How Long Does a Roof Last? (And 6 Factors That Affect Its Lifespan)
How long does a roof last?
That’s not an easy question to answer. Sure, one can make at least an approximate estimate, but there are far too many variables at play to be able to know for sure.
But we can all agree on one thing: You have much to gain by extending the lifespan of your roof.
Sounds like a tall order. But it’s possible if you give your roof the same care and attention to detail you’d give a luxury car.
On this page:
- The Structure of Your Roof
- Factors That Affect How Long a Roof Will Last
- Signs It’s Time To Replace Your Roof
- How to Make Your Roof Last Longer
- Roofing Materials and Their Lifespan
- Getting Quotes from Competing Contractors
But before you can pull that off, you’d need to be familiar with the different components of a roof and how they fit together.
Which brings us to…
The Structure of Your Roof
Every roofing system is composed of so many parts that it’d take us all day to name them one by one. However, how everything fits together is easier to understand if we group these parts according to function.
As such, a primer on the structure of the roof is in order. Let’s go over them one by one.
Roof ventilation is a system that facilitates airflow inside and outside the roof. This helps to regulate the temperature and moisture levels in the attic and your home’s interior, thus prolonging the shelf-life of your roof.
Roof ventilation also prevents ice dams from forming along your roof’s eaves. How are ice dams formed? When hot air causes the snow and ice on your roof to melt, the melted snow runs downhill and refreezes along the roof’s edges, forming those ice ridges. The water that backs up behind the ice dam can penetrate your home and damage your ceilings, walls, and your home’s interior.
When your roof is properly ventilated, hot air is allowed to pass through the soffits and escape through roof vents. No thawing of snow and ice will occur as a result, hence no roof-damaging ice dams.
Shingles provide your roof a protective covering that consists of many overlapping layers. A shingle system is designed specifically to protect your roof and home interior from external elements, not to mention enhance your home’s curb appeal. Missing shingles can also lead to roof leaks.
Flashing is a strip of material on your roof whose main function is to keep moisture at bay. Installed in places where the roof meets brick walls (chimney, dormer, skylight, etc.), roof flashing expands and contracts depending on the temperature, thus preventing cracks and leaks. Flashing material is usually made of aluminum, but you can also use lead, rubber, steel, or copper.
The roof’s underlayment is a sheet of felt or synthetic material installed between the roof shingles and the roof deck. It serves as the second line of defense against external elements, such as moisture, chemicals, and the sun’s rays. When the shingles need repair, the underlayment helps protect your home until the damage is addressed.
Ice and water barrier
Ice and water barrier is a type of underlayment specifically made to prevent or minimize damage caused by ice damming (formation of accumulated snow or ice at the roof’s edges). Most ice and water barriers are bituminous-based, making it highly resistant to water. Made of adhesive material, ice and water barrier is easy to install on top of the decking or underneath the roof shingles.
Drip edge is a metal sheet installed at the roof’s edges to direct water away from the fascia and facilitate its flow along the eaves and into the gutter. This non-corrosive material typically comes with a metal flange to ensure that underlying roof components are always protected.
Simply put, the roof deck is the foundation of the roofing system. It lies between the roof’s primary structural components and the roofing system’s insulating layers. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the roof deck is the most important part of the roofing system.
Factors That Affect How Long a Roof Will Last
Nothing lasts forever, and the same rule applies to your roof. A time will come when your roof has to leave this mortal coil. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to prolong its lifespan.
Prolonging your roof’s lifespan takes commitment, and before you can make good on that commitment, familiarizing yourself with the different factors that determine a roof’s lifespan is required.
So, without further ado, let’s discuss these different factors one by one.
1. Type of Roofing Material
The outer covering of your roof is its first line of defense against external elements and as such plays a huge role in prolonging your roof’s shelf-life. Asphalt shingle is the most popular roofing material since it provides homeowners the best value in terms of price, durability, energy efficiency, and aesthetic value.
With that said, if you’re putting a high premium on longevity, you’re better off using shingles made of tile, metal, or wood.
Weather conditions in your area play a huge factor in determining your roof’s life span.
While most roofing systems are specifically made to withstand heavy rains, strong winds, and hail, they can only protect your home up to a point. If your home’s location is prone to unfriendly weather, such as, say, southern California, you must install a type of roofing system that is durable enough to withstand harsh elements over a long period of time. You’d best hire a roofing contractor near or within your area so they’ll know which roofing materials can best handle the climate in your location.
The pitch of a roof can dramatically impact its longevity. For one thing, water naturally builds up when the roof is flat or has a low pitch. Your roofing material can only hold so much rain or snow over a long period, and without the proper drainage, the pressure can build up to a point where it causes leakages.
One good way to minimize water pooling is to install a gutter system along the roof’s edges. This way, your roof can rid itself of water, thus adding more years to it.
4. Sun Exposure
Too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays can wreak havoc on your roof. To be more specific, the radiation from the sun’s rays causes numerous chemical reactions in the roof membrane, causing it to deteriorate.
If you want a roof that can withstand the harsh sunlight over a long period of time, install a roofing material that’s resistant to UV rays.
5. Roofing Color
Roofs that are lighter in color reflect more light and therefore last longer even when exposed to sunlight. Roofs with darker shades, on the other hand, absorb heat much better, making the attic and your home feel like a hot furnace at times. If your home is frequently exposed to sunlight you’d do well to install a roof with a lighter shade to keep the heat down since it allows you to save on electricity bills.
6. Quality of Installation
You might have used the best roofing materials available, but they’re not going to last long if they’re not properly installed.
Choosing materials that don’t match the roof’s pitch makes your roof susceptible to water penetration. Shingles can let in moisture if not nailed properly. Using the wrong type of roof vents can make airflow inside the attic inefficient, causing the rapid deterioration of the roof. You get the picture.
Signs It’s Time To Replace Your Roof
So, your good ol’ roof has served you well for over two decades.
But then you start to notice that issues with your roof are more common than before. And every issue is worse than the one that came before.
If this is the case, then it’s high time that you consider replacing your roof with a new one.
Remember, all roofing systems have a lifespan, and you must be able to recognize the telltale signs that your roof has overstayed its welcome. Knowing when to quit saves you time, money, and headaches.
Here are the signs that your roof needs to be replaced.
Your roof is old
Most roofing systems come with a 20-year-warranty, so if your roof has served you for more than two decades and you notice that it keeps breaking down, it’s simply because your roof has become too old. Out with the old, in with the new!
Shingle’s edges have curled
Shingles aren’t supposed to curl. When they do, your roof becomes vulnerable to leaks and further deterioration. There are numerous reasons why shingles curl up, including poor ventilation, old age, or improper installation. While a few curled shingles shouldn’t hurt at first, they eventually lead to serious problems, including roof leaks.
When shingles are cracked, immediate action is required to prevent further damage. A cracked shingle here or there doesn’t pose serious problems at first, but if your roof has so many cracks that it looks like a webwork of tiny broken veins, then that’s a definite sign of roof failure. Cracked shingles are ill-fitted to protect you from harsh weather so a roof replacement is in order.
A roofing system with missing granules exposes its shingles’ fibers to harsh elements, causing water to pass through the roof and onto the deck. This is a disaster waiting to happen. You don’t need to go up to your roof to check if it’s missing some granules. All you have to do is check for granules beneath your roof’s eaves or in the backyard, preferably after a heavy storm. Roofs that are nearing or have reached the end of their lifecycle are more likely to shed off their granules.
Water stains on the ceiling or exterior walls
If you see water spots on the ceiling and your home’s exterior walls, your roof might be telling you something. It’s most likely a problem with your roof’s flashing, shingles, and its wooden underlay, which can cause water to penetrate the roof deck or the walls. If the damage is localized, you can address the issue by fixing or replacing the affected areas. If the damage is severe the best option might be to replace the roof altogether.
Water Damage or Sunlight in the Attic
If your attic’s structural integrity has been damaged due to excess moisture, that’s a sign that your roof is not doing a good job in warding off rainwater. In short, your home’s suffering from water damage. Water damage is usually a sign that your roof is in a state of disrepair or needs to be replaced.
Same goes with seeing sunlight in your attic. Your roof, after all, is supposed to keep external elements at bay. If it feels like daylight in your attic, your roof is obviously not doing its job well.
There’s Too Much Moss on Your Roof
Moss on your roof shouldn’t pose much of a problem, at least initially. But if you don’t take immediate action to remove it, the moss can cause further deterioration to your roof.
When there’s a moss infestation, moisture can easily settle on your roof shingles, leading to their deterioration. This weakens the roof structure, which can lead to roof failure.
Ignore it long enough and the damage can escalate to a point where the entire roof needs to be replaced.
How to Make Your Roof Last Longer
There’s a good reason why the phrase “roof above your head” is a popular expression. It’s fair to say that the roof is a human being’s most important material possession. Without it, you can’t call your home a home. And you owe it to yourself to make sure that your most important possession lasts longer beyond its projected lifespan.
Making your roof last longer requires commitment and hard work, but it’s an endeavor that pays dividends in the end. Here are essential tips you can follow to maximize your roofing system’s shelf-life.
Clean the Gutters
Clogged gutters can cause numerous problems that can chip away at your roof’s lifespan. For starters, gutters that don’t drain water properly causes the liquid to back up on the roof, damaging its shingles and sheathing. Allow it to go on long enough and your roof may eventually rot.
By cleaning your roof gutters on a regular basis (preferably during fall and spring), water gets directed to where it’s supposed to go, which minimizes moisture buildup.
Prevent Ice Dams
Ice damming is a process in which a ridge of ice or snow forms on the roof’s edges during winter When the snow melts, the water can back up behind the dam and under the shingles. The water eventually seeps into the soffits, walls, and onto your ceilings. As you can already tell, not only do ice dams damage your roof, but they also can negatively impact your home’s structural integrity
Cut Overhanging Branches
Branches hanging over your home put your roof at risk for damages for many reasons. For one, tree branches can scrape against your roof’s surface especially during windy days, stripping away or leaving marks on your asphalt shingles. A storm can also cause some of these branches to fall on your roof, leaving physical damages. Leaks and mold buildup may also occur if the leaves always fall onto the roof and clog the gutters.
Get rid of moss
As previously explained, moss, if left unchecked, can compromise the lifespan of your roof. Moss starts out as a thin fungal layer on the shingles. Moss attracts water, and if they’re allowed to proliferate, that moisture can seep through the shingles and cause the wood to rot.
You can remove moss by rubbing it off with a long-handled scrub brush (make sure to do it gently so as to not damage the shingles) or by using a commercial cleaning product. Diluted bleach is another good cleaning option. Just don’t forget to equip yourself with a pair of rubber gloves, eye protection, and protective clothing when using such chemicals.
Moss can be persistent. To prevent them from returning, install copper or zinc strips along your roof’s ridge. Every time there’s rain, traces of chemicals from the strips will be carried off by the water runoff and distributed along the roof, making it resistant to moss, lichens, or algae. Copper roofs are a good option if you don’t want to have to deal with moss.
Make sure it’s properly ventilated
A properly ventilated roof ensures that there’s constant airflow inside the attic, helping to keep warm air and moisture at bay. This ensures that the attic space is always dry and cool, thus preventing water damage and mold buildup. In addition, roof ventilation prevents ice damming during the winter, saving your roof from water damage caused by water back-up from melting snow or ice.
There are numerous ways to provide your attic space adequate ventilation. Installing ridge vents, soffit vents, gable vents, or other types of vents that fit your roofing system’s specific requirements. Here are some of the typical problems experienced with roof vents.
Insulate your roof
Good roof insulation has many benefits that can add more years to your roof’s lifespan. It prevents the formation of ice dams during winter, keeps moisture in check, and minimizes condensation. All these combined protects your roof from deterioration and water damage.
Roofing Materials and Their Lifespan
As stated in an earlier section, the roof material you’re using also determines your roofing system’s lifespan. If you have plans to install new roofing soon, knowing the projected lifespan of different roofing materials should help you make an informed decision beforehand.
Here are the different types of roofing materials and their corresponding lifespans.
Composite Asphalt Shingles
Asphalt shingle roofing is the most widely used of all roofing materials. In fact, around 80% of American homes use them. Asphalt shingles typically last around 20 years, but some reputable roofing manufacturers like Owens Corning, GAF or CertainTeed claim to produce asphalt shingles that can last up to 50 years. It remains to be seen whether these asphalt shingles can last up to 50 years, but you may take their word for it since they’re also offering these products with a 50-year or lifetime warranty.
You’ll be surprised to know that asphalt shingles are not entirely made of asphalt. In fact, studies reveal that they are composed mostly of mineral fibers and cementitious fillers that serve as reinforcements against harsh elements.
3-tab roof shingles are uniform, rectangular shingles found on many residential homes. The life expectancy of 3-tab shingles can last up to 30 years, or more if the roof is well-maintained. While 3-tab shingles don’t offer much in the way of longevity, they are still popular among homeowners on account of their affordable price.
Architectural shingles are best described as 3-tab shingles with a twist. They’re made from the same material as a 3-tab, but have two layers of shingles that overlap with each other, giving them a dimensional look.
Architectural shingles can last up between 30 to 50 years.
One of the strongest features of metal roofing is its durability, although that doesn’t account for how long it will last. Made of interlocking panels, metal roofing is extremely watertight if installed properly, and is impervious to fire, mold, rot, and snow.
Metal roofing typically lasts between 40 to 60 years, sometimes even 75 years given the right conditions and proper maintenance. Another advantage of using metal roofs is that they require minimal upkeep.
Tips for metal roof maintenance
- Make sure that no other metals or materials (such as concrete, iron, lumber, etc.) are coming into contact with your metal roof.
- Address chipping, flaking, scuffs, scratches, or chalking immediately.
- Check for any loose, missing, or crooked screws, rivets, and fasteners at least annually.
- Remove leaves or debris that are stuck in valleys or dead spots on your metal roof.
The average lifespan of the cedar roof is about 30 years, sometimes lasting up to 40 if properly maintained and when the conditions are right. Cedar roofing is highly sought for its aesthetic appeal and is favored for its reputation as a durable wood material. It’s also an ideal choice for its eco-friendly properties. Cedar, despite its reputation as a durable wood material, isn’t immune to wood rot, so make sure that the moisture level of your cedar roof is kept to a minimum. Cedar is also a popular siding material for homes desiring wooden exteriors.
Maintenance tips for cedar roofs
- Do regular cleaning to ensure that the cedar roof is free of debris, moisture, and infestation.
- Trim overhanging branches to reduce moisture and reduce the risk of damage caused by falling limbs.
Wood Shingle/Wood Shake
The expected lifespan of a wood shingle roof is 30 years but you can add around 10 years or so to its shelf-life through regular maintenance. Wood shake, on the other hand, is expected to last from 20 to 40 years.
As far as life expectancy goes, the quality of the wood matters, including its ability to dry out after getting wet. The location matters too since less harsh weather and minimal exposure to debris will add more years to your wood roofing.
Maintenance tips for wood roofing
- Remove debris as soon as it settles on the roof’s surface.
- Get rid of moss before they proliferate.
- Replace cracked, curled, cupped shingles or shakes immediately.
Homeowners who put a high premium on visual appeal are likely to choose slate roofing for its beautiful finish. Also, its longevity is nothing to sneeze at. Slate roofing typically lasts around 90 years, sometimes even reaching 200 years if installed correctly and if it’s given the proper maintenance.
Slate roof is the most expensive roofing material, but that high price is warranted on account of its durability and long shelf-life. It is for this reason why slate roofing is often found on luxurious homes.
Maintenance tips for slate roofing
- Replace cracked or broken tiles immediately.
- Check if the flashings are properly positioned at least annually (slate is durable, which makes the flashing the weakest point in the roofing system).
- Remove debris or any foreign matter from your slate roof as this increases the likelihood of ice forming on the roof’s surface and cracking the tiles.
Clay roof tiles are expected to last up to 150 years, making it second to the slate roof in terms of longevity. Made from terracotta clay or concrete, the tiles are installed on the roof in interlocking layers. The material itself is highly-resistant to rot and decay. While durable, clay tile roofs may crack under heavy impact.
Maintenance tips for clay tile
- Remove algae as soon as they settle on your clay tile roof (clay tends to attract algae).
- Remove debris and any other foreign materials to ensure that they don’t clog the gutters and cause water to back up on the roof.
- Clean the gutters and the downspouts to prevent debris from accumulating.
Rubber roofing is a popular choice for homeowners simply because it’s a cost-effective option on the market. It also has a longer lifespan than most roofing materials, lasting from 25 to 30 years.
Rubber roofs usually have a thickness of .75 to 1.5 millimeters. If you want your roof to last longer, you’d go for thicker rubber. EPDM is highly resistant to leaks on account of its seamless properties. The downside? Rubber is not the most attractive roofing material in the market. If you put a premium on aesthetic value, you might want to go with something else.
Maintenance tips for rubber roofing
- Clean your rubber roof regularly; Debris, dust, and foreign material can deteriorate its membrane.
- Use dishwashing detergent and water when cleaning the material; Avoid using harsh chemicals as they can destroy the material’s properties.
- Apply RV roof coating on your rubber roof to make it more resistant to moisture and harsh elements. Do this at least annually.
- Apply rubber roof cleaner at least three times a year to remove and prevent chalking.
- Check for cracks or rips in the rubber, especially the seams; Repair damaged areas using sealing tape or a butyl sealant.
Fiberglass Roof Shingles
If you want a roofing material that won’t break the bank but can still withstand harsh external elements, you can’t go wrong with fiberglass roofing. Fiberglass also has a polished look that makes it visually appealing to homeowners, not to mention that it’s lightweight and easy to install.
Regular fiberglass shingles are good for 20 years, but reinforced fiberglass shingles can last up to 50 years and are offered to buyers with a lifetime warranty.
Fiberglass shingles are not just durable, they’re also shatter-proof. High-grade fiberglass roofing products are highly resistant to rust, mildew, and rot.
Maintenance tips for fiberglass roofing
- Coat the surface with an oxidation remover solution at least annually.
- Regularly inspect the fiberglass material for any damages caused by moisture and reseal them using a bead of caulk as soon as possible.
Determining or predicting the lifespan of flat roofs can be tricky, and mostly depends on the material being used. Flat roofing, as expected, doesn’t offer an efficient drainage system, and as a result, requires different materials than the ones typically used in pitched roofs.
The following are the roofing material options used in flat roofs and their respective life spans.
- Metal panel roofs (45-50 years)
- BUR (Built-Up Roofing – 50 years and beyond
- TPO and EPDM membrane (20 years or more)
- Elastomeric Bitumen (20-25 years)
- Asphalt (25-30 years)
Getting Quotes from Competing Contractors
Your roof is only as good as how properly you maintain it. After all, a roof that can last you a lifetime is a gift that keeps on giving.
As established, the type of roofing material plays a huge factor in how long your roofing system would last. Following and executing the maintenance methods befitting the roofing material can dramatically increase your roof’s lifespan.
That said, you can’t go full DIY when it comes to maintaining your roof. There will be times when it’s best to leave the job to professionals. Sure, hiring the services of a licensed contractor will cost you. Regular maintenance work, however, prevents roofing issues from becoming worse, saving you more money in the long run.
But here lies the challenge: Finding a roofing contractor who can do the job well and who will charge you a fair rate.
Also, here’s a piece of advice: You need to get as many quotes from different competing contractors as you can. The more options you have, the more likely you’ll be able to find the right contractor for you.
Finding quotes, however, can be time-consuming, not to mention costly (some contractors charge for quotes).
But thanks to our database of the best contractors in the U.S., we can match you with the contractor who can address your needs the best.
And you don’t have to pay a single cent!
All you need to do is sign up the form on this page and a request will be sent to contractors near or within your area so those who match your criteria can reach out to you and provide you a quote!
Also, there’s no commitment involved here. If none of the contractors are to your liking, you’re well within your right not to hire anyone.
Either way, filling out the form allows you to take the first big step to making your roof last you a lifetime!