Guide: Repairing the cottage roof
Weather conditions can do a number on the cottage roof. Here's how to make it watertight
If the problem proves to be the roof and not the flashing, it’s time to choose a replacement. With lifetime warranties on some materials and 20-year claims even on cheaper options, it’s not a choice you have to make often. What follows is an update on the more common materials. But before you flip straight to price and longevity claims, remember that success depends as much on installation as the material itself. Asphalt shingles may be more DIY- friendly than rigid metal panels for example, but Art Stanfield of IKO Industries, a major asphalt shingle producer, cautions that “you have to follow the instructions, or get a contractor who can.”
It would seem axiomatic that a roofer should know how to put on shingles, but Dan Trafford, a Rideau Lakes contractor, in his dozen years of repairing cottage roofs, warns cottagers to be wary. “Phone around,” he suggests. “Ask them how long they’ve been in business. And ask for references.” It’s a matter of faith, he says, because most cottagers aren’t there to inspect the job until it’s done, with all the mistakes and shortcuts buried. Which is why you want a contractor who’ll guarantee his work and be around in the future to make good on it.
“Take a simple instruction like nailing tabs below the tar line,” says Trafford. “It’s printed right on the wrapper. But I’ve hired guys who’ve been putting on shingles for 20 years and never read the wrapper. If they put the nail above the tar line, the wind works at the edge and breaks the seal. And the manufacturer won’t honour the warranty if it’s been nailed improperly.”
Start with the selection of a reliable contractor and then worry about what you’re going to put on the roof. If your favourite contractor isn’t trained to install a particular roof, he/she can advise you on the alternatives. Unlike manufacturers, a good contractor can also advise cottagers on local concerns, like how and where to dump several tons of old nail-riddled roofing. It’s no small problem, especially on an island or a steep site where parking a dumpster at the eaves is impractical. Undamaged metal roofing can be reused, and sometimes resold. Old cedar shingles provide a lifetime supply of kindling. While asphalt shingles can be recycled for paving material, small municipalities aren’t set up for this and many impose tipping fees on old shingles.
However you handle it, there is a cost for removal and the first question to prospective contractors might be whether to strip the old asphalt or roof over it. Most local building codes will allow two layers of asphalt shingles. Some roofers readily shingle over an old roof because it’s cheaper. Others prefer to start with bare wood; it’s more expensive but eliminates the possibility of repeating any bumpy faults in the original. There’s one other question in the decision to strip or not to strip, and that’s the state of the wooden sheathing, or deck. An older deck, especially on a roof with a history of leaks, may be starting to rot. You won’t get another chance to check it for 20 years or more. Finally, consider covering materials. Properly installed, they will all keep out the water. The differences come down to looks, longevity, weight, ease of installation, ice and snow retention, wind resistance, fire resistance, and cost.
There’s no shortage of new roofing products. The trick is finding new ideas that last as long as their warranty claims. An internet search that turns up as many class-action suits against product claims as it does new products is a sobering message. Look for products and installers who are most likely to be around for the life of the warranty. Check references, ask for proof of insurance, ask the manufacturer for a list of approved or trained installers in your area, and ask the installers about a manufacturer’s record on warranty claims.
This article was originally published on November 4, 2003