Is a 20 year old roof too old?
For most people, buying a house is the most expensive purchase they will ever make. Therefore, it’s important to take time to inspect a property before you decide to make an offer. When you are looking at buying a house, there are many factors to consider, such as the location, the age and upkeep of the house, and how much renovation work you might need to do to it in the next few years. However, we can’t stress enough how important the age and condition of the roof should be. Why is the roof so important you ask? This is for two reasons: first, the condition of the roof can have a serious impact on the condition of the whole house (for example, leaks in the roof can affect interior walls); and second, if your roof is too old, you may not be able to get home insurance!
Most houses have shingle roofs, and shingle roofs are usually expected to be replaced every 20 years or so. So, if you are looking at a house that has a 20 year old roof, you might worry that this roof is too old. Truthfully, a twenty-year old roof should be replaced soon. Unless it has been well-maintained, it is likely to have problems, such as leaks, that can put your house at risk. And you might be surprised to know that many home insurance companies won’t actually insure a house if its shingle roof is 20 or more years old, until that roof is replaced. Even if you are able to find insurance, it will likely come with higher premiums and lower maximum payouts than you would get with a newer roof. And don’t forget, that mortgages generally require you to hold home insurance in order for you to qualify for the mortgage. If that roof is so old that you can’t get insurance, your bank may just not let you buy it.
You might be wondering what insurance companies look for when they are deciding your premium rates and coverage levels, based on your roof. Insurers look at the following factors:
- Age: The actual age of the roof is one of the most important factors in determining the level of coverage your insurer is willing to offer. Make sure you know when it was last replaced.
- Condition: Age is just a shortcut to guess the condition of a roof, with insurers assuming that older roofs are in poorer condition. If you keep your roof well-maintained and frequently inspected by professionals, and you keep records of the work, insurers are more likely to forgive the actual age of the roof. The key is to be able to prove that it’s in excellent condition.
- Material: certain materials are known to be more or less durable over time, and so what your roof is made of will affect the insurer’s risk assessment. Metal and tile roofs are thought to be stronger and more long-lasting, while wood or tar shingle roofs are at higher risk of damage from extreme weather and normal wear-and-tear.
- Shape: this affects how likely it is that wind will damage your roof, or water or snow will build up and cause leaks. A flat roof will generally be more expensive to insure than a sloped one.
Insurers are generally willing to cover you for damage to your roof from the following causes: fallen trees or other debris, hail, lightning, extreme snow or ice (such as from an ice storm), extreme winds (such as from a wind storm or tornado), or fire. Make sure you read your policy carefully and understand what is covered.
Let’s say you find a house you really like, but it has a roof that is at the end of its insurable life span. What should you do? First and foremost, you may be able to get the roof replaced by the current owners as a condition of the sale. This is worth asking about! That way, the work is done before you take possession, and the cost of the new roof is factored into the selling price. However, in recent times, the demand for housing has been so high that most homes have sold without conditions on the sale. If this is the market you are buying in, you may need to plan to replace the roof yourself as soon as possible. Be up-front with your mortgage lender and your insurer about this option, and make sure you budget for this cost if you put an offer on the house.
Now, let’s talk about how to care for an old roof. Say you are buying a house whose roof is 15 years old, and you know you will have to replace it soon. Or, you want to sell your home in the near future, and it has an older roof. There are some things you can do to keep even an old roof in good shape, as well as document its condition in a way that can make insurers, lenders and buyers more confident in this roof’s condition. Remember, insurers and mortgage lenders are mostly worried about risk, so you want to be able to show that the risk of roof failure is low. You can do these things to care for your roof:
- Get regular inspections and regular professional roof maintenance done. This way you can solve small problems before they become big and expensive.
- Make sure to keep trees and other sources of debris trimmed away from your roof, try to avoid overhanging branches. Also, get the trees around your house inspected every few years so you can remove hazardous trees.
- Keep detailed records. Again, if you can show that your roof is in excellent condition and is maintained regularly, the insurer will feel like there is less risk.
In summary, a 20-year old roof isn’t necessarily a big problem, but if you are buying or selling a home it is going to make people ask questions. Do your due diligence and make sure you aren’t buying or selling a damaged house.