Is replacing a roof on a house so difficult? I hear it's easy. Can I do it myself, to my house in Redmond WA?

Is replacing a roof on a house so difficult? I hear it's easy. Can I do it myself, to my house in Redmond WA?

Saving money on replacing the roof of your house is like saving money by doing your own dentistry. Yes, you can save a few dollars in the short term, but any one single mistake could be very painful and very expensive.

To be honest, I never thought dentistry was so difficult. In a pinch, I feel like I could learn all the important elements of it pretty easily, perhaps in about two months, and could set myself up in a practice, if only the state government would let me do it. But I digress...

DIY replacement of a roof: a recipe for disaster

When I first began learning about software engineering, I thought hey, this is easy. After a year or two, however, I got to realize is wasn’t so easy, and that there were plenty of areas where I could screw up easily. And after ten years, I began to grasp just how much I yet needed to learn.

The same is true of many professions – a hairstylist with decades of experience described the same perspective on in in his profession – and I suspect it’s the same in the roofing business. It’s one thing messing up someone’s bangs because you used the wrong pair of scissors, but make a mistake on a re-roofing project in the Pacific Northwest, and you could seriously damage the house under that roof. In fact, any profession you care to take up, I strongly suggest to you it will be ten years before you might master it.

Yes, the principles of a roofing project are not so complex. You could probably guess what the elements are, especially if you’ve have the chance to remove the old roofing material first, which will give you a potential road map of what you need to focus on when you put the new stuff on, but it’s the why question with any skill that sorts the winners from the losers.

Roof replacement and the ‘Why” principle

The Why principle suggests that someone performing a task – or a set of tasks – without knowing why each step is taken, is far more likely to fail than someone who does know why each step is taken. You can peel off each piece of worn out roof material and roof layer, every roof nail and corner flange (heck, I don’t even know what a flange is, but it sounds like you could find one in a roof), but you wouldn’t know why a nail, for example, was driven into a rafter at a certain angle. Or why the layering was in place in a certain order. You could guess, I suppose, but it is only experience – lots of experience – over many years and many re-roofing projects, where many mistakes were made, corrected and paid for, that you get to understand the why of every step in the project. It’s very hard to find that in a book.

You could take on the project of fixing your personal DVD player. It might be complicated – I don’t know – but the worst case consequence is that you destroy the DVD player, and perhaps the DVD in the process. With the roof to your house, unfortunately, you might make an itty-bitty little mistake in how the nails go in through the waterproof material, and the following December you discover that you accidentally created eight thousand holes all over your roof and now the water is dribbling through. This is why it’s a risky saving to do a re-roofing project unless you have the training and experience.

Multiple layers, many opportunities for leakage

The problem with a small leak is, it might do a lot of damage slowly over time, without you ever seeing the problem manifesting itself in, for example, a big flood of water coming through a ceiling. It would almost be better if it was a big flaw and enough water would come through so that it would be obvious, than a small undetected leak that could destroy a roof over time.

I’m not a roofer, but I have heard there is such a thing called a ‘roof nail’. I imagine there is a proper and an improper way to use a roof nail, except I don’t know what that is.

Assuming there is no problem with the materials you have bought to fix your roof – a problem, by the way, which you might not recognize because this is the first roof job you’ve even done – there are several layers to the project, each of which must unite with the next in a way your house will be protected. Usually, the roof infrastructure is covered in plywood. This is not a waterproof layer, although it has been treated and can withstand perhaps a few quick drops of rain while the project is underway. If it gets wet, or stays wet over time, the roof will be damaged, and it may reach the rafters and destroy them too.

Once the plywood is in place – and this is not usually replaced during a re-roofing project – the next layer to go on is a plastic or PVC type of material. It, too, is layered so that if water does reach it and runs down, it will not reach the plywood underneath it. A special type of nail is needed to fasten this material to the plywood.

I’ve seen lats placed over the plastic waterproofing layer. I imagine these are to support the shakes or other material that goes on top of them.

The point being, there are certainly a hundred little ways to create a leak opportunity if you’ve never done such a job before.

My suggestion is to hire a professional. There’s nothing more expensive that destroying the whole house because you wanted to save a few dollars.

See you next week!

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