How long do roofs last on houses? That’s an important question to ask when you’re buying a house, and an important thing to keep in mind if you own your home. A safe assumption is 20 years, though it varies depending on the roof type.
Your roof, air conditioner, and furnace are the big three expenses for a home. The roof lasts the longest of the three, but is also the most expensive.
You can often tell when a roof isn’t long for this world. Once the roof color gets inconsistent and you can see streaks, you know it’s running short on time. You don’t have to replace the roof immediately when the streaks appear, but you only have a few years left at that point.
Cheap, common garden-variety asphalt shingles last about 20 years.
In many parts of the country, this is the most common roof type.
It’s also pretty easy to spot aged asphalt. The roof I pictured to the right is starting to show signs of age. In a few years, the streaks will be more pronounced. Once you start to see those streaks, the roof only has a few years left. But be careful. There is a trick to get rid of the streaks and disguise a roof’s age. This is deceptive and risky. I won’t repeat the trick here due to the risk of severe injury or death. But you should always have a trained housing inspector check the roof to give you an estimate of its age.
Architectural shingles last about 30 years even though they may only cost 10 percent more than the cheaper grade asphalt shingles. Architectural shingles are well worth the money, even if you don’t plan on staying in your house a full 30 years. A good realtor will mention them in a listing, and a good building inspector will point them out to the buyer. Architectural shingles look better, helping your house to stand out just a bit from the rest.
In some regards, architectural shingles are the safest choice. They give a good balance of longevity and look close to what people are used to seeing.
Metal roofs fell out of favor for a while, but they last 40-80 years. They cost 50 percent more than asphalt but last 2-4 times as long, making them very cost effective. They also reflect back 2-4 times as much sunlight, so they dramatically reduce your cooling bills in the summer. Proponents of metal roofs also say they reduce your insurance premium.
A lighter color will absorb less heat, increasing the benefit. Neutral colors like tan and gray will fit in with surrounding houses better than bright colors, so they will blend into your neighborhood better and likely be more popular with your neighbors.
Slate or tile
Slate and tile roofs can last 100 years, making them the most durable choice. They are also the most expensive.
This was a popular choice before asphalt came onto the market in the early 20th century, as it was more durable than wood.
You have to be careful with this type of roof, as it weighs more than other types. If the house wasn’t designed for this type, stick with a more lightweight option.
Making a roof last longer
Heat causes roofs to deteriorate more rapidly, so choosing a lighter colored roof helps it last longer. Also keep your tree branches trimmed near the roof, as tree branches rubbing against the roof wears out the shingles more quickly.
Severe weather also damages roofs. So if hail is commonplace, you may not want to spend the extra money on a slate or tile roof knowing that hail can damage it before its time.
Blending into the neighborhood is important. If all of the houses near you have slate roofs and you put an asphalt roof on yours, your house will look cheap. Similarly, if you have the only slate roof in a neighborhood full of asphalt roofs, the asphalt roofs around yours will pull the value of your house down.
Metal roofs are generally not very common, so they have a harder time blending in. They will stick out less if you choose a neutral color.
And what happens if you don’t?
A few years ago I looked at a house for sale whose owners had neglected the roof, air conditioner, and basically all of the long-term maintenance. The value of the house decreased by about the amount the maintenance would have cost, and it sat on the market a long time. It’s better to do the maintenance while you live in the house, so you get to enjoy some of the benefit of the money you sink into it.