You wouldn’t be the first homeowner to say…
…you just don’t have the energy to think about your roof’s ventilation.
And honestly, you shouldn’t have to.
Roofing is already a complicated process to tackle for a homeowner. It’s a big expense, and- to make it matters worse- it can seem like you’re expected to be an expert just to find the expert you need for your install!
Setting a budget, finding a reputable contractor, and then choosing the right product for your home? Honestly, I’m proud of any homeowner who keeps a good head during the stressful process. (Here’s something that can give you some peace of mind: If you’re on the search for a roofing contractor, check out these Tips On Reading Project Bids)
So why read this article about yet another thing you need to know about your roof?
Because, every year, my crew replaces and repairs dozens of roofs…especially asphalt shingle roofs…that could have lasted years longer than they did.
A healthy roof has a hidden component that most people don’t think of: Ventilation.
And believe it or not, even great roofing contractors approach the subject differently.
Why? Well, it’s tricky- especially for companies that only install roofs.
A roof is part of your whole home’s system. When it comes to a healthy roof? Sometimes it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
In the next 10 minutes, you’ll find the information you need to:
- Understand how your attic and roof are key to a healthy environment for your family
- Choose the best ventilation for your home (if you live in a mixed climate- like Pennsylvania)
- And how to talk to your roofing contractor to make sure you install a roof that lasts
You don’t have to be a roofing expert to make a great decision for your home. All you need are a few pieces of inside information.
Ready to be confident in your next roof? Read on.
A Ventilated Roof Means More Than Efficiency
You wouldn’t be the first person to tell me I’m particular when it comes to ventilation.
But there’s a good reason. Without ventilation, your roof can’t perform as promised. But most people, even some contractors, don’t think about the long-term advantages of a properly ventilated roof.
What does come to mind first?
Saving money, especially on cooling costs in the summer, is the top reason most homeowners ask about roof and attic vents.
And while it’s true that keeping your attic from becoming an oven can save you money on utilities, other factors, like your attic’s overall insulation, contribute a lot more to efficiency than ventilation.
Take it from a seasoned contractor: A well-ventilated roof’s actual payoff? Is in preventative maintenance.
- According to Building Science, asphalt shingles installed on a poorly ventilated roof reach higher temperatures than on ventilated roofs, reducing their service life by 10%.
- Have a new build? Bad ventilation puts your whole home at risk for mold. We’ll talk more about trapped air later in this article- and how efficiency only works if your whole home is considered.
- A roof installed without good ventilation can void the materials warranty provided by your manufacturer- leaving you exposed to unexpected risks down the road.
Plus, there are the hidden costs. There’s a reason most building codes require attic ventilation.
The health of your roof can affect the safety of your entire home!
Let’s face it, warranties and worn out shingles can be problems decades down the road. But your indoor air quality? It can deteriorate just weeks after having a new roof installed if that roof isn’t ventilated.
Indoor Air Quality and Your Roof
COVID-19 has everyone talking about indoor air quality right now. But ask any reputable roofing contractor and we’ll tell you we’ve been talking about ventilation for years.
We spend most of our lives inside. Smart homeowners know that sick building syndrome, mold, allergies, and other air problems start at the roof…and not just when it leaks.
The truth is this: Your roof can be free of leaks and still be a hazard.
By trapping moisture in your attic.
And moisture? Leads to mold.
Cooking. Showering. Leaky exhaust vents…even just adding a new person to your home (hello, baby!) increases the humidity of your home.
Even more surprising is that it’s the newest homes who face the biggest issues. Built with extra insulation between walls and floors, and with modern windows that keep your heat (or AC) inside, newer homes are a trade-off between energy use and breathability.
Want to know more? Homeowners in new builds are sometimes shocked to learn their home is at a higher risk for building-related illness than grandma’s old farm house. Read my article on Sick Building Syndrome here.
The More (Vents) the Merrier?
You can have too much of a good thing.
Every ‘hole’ you put in your roof creates a weak point. Every vent needs to be installed correctly to prevent water pooling, leaking, or other drainage issues.
That’s why ventilation needs to be tailored to your home, not determined by a simple (x vent per sq ft) equation.
Your Healthy Roof (and Attic!) Working Together
In a perfect world, your roof and attic would only have one job: they’d work together to protect your home.
It’d look like this:
On top, you’d have an expertly finished surface where every raindrop would roll off without a hitch.
Inside- a perfectly insulated interior with no air gaps, no holes, and no inconsistencies. Your attic, and the underside of your roof, would never see moisture from the weather or the inside of your house.
But this perfect scenario? It just doesn’t happen.
Is your attic doing more than just supporting a healthy environment for your roof? Tell me if this sounds familiar.
…Is Your HVAC Unit in Your Attic?
Yes? Leaky ductwork and air gaps around registers create weak spots where moisture from your home can rise up into your attic.
…Do You use your unfinished attic for storage?
I’ll be honest, as a contractor, storing anything in an unfinished attic is a “no way” for me. Those plastic tubs of Christmas decorations just create more surface area for condensation to form on. Even worse? When I see boxes sitting on top of insulation, pressing it down against the ceiling.
…Can you see your can lights in your attic?
Every hole you put in your ceiling- can lights, speakers, bathroom exhaust fans- they all create air gaps. Even attic accesses, like pull down ladders, can be significant problem spots in the health of your attic and roof.
“All right, my attic isn’t perfect. Does that mean I’m out of luck?”
The good news: Storing your Christmas tree in the attic isn’t a one-way ticket to a costly roof replacement.
The home our family lives in now isn’t perfect, but I don’t spend my days worrying about mold.
There’s a solution. Roof ventilation.
And not just ventilation sized based on a Google search.
You need ventilation sized to the specifics of
- your home’s build,
- its capacity,
- and even your lifestyle!
(Does that last one sound crazy? Only if you’ve never replaced a roof after someone turned their college kid’s bedroom into a home brewery….)
Your roofing ventilation needs to work together with the condition of your attic.
This is where some roofing contractors go wrong.
Why Roof Ventilation Matters- Especially In Pennsylvania
Many homeowners think roof venting only matters in hot climates. But as I mentioned earlier, hot air isn’t the main issue: moisture is.
No where is that more true in a mixed (and very wet!) climate like we have here in Pennsylvania.
Two reasons: Condensation…and ice dams.
First, let’s talk about condensation.
Around here, my boots get wet just walking out to my truck for work in the morning. We have so much rainfall and humidity here in Pennsylvania, you can count on the dew to be as regular as the sunrise.
Your attic has the same issues with condensation as the grass…except it’s settling on exposed lumber and insulation.
It works like this: As hot air from your home rises into your non-temperature controlled attic, the moisture settles on cool spots (such as your plumbing venting) and turns into a problem.
Around here, we see the worst of our attic condensation problems in the winter when heated air rises into a cool attic with nowhere to escape. But a badly ventilated attic can have problems in the summer, too. Evening temperature dips or an incoming storm front are enough to create the wet environment mold needs to thrive.
The moral of the story: Condensation is a year-round fact of life if you live in Schuylkill County.
But we also have another winter problem to contend with…
Ice and Snow
Cozy snowy days can turn into wet attics fast if your roof begins to dam.
What’s an ice dam?
After a storm, the snow and ice build up should melt on your roof from the sun just as easily near the base of your roof as it does near the top. WIth good pitch and proper drainage, the water should slide off.
That’s your roof doing what it does best: protecting your home.
But if your roof isn’t ventilated correctly, you’re adding an extra challenge to your structure.
As hot air from your home rises into your attic, it adds extra heat to the top of your roof. This causes the roof’s snow or ice to melt faster at the top, and the unmelted portion at the bottom “dams” up.
The problem: Your roof can’t drain. The unmelted ice or snow pushes up the water underneath your shingles (or into the seams of your roof) and puts your home at risk.
What makes ice damming dangerous is that unlike a leak caused by, say, a fallen tree branch or some blown off shingles, it doesn’t happen all of the time. This makes it hard for a busy homeowner to spot.
Pennsylvania is considered a “mixed climate” by roofing professionals. That means we need ventilation that performs under all weather conditions from hot humid summer to winter snow days.
“But Vern- Won’t Roof Vents Waste My Home’s Heat in the Winter?”
It’s a question I hear often, so let me put you at ease.
Unless your home was designed to have a finished attic space, your furnace shouldn’t be heating your attic.
The warmth in your attic during winter comes more from the sun heating your roof’s exterior. If you have heat pouring into your attic from your living space…you have insulation problems!
Going back to what we talked about earlier with leaky ductwork, uninsulated can lights, and other “holes” in your attic…these issues put more strain on your utility bill than good ventilation.
And remember, our goal is to regulate attic moisture to prevent mold and condensation…not make your unfinished attic cozy a cozy January retreat.
Replacing Your Roof?
Replacing your roof is the perfect time to assess your ventilation needs.
But like I said, you don’t need to be an expert to find an expert to install your roof.
What can you do to make sure your new roof doesn’t become a long-term headache?
- Ask contractors how they assess what type of ventilation you need for your home.
Could the contractor explain why they recommend a certain type or amount of ventilation for your home? Did they look at your attic’s current insulation situation? Or do they just have a standard “vent per square foot” they install?
- Is one bid significantly lower than your other bids? Double check venting.
Crazy enough, we’ve replaced roofs without any vents. It’s a classic case of “If the price is too good to be true…it probably is”. A bid that’s 20-50% less than any of your comparative bids probably doesn’t include venting (and might be missing other essentials, too!)
- Is this a chance to upgrade your attic, too?
Overall insulation and air gaps play a huge role in keeping your roof healthy and those utility costs down. Replacing your roof is the perfect time to ask your contractor about your attic’s current insulation situation and consider an upgrade. Yes, there are more glamorous home improvement projects. But spending money to insulate your attic can mean instant savings and long-term comfort you can actually feel.
Looking for a great contractor who can not only replace your roof…but make sure you have the ventilation your home needs? We’re right here.
Learn more about our roofing services here or dive into our Ultimate Residential Roofing Guide.
Or get to the top of our schedule and give us a call at 570.345.0406 to get a bid for your project. We’d love to help you create a healthy, worry-free home.
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