeps the bundle from sealing itself into one solid mass? Self-sealing shingles have a strip of plastic or tape across the back. This protective tape is located on the back, just above the self-sealing asphalt strip on the top of the next shingle down in the bundle. This keeps the self-sealing strip from melting into the back of the shingle above it in the bundle. This protective tape across the back is left attached in place when the shingle is laid. It has already done its job of keeping the shingles separated in the bundle. A few of the protective tapes will come partially loose as you pull a shingle from the bundle. Just pull that occasional tape free and dispose of it. A neighbor of mine roofed his own home before I knew him, and naturally we got into a discussion about roofing one day. He said one of the things that aggravated him the most was pulling those tapes off the back of each shingle before he nailed it in place. That was when I first thought of writing this book.


Your plumbing vents will need, vent flashing to seal them up. Most roofers in our area use a neoprene (black rubber) collar with a galvanized metal base. These rubber collars crack or disintegrate before the roof has served its useful life. If the neoprene collar is your only choice, you will probably need to seal around it with roofing cement or caulk, starting when it is approximately ten years old. Don’t put a bunch of plastic stuff up on your roof. You can buy plastic ridge vents, power ventilators with plastic domes, and plastic vents. Plastic fittings almost always crack or crumble prior to the end of the useful life of the roof (ultraviolet rays at work again). Aluminum generally costs more, but it’s worth the extra cost for its durability.


Talk about a controversy among roofers! Contractors are moving rapidly to pneumatic (air) tools, whether the tools are pneumatic nailers (nail guns) or staplers. The arguments over using nails or staples are endless. Most of the roofers in our area use pneumatic (air) staplers. Unfortunately, all of the roofs that I have seen damaged by forty- to fifty-mile an hour winds have also been stapled. OK, you know which side I’m on now. There are some things about staples that you need to know. Staples are cheaper and so are staple guns. Staple guns are, arguably, quicker, lighter, and have less kick to them than pneumatic nailers. I observed that my crew would much rather tear off an old roof that was stapled. The prospect of a tear-off normally brought groans, but we started referring to the tear- off of a stapled roof as “unzipping” it. Air guns will take up to lV2-inch roofing nails, which come in a coil. If you contract your roof, try to get a contractor who uses nail guns and insist on the 1 x/2-inch nails. The 1 V2-inch nails go in straighter than the shorter nails and a hurricane may tear some of your shingles, but those nails aren’t going to pull loose. With nails, you won’t have a fifty-mile-per- hour wind rip away a 10′ x 10′ section of your roof. If you are going to do it yourself, don’t buy or rent a compressor or nail gun. It’s not worth the money. For one thing, as with most do-it-yourself projects, the job is going to take longer than you think. Working on the sloped surface is going to throw an unaccustomed strain on you, and you will find that you can’t work as long each day as you think you can. Take the slower, more tedious route of hand nailing your shingles. The 1-inch galvanized nail is the standard, but the lV4-inch or, better yet, the 172- inch will diminish the probability of smashing your fingers. Hold the shaft of the nail between your forefinger and middle finger with your fingernails down against the shingle. That way, if you miss the nail, your hammer hits the fleshy part of your finger and you aren’t as likely to smash your fingernail.


You need basic tools to do roofing. They include: 1.    Hammer: A basic claw hammer will do the job. Although a straight claw hammer with the flatter, more swept back claws is handier for some jobs, don’t buy a new hammer for the difference. 2.    Tape: A 25-foot retracting steel tape is the best all around for this work. 3.    Knife: A Hyde® knife or another brand of utility knife with a similar crook in the handle is preferable for roofing work. The crook raises your knuckles up and away from the work. A straight-handled knife will end up letting you take your knuckles across the shingles. The price of the Hyde® knife (usually $6.00 to $7.00) is worth the saving of the “hide” on your knuckles. 4.    Knife blades: You can buy straight blades and hook blades for your Hyde® knife. If your knife doesn’t come with blades, buy a small pack (three to five blades per pack) of each type. 5.    Hammer hook and nail pouch: If you don’t already have them, invest in a hammer hook and nail pouch for your belt. Don’t buy the swinging hammer hook. Carpenters like the swinging type, but when you sit down on the roof, your hammer handle will hit and push up and out of the swinging hook. Watch your hammer slide down and off the roof! Buy the hook riveted to the leather backing your belt goes through. 6.    Chalk box: You are going to need a chalk line. A 50-foot line is plenty. If you use a longer line, it sags down the roof, and your courses will be bowed down as you sight across them. A good heavy-duty chalk box is the best. Don’t go for one of these fancy “speed” boxes that have gears inside to help you reel in the line faster. I never saw one on the job that wasn’t broken. Use blue chalk. The other colors such as red or yellow are permanent. If you drop your box or spill chalk over your new shingles, the color will stay there for a couple of years. Hosing and sweeping it down won’t remove it. These are all basic low cost tools, and you may already have them. In addition, you may need a hacksaw for the plumbing vents, a circular saw, and sheet metal shears.


The sun is your enemy up on the roof. You are going to be getting rays from above and also have them reflected back at you. Stay covered up, including a cap or brimmed hat. Long sleeves are a good idea if it isn’t too hot. Even the best work gloves are hot and wear out fast as you handle shingles. (Think of shingles as large, rigid sheets of extremely coarse sandpaper.) Instead of using gloves, get a roll of 1-inch adhesive tape and wrap your fingers loosely with it. Don’t wrap around your knuckles; you’ll need the flexibility. There is no need to cover your palms; your finger tips get most of the wear and tear. Get the kind of tape that won’t pull your skin off. I learned this trick from a former football player; it will sure save your hands, and it’s much cheaper than gloves. Shoes are a critical item. A pair of old jogging shoes is ideal. Worn soles won’t cut into the surface of the new shingles as readily as new soles will. Don’t wear work boots and especially don’t wear anything with leather soles on the roof. You want to stick up there like a fly; you need maximum flexibility for your ankles and maximum traction on the bottom of your feet. Some men have found boots protected them from nails. Boots don’t give you the traction and flexibility your teed need. Don’t worry about getting a nail in your toot. Keep the roof and job site cleaned up instead of worrying. Besides, you’ll develop “smart feet.” You will feel the pressure of the nail through the sole ol your shoe and will freeze before it gets all the way through. Even if a nail should get you, it’s better to be in a little pain on the roof and accept the tetanus booster than be in a whole lot of pain sprawled on the ground.

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