Should You Repair or Replace Your Roof?

Nick P. Cellucci
Written by Nick P. Cellucci
Reviewed by Ami Feller
Updated June 7, 2022
A house with hardy board siding on a large lot with a green lawn
Photo: ucpage / iStock / Getty Images

A leaky roof is a sign of trouble, but it doesn’t always mean a replacement is needed

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Whether it’s from water stains, blown-off shingles, or leaky ceilings, you may have noticed an issue with your roofing. You may be wondering if you can fix these problems or if you need to dip into your nest egg for a replacement. Use this guide to determine whether to repair or replace your roof.

Common Signs of Roof Damage

Before you decide whether to have your roof repaired or entirely replaced, know the following warning signs of roofing damage that can appear in and around your home:

  • Water stains: appear as discoloration or peeling paint along the upper part of a wall

  • Shingle damage: signs of are shingle curling or chipping, blisters, or rock granules in your gutter

  • Missing shingles: bare patches after heavy winds, ice, or snow

  • Rotting: on portions of your roof due to shingles absorbing moisture

  • Interior leaks: come through your ceiling

All these signs tend to be visible to the naked eye, but you can call in a roofing specialist near you to assess the problem and clarify whether what you’re seeing is truly a problem.

“One thing that is not evident to the naked eye is hail damage,” says Ami Feller, Expert Review Board member and owner of Roofer Chicks in New Braunfels, TX. “If you have had hail in your area greater than .75-inch in diameter, we recommend you contact a roofing contractor to inspect your roof for damage. Learning what hail damage looks like is a skill—make sure you have someone with some experience looking at your roof.”

Reasons to Repair Your Roof

Not all signs of roofing damage spell doom for your roof, and there are many instances in which repair is possible. In fact, the cost of roof repairs often makes them preferable to complete replacement. Consider repair in the following scenarios:

1. Damage Affects Only a Small Area

If you’re experiencing a leak in your home, it may be the result of isolated damage to a roof that’s otherwise in good condition. A roofing specialist can likely repair damage isolated to small portions of your roof. This includes patching minor holes or replacing improperly installed metal flashing.

Simple repair work can save you thousands in roof replacement and can also be much easier to schedule when you’re crunched for time, such as when a leak develops just days before you’re planning to leave on vacation.

2. Relatively New

If your current roof was replaced within the last several years, it’s in your best interest to keep it functioning for the full extent of its intended life span. Even the least durable roofing materials are meant to last 15 to 20 years. If your roof sustained minor damage during a recent storm, you don’t need to have it fully replaced to ensure it keeps your home protected.

3. Maintaining the Architectural Integrity of Your Home

When you replace the roof of your home, you're likely going to change its look. If a total replacement isn't necessary, you can maintain the look of your property by opting for repairs instead. This is especially important in historic homes, which may lose value if you don't retain their classic look to the best of your ability.

Reasons to Replace Your Roof

Despite the benefits of repair over replacement, repairs aren't always the best option. There are several scenarios where you may prefer a new roof or a simple repair is just not possible.

1. Severe Damage

While you can repair most minor damages, extensive damage can be overwhelming. For example, if the large tree in your yard falls on your house, it may cause irreparable issues. Natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes also tend to do massive damage, ripping off shingles or doing structural damage that can be hard to resolve without a professional inspection. Hail can also cause extensive damage to a roof—in some cases, roof replacement may be necessary.

As a rule of thumb, replace your roof if more than 30% of it is damaged. If what was once an isolated leak has spread throughout your home, it’s time to buy a new roof.

2. You’ve Reached or Are Nearing Your Roof’s Life Span

The roofing material determines its life span. If your asphalt shingle roof develops a leak after 15 years, it’s a sign your roof has aged out and that repairs will only offer a temporary fix, eventually totaling more than the cost of a roof replacement.

To help predict when roofing issues may start and when a replacement may be necessary, here’s a list of common roofing materials and their life spans:

  • Asphalt shingles: most common type of residential roofing and last 15–50 years

  • Wood shingles: typically made from redwood or cedar and can last anywhere from 30–80 years

  • Slate shingles: expensive but highly durable against weather and able to last 100 years

  • Clay or concrete tile: stands up to snow, hail, and wind for up to 100 years

  • Metal roofs: have gained popularity recently due to their life span of 30 to 70 years

A roof’s life span can also dictate how easily you can match its look when replacing shingles. For example, matching the look of a long-lasting metal roof tends to be easier than matching the look of naturally aged wood shingles. In the latter case, replacement may be the only way to maintain visual consistency and curb appeal.

“Whenever you repair an aged roof you can expect a color difference, even if you are able to locate the exact same material,” says Feller. “Because of the exposure to UV light and other natural causes like algae, the materials fade and stain over time.”

3. Repair Would Not Comply With Current Building Codes

A common fix for faulty shingles is to have a new layer of shingles placed over the top. Due to the strain this can put on the roof's structure, many local building codes limit the number of layers you can lay before you have to replace the roof. Roof overlays can also void manufacturer warranties.

If your roof doesn't conform to the current building code in your area, it could be more difficult for your home to pass inspection should you attempt to sell it in the future. To find out where your home stands, have a roof inspector near you inspect your roof.

4. New Look

A new roof can transform your home and give it a fresh new look, regardless of your chosen material. Revitalize the look of old wood shingles with fresh new wood. Or, you can upgrade from low-cost asphalt shingles to a longer-lasting metal roof.

A new roof can also bring back the classic look of your home when it was first built, or it can bring your home into a new era of architectural style. Either option can be excellent, especially if you're planning to sell your home in the next decade and wish to boost its curb appeal and property value.

It’s good to have five to eight years or more of life left in your roof when it comes time to sell your home. If the roof life is any less than that, buyers may ask to replace the roof—or at least ask for a discount to go towards the replacement costs.

Completing Roof Repairs As a DIY Project

DIY roof repairs aren’t worth doing for many reasons. Aside from the risk of serious injury that comes from working up high with technical equipment, a lack of experience could lead to greater time spent on repairs. That wasted time can turn a quick fix into a weeklong project, prolonging the damage and making the issue worse.

If you happen to install your roofing incorrectly, you also risk doing structural damage to your home and voiding the warranty on your roofing materials. The eventual result of this outcome will be spending additional money hiring pros to correct your mistakes. Luckily, roofing contractors will sometimes offer a workmanship guarantee to fix errors at no extra cost.

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