Expert Interview: What to Do When You Cannot Afford to Replace Your Roof
With inflation rising and weather extremes breaking new records at an alarming rate, a damaged roof is an emergency that can cause tremendous stress for homeowners. A recent Modernize survey found that 75 percent of homeowners who needed a new roof or a roof repair said their level of stress about decisions relating to their roofing project was “more than I can even handle” and their stress is “tough to manage.” Across trades, the majority of homeowners —69 percent— shared the biggest barrier to home improvement projects right now is the high cost of supplies. Homeowners noted the inflated cost of DIY or contractor services, supply shortages, the price of gasoline, interest rates, and the impact of weather as factors contributing to unbearable household stress levels. A roof replacement cost can be higher than homeowners have the budget for.
Historically, Modernize homeowners have rated their roof repair/replacement projects as much more stressful than any other type of home project. Their stress is warranted: a roof is a homeowner’s first line of defense against the elements, and any damage to a roof can start to cause larger problems. For instance, if a roof is missing a few shingles and then a rainstorm hits, water can seep into the house and cause damage to the walls, floors, and other structural elements.
So what should a homeowner do if they need a new roof and now, due to increased costs of contractor supplies and services, cannot afford it?
Modernize spoke to roofing expert Michael DiMartino at Power Home Remodeling to get an insider’s opinion on when to replace and repair your roof, how to find a reputable contractor, and what to do if you can’t afford a repair/replacement you need.
How Inflation is Impacting Home Improvement Projects
DiMartino has been working in residential construction for more than 20 years and has specialized in roofs with Power Home since 2010. When asked how homeowners have been affected by inflation, he said, “It impacts everyone, whether you’re looking to do [home] projects or not.”
For people looking into what DiMartino calls “vanity projects,” which tend to focus on improving home value rather than fixing an emergency – such as a kitchen remodel – people are putting the brakes on. DiMartino is among them, noting that he and his family just decided to hold off on remodeling their bathroom until costs come down.
But homeowners cannot make that decision if they need a new roof. “When it comes to roofing,” said DiMartino, “that’s a necessity product. The roof is the most important part of your home – it protects everything else in your home. Damaged or leaking roofs can cause internal damage. It doesn’t matter what the economy looks like, you have to address it and get it fixed.” And that is where the majority of homeowner stress is coming from. But what if the roof replacement cost is too much for homeowners to afford doing?
Using Financing Options to Replace a Roof
If you need a new roof, one option is to work with a company that offers financing. Power Home Remodeling is one such company, and DiMartino notes that it allows homeowners to “sit on their cash reserves” rather than spend it on a roof.
DiMartino said that with Power, between 65-75% of homeowners use financing. At the time of our conversation, he had not seen that number start to spike, but, he says, “I’m thinking I’m going to see more.” In our most recent survey, 77.5% of Modernize homeowners, across trades, want to finance some, if not all, of their upcoming projects. DiMartino says Power’s financing needs no down payments or progress payments – homeowners can start paying when “it’s finished and has a warranty.” That warranty should give you “a lot of peace of mind,” DiMartino says. “A reputable contractor who backs up their warranty is key. If something happens, we are a phone call away. When I had my own new roof put on, the first time it rained, it leaked. It happens, no one is perfect. It’s a complex installation. But [the company] came out and fixed it.” You want a company that is going to come back and fix any mistakes ASAP.
Be Proactive With Your Roofing Project
Here, “proactive” means “before there is a problem.” As DiMartino says, “‘Damage’ is a wide net. A tree falling into your home is an emergency. But damage also takes place over time – it’s a slow burn. Shingles wear out over time. They are weather- and water-resistant, but not weather- and waterproof. Freezing, rain water, etc. all cause damage over time.”
So what signs should you look for to see if you need a roof repair or replacement before it becomes an emergency? DiMartino says the best way to check for problems without actually climbing onto your roof is to look for signs of moisture in the attic. “Attic inspection is critical,” he says. DiMartino recommends going into the attic with a high-beam white flashlight and looking for water damage signs. He says to check “flashing, around pipes, and around chimneys.”
Other signs of a compromised roof can be easy to spot, even from the ground. Missing shingles, streaks on the roofing shingles (dark water stains where granules are running off), and spores coming out on the roof are all signs you need a professional’s help.
Lastly, DiMartino says, “If you’ve lived in your home 15 years and never replaced [your roof], and are not the first person to live there, it’s probably time to replace your roof.”
What if your roofing project is already an emergency? “If someone is calling us with a tree through their roof, we are telling them to call their insurance first. Insurance typically wants quotes and to give approval before we can start. So you need to address these issues [first].”
Which Roofing Material is Best to Cut Down on Future Costs and Replacements?
For roof shingles, DiMartino says they “recommend like for like.” Asphalt shingles are “the biggest and best affordable roofing material. A metal roof is great, but it is way more expensive, and the insulation/sound proofing isn’t as good.” There are different grades of asphalt shingles to consider: builder-grade shingles last 10-15 year when put on, versus something like a product Power offers – a lifetime shingle, meaning a shingle that lasts 50 years. “There are companies that offer a good, better, best,” product, DiMartino says, “but we only offer ‘best.’” So what should a homeowner do if they can’t afford “best”?
“Things to think about [if you are going] with good, better, best: is this your forever home? If not, you might replace your roof with builder-grade shingles and pass the problem on. You can also do a second course of shingles without tearing the first off,” but if you are not the home’s original owner, it’s possible a previous owner has made that same choice, and “that could mean you have three, four, five layers of roof.” Power Home will not do a second layer of shingles. Compared to a roof replacement cost, this is a cheaper fix, but one you should undertake at your own risk.
What Should a Homeowner Do If They Need Multiple Repairs but Can Only Afford One or Two?
Although Power Home does not take on projects like this themselves, DiMartino can speak to this issue from his other years of experience working in the roofing industry. “Doing patchwork is certainly an option to mitigate a leak. That’s an effective repair for someone who cannot replace.” As discussed above, “A second layer is also an option. If you have a roof at the end of its life, but can’t afford a new one, [a second layer] keeps you from extra labor costs involved with taking off the roof and getting a new underlayment and all that.”
However, bigger home remodeling and roofing companies may be unlikely to take on patch jobs like this. “A roof repair is a maintenance/handyman job. It’s going to a big box store and grabbing shingles to replace [old ones].”
If you need a handyman for this kind of patch work, DiMartino says, “Find someone who is going to stand by their work, a reputable and professional specialist. We are the nation’s largest residential roofing contractor, so we’re not going anywhere. I’m not an out-of-work plumber installing your roof because I need the job. I’m not a contractor who does everything and am just taking this job because I need the job.” You want someone who can come back and help if the patchwork starts leaking or you encounter other issues.
Also, make sure that the handyman you hire is insured. “Roofing work is deemed more dangerous [than other home improvement projects], so Power’s insurance and warranty is above and beyond what is required.” You want to make sure a handyman is similarly insured.
Finally, “Look for reviews online, get recommendations from friends/families/neighbors who can speak to the person’s reputation, etc.” Also check, “how long [they have been] in business. Is this the guy’s last year in business before turning it over to someone else? Find a company with staying power and reputation.” One good sign you can keep an eye out for as you try to make a hiring decision? Find someone who is “trying to educate you, not just earn your money.”
DiMartino also shared his hard-and-fast advice for any homeowner tackling a roofing project: “ALWAYS call a professional. Never do roof work yourself. First off, working at a height is always more dangerous. Secondly, you could make the damage worse unknowingly.”
A roof repair or replacement is stressful. The roof replacement cost might make you feel like this necessary project is out of your scope. But knowing your options and how to best manage the project can help it feel more accomplishable. Modernize’s series on roofing damage takes you from finding the damage in the first place to filing an insurance claim to hiring a contractor to evaluating quotes and beyond. Whenever you are ready to get quotes, we can match you to qualified professionals in your area.