Author Archives: Merv Kaufman


How To: Restore Cabinet Finishes

painted and stained kitchen cabinets

Photo: goeltom.blogspot.com

Your kitchen gets a lot of use. So it doesn’t take long to begin seeing signs of wear and tear on wood cabinets. Soon you may decide that some changes or updates are needed. And sometimes the simplest remedies are the best—and the most budget-friendly, too.

If your stained or painted kitchen cabinets are in need of a facelift, you can give them a fresh new appearance with only a minimal investment in tools and materials.

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Rx for Hardwood Floors

Experts from the American Hardwood Information Center share tips on how to clean hardwood floors after accidents and spills of various kinds.

How to Clean Hardwood Floors - Armstrong

Photo: Armstrong Hardwood Flooring

Special problems need special solutions—and that’s particularly true of wood flooring. When accidents happen, first aid is essential. Here are some tips from the American Hardwood Information Center that will help you maintain hardwood floors.

Food SpillsIf caked or dried, use a sharpened knife blade and, working from the outer edge toward the center, scrape up the spill (while taking care not to scratch the wood surface). Rub the damaged spot first with a slightly dampened cloth, then with a dry one. If your floor has a waxed surface, re-wax and buff the area you’ve repaired.

How to Clean Hardwood Floors - Ice

Wax and gum removal with ice. Photo: Martha Stewart

Other Flaws. Crayon marks usually come off when rubbed with a soft cloth dipped in a mild dishwashing detergent. Removing chewing gum and candle wax, on the other hand, is more challenging. Apply a wood-floor cleaning product and let it permeate the spill to loosen, then proceed to scrape off the blemish with a plastic spatula or sharpened knife edge. You can also apply ice until the spill gets brittle, then remove in the manner described above.

Oil and Grease. On a surface-finished (urethaned) floor, apply mineral spirits or TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) and wipe with a clean cloth. If your floor has a penetrating finish, applying TSP or a high-lye-content soap should do the trick.

Serious Stains. If your floor is marred by an ink spill or the remnants of a pet accident, clean the spot with No. 2 steel wool and mineral spirits or a cleaning product created for wood. Then cleanse with household vinegar and let stand a few minutes. Depending on your floor’s finish, either re-wax and buff or apply two coats of urethane.

Stubborn StainsMix an ounce of oxatic acid with a quart of water, apply the solution to the stain and let stand for one hour. (Be sure to wear rubber gloves; oxatic acid is toxic.) Finally, wipe the damaged area with a dampened sponge. When dry, the next step is to refinish.

For more on flooring, consider:

How To: Refinish Hardwood
Old Wood Floor: Refinish or Replace?
Expect the Unexpected: Wood Floors


Even Your Garbage Disposal Needs TLC

Garbage Disposal Care - Dos and Donts

Photo: Trulia

It’s not so much that your under-sink workhorse needs strict maintenance, only sensible care. You probably already know that fibrous foods like banana skins, broccoli, celery, corn husks and potato peels can tangle and stop the blades of your garbage disposal. Other no-no’s include bones and eggshells. But are you aware that dumping coffee grounds or starchy food into the unit can clog the pipes? Here are some other do’s and don’ts of garbage disposal care:

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Planning Guide: Wood Decks

When it comes to wood decks, here's everything you need to know about planning, materials, and maintenance.

Wood Decks

Photo: Western Red Cedar Lumber Association

Deck building is on the rise. According to a 2011 report by The Freedonia Group, leading business researchers, “U.S. demand for decking is forecast to rise 2.7 percent annually through 2014.”

Why? “From the lifestyle perspective, there’s great value in adding an outdoor living space,” says Bob Mion, the California Redwood Association’s marketing director. In addition to “enhancing the quality and quantity of living space in your yard,” he adds, “you can build a deck knowing you’ll recoup, on average, 82 percent of the project’s cost when you sell your home.”

As a priority, location, location, location is now being replaced by space, space, space, as homeowners strive to utilize every inch of their land. A deck, one way to maximize even the tiniest backyard plot, can be any size, shape or configuration as long as it conforms to the geography of the land and a home’s style and profile. But, the size, scale, location and materials will impact on everything from cost to long-term enjoyment, so plan wisely.

Deck building is certainly a DIY endeavor provided you have better than average building skills and keep the plan simple.  You can find a variety of free deck plans on line, along with some web-based tools that will help you customize your plans to exact specifications. Your local lumber yard and home center can also provide expert advice and support.

If the job of installing a deck is outside your DIY comfort level, there are plenty of contractors, carpenters, and installation service providers that can help you envision, design, install and realize your dream deck.

Regardless of whether you choose to build the deck yourself or hire a professional, you should acquaint yourself with the basics. This guide will familiarize you with everything you need to know about outdoor decks from planning and wood varieties to seasonal care and long-term maintenance.

PLANNING YOUR DREAM DECK

When considering a deck, think how you’ll use it. If you like cooking outdoors, you’ll want it attached to your house near the kitchen. If you entertain alfresco, site it just off your family room. A deck can serve as a bridge from the house to the pool or as an extension of the existing pool surround.  It can also offer an attractive solution to a sloping yard and make the most of uneven terrain.  But, if the deck is mainly a place to rest and relax, it could be freestanding—just about anywhere on your property.

To get the most from your planning, consider the following:

Plan from the inside out.  Imagine how a deck would extend outward from your home.  Will it lead to a garden? A lawn? A pool ?  Could it exploit a pleasing view? After deciding where to build it, use lengths of rope to lay out various sizes and shapes so you can experience what the deck really should be.

Consider the deck from the outside.  There are a variety of deck styles to choose from, but you will want to design one that blends naturally with your home’s architectural style and color palette.  Remember that a deck is part of both the house and the landscape, so make it meet your requirements in terms of function and aesthetics.  And, don’t overlook shade considerations.  If your site lacks trees, you may want to add a shade covering, or consider trellising or pergola-like beams to provide a built-in solution.

Is a building permit required?  Depending on where you live and the size of the deck you want, you may need to get a permit. Check with your local building department. It’s always better to be safe than sorry—or penalized.

Consult a pro. Unless you feel confident of your DIY skills, consider engaging a local landscape architect or deck builder. Talk with at least three—until you find one who shares your vision and respects your budget. Be sure to check references and don’t hesiate contacting the Better Business Bureau and local Chamber of Commerce. Before hiring anyone, make sure your needs are well documented.

DECK MATERIALS: NATURAL WOOD OPTIONS

There are many wood species that can be used for outdoor decks, but not all offer the same benefits and maintenance requirements.  Price and availability vary regionally.  As California Redwood Association’s Bob Mion points out, “In the Southeast you’ll find lots of Southern yellow pine; in the North Central Midwest, Western red cedar; in the California-Oregon-Washington region, redwood predominantly.” You can certainly use redwood for a deck on Cape Cod—if you pay to ship it there.

Knowing that where you live and how much you can spend may be deciding factors—here are the likeliest natural wood chioces for deck building:

Redwood is easy to work with, naturally decay- and insect-resistant and rugged enough to avoid warping and splitting.

Cedar resists moisture, rot and insect infestation. If untreated, it weathers to a silvery gray but is easily stained or sealed.

Douglas fir, like spruce, is not only a source of beauty but also very strong. It responds well to hand- and power-tool use and, properly treated, is decay-, mold- and termite-resistant.

Cypress is strong, with natural resistance to decay. It’s also easy to work with—either with hand or power tools.

Hemlock boasts a uniform wood grain as well as a natural resistance to decay. It, too, is easily dealt with.

Southern yellow pine, when pressure-treated, is durable, strong and environmentally friendly. NOTE: In 2003, when high toxicity was discovered in pressure-treated wood, new regulations were established. Manufacturers now use nontoxic chemicals to make that product safe as well as rot- and insect-repellant. Decking experts at The Home Depot say that “pressure-treated lumber provides greater strength and is less expensive than other deck materials. Use it to frame the structure, then choose another material for decking and railings.”

Exotic wood choices. These species are more durable, more difficult to work with and more expensive,” says The Home Depot. Choices include cambara, meranti and ipe´, also called Brazilian walnut, which  Bob Vila calls “an extremely dense material and also a renewable product—one of the best choices for outdoor decking.”

WOOD FINISHES, SEALERS AND PAINTS

Unfinished wood will weather naturally, but to prolong its color and longevity, consider applying one of the many protective finishes now on the market. Here are the options, their characteristics and benefits:

Clear water sealer.  This transparent finish will provide dampness protection for the wood without altering it’s natural color or grain. It is perfect for all wood types, especially those with built-in color and natural beauty, like redwood and cedar.  A recoat is recommended every three years.

Tinted waterproofer—provides dampness protection with the added benefit of color enhancement.  Products like Thompson® WaterSeal® are formulated to even out the color differences caused by aging and shield your deck from fade-inducing UV rays.  Long-term protection recommends that you recoat every three years.

Semi-transparent stains, like those from Cabot, contain a light pigmentation designed to enhance the natural grain and character of any wood variety.  Unlike paint, stain actually soaks into the grain of the wood, but will fade over time.  Consider recoating every couple of years to maintain true beauty.

Solid stain offers a rich, opague finish that covers wood completely like paint, but with the adhering benefits of a stain.  In addition to wood tones, there are color options—like blues, greens and reds—that can add a dramatic look to any deck.  Best of all solid stains provide decade-long protection from sun and weather.

Paint is a consideration for less expensive grades of wood, primarily pine.  Be sure to prime your deck before brushing on an exterior product, like Behr Porch Paints—an acrylic latex that is mildrew resistant and designed to resist scuffing, fading, cracking and peeling while providing a durable, long-lasting exterior finish.  Paint will need recoating every five years depending on traffic wear and deck care.

DECK CARE AND MAINTENANCE

Regardless of how you finish your wood deck, maintenance is essential—and, in some cases, as easy as wielding a broom.

Seasonally, sweep away leaves, needles, twigs and branches. Remove debris buildup between boards; it can impede ventilation, causing moisture and standing water to remain on the surface and aid mildew growth.

Annually, clean thoroughly with deck detergent from a home center or hardware store. Mix according to label instructions and spray on, then let stand 10 to 15 minutes. Use a stiff brush to remove stubborn dirt and grime.

After cleaning, allow two to three days for drying. If you decide to refresh or change your color, apply stain followed by at least one coat of waterproof sealer.

Banish mildew as soon as you see it. Untreated, it can create permanent deck damage. Home centers sell various mildew removers, but the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association suggests mixing your own: In a pump-style garden sprayer combine 3 quarts of cold water, 12 quarts of oxygen bleach and ¼ cup of ammonia-free liquid dish detergent. Spray liberally and let set 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse with clear, cold water. For tough stains, apply this solution with a soft bristle brush, or scrub with straight vinegar. Rinse; when dry, finish with two coats of sealer.


Gas Fireplaces 101

In the market for a gas fireplace? Here's all the info you need to choose the right model for your home.

Gas Fireplaces

Photo: Vermont Castings

Fireplaces have always been among the top amenities for homeowners looking to buy a new house. In fact, they rank just second behind outdoor patios, decks and porches, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). While the cost of adding a fireplace to an existing home used to be prohibitively expensive—requiring the creation of an exterior stone chimney, flue, firebox and, in many cases, floor supports to accommodate the weight of the hearth—today’s options are not only affordable, but a relatively easy home improvement.

Related: Gas Fireplaces: A Showcase of Design and Inspiration

What has made them so is the technology and installation flexibility of gas-fueled models. Since no actual combustion occurs in gas fireplaces, zero-clearance installation is possible, which, according to Monessen Hearth Systems, means that “these fireplaces can be installed in direct contact with combustible walls and floors. Their inner and outer shell construction allows for maximum heat insulation.” As long as you have a natural gas connection or propane availability, you can install a gas fireplace almost anywhere in your home—under a window, in either an outside or inside wall, at wainscot or floor level, in a corner or even in the center of a room. Shielded by tempered or ceramic glass, gas fireplaces can be exposed on three sides (a peninsula of glassed-in warmth) or four sides (a virtual see-through island).

Combine that flexibility, with a wide array of styles—from traditional to ultra-contemporary, a fire that looks and performs like real wood, and the benefit of improved energy efficiency, and it’s clear why gas fireplaces are one of the hottest hearth products on the market today, outselling wood and pellet varieties by more than half, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), the trade association representing makers of heating and outdoor cooking equipment.

BENEFITS OF GAS OVER WOOD
Comparing price lists from various manufacturers, you’ll find little significant difference between factory-made gas and wood units (from under $1,000 to nearly $3,000), and installation costs are about equal, no matter where you live. The main difference between gas and wood lies in venting and long-term performance.

Says Mike Ruppa, a veteran fireplace retailer and now president of Empire Distributing in upstate New York: “The nice thing about gas is that you have immediate ignition and complete control over the heat output of the appliance. With wood, a certain amount of time is required to light the fire, turn that energy into heat and then get that heat into a room.”

Ruppa points out that in contrast to a gas fireplace, whose warmth is thermostatically controlled, a wood-burning unit comes with only an air control—the damper. That, he says “allows you to control the amount of air going in, which consequently controls the combustion process and the heat output.”

As a bonus, high-end gas fireplaces are available with comfort control systems. “These are anticipators,” Ruppa explains. “They monitor the temperature of a room and start ramping the burner down as the room approaches a desired temperature.”

What about the environment? “Wood is a renewable resource, gas isn’t,” he points out. But, he adds, “in a gas appliance there are very few by-products of combustion entering the atmosphere. So, environmentally, I do think gas appliances are healthier for the environment than a polluting type wood-burning appliance.”

VENTING OPTIONS

There are three venting options available for gas fireplace installations:

Natural vent, often called B vent, utilizes an existing masonry chimney or a factory-built metal chimney.  Room air exhausts combustion by-products to the outside via a flexible liner or single pipe installed within the chimney.

Direct-vent fireplaces draw in outdoor air for combustion, then expel spent air to the outside through a dual (co-linear) venting system, eliminating the heat loss associated with conventional chimneys, according to technicians at Majestic Fireplaces. They can be vented up through the roof or out to the side or back of a house; a perfect solution for homes without an existing chimney.  Direct-vent units must, however, have a sealed glass door to maintain proper combustion and ensure efficiency and indoor air quality.

Vent-free technology, once considered controversial, has now won wide acceptance. Robert Dischner, director of product development at Lennox Hearth Products states that “the fireplaces use catalytic-converter technology [similar to exhaust systems on new cars sold in the U.S.], which cleans hot air as it leaves the combustion chamber. Because of this technology, no chimney or venting is required.” Further, he says, “their sleek look is much like a plasma television.”

THE INSERT ALTERNATIVE
Perhaps the least efficient, most energy-wasteful way to heat a room is with an open fireplace, because so much warmth goes up the chimney. You can still utilize that chimney but improve the energy efficiency of your masonry fireplace by installing an insert, available in various sizes and shapes and generally priced from just under $500 to about $2,500.

According to Ruppa, “If you never even light this unit, you’re going to save money just by eliminating that cold-air expulsion through the fireplace chimney. By sealing off the fireplace at the damper area and installing a gas or even a wood insert with a chimney liner, you’ll be plugging up that hole and becoming more energy-efficient.”

HOW MUCH HEAT?
Depending on how well insulated your house is, Ruppa says a 40,000 BTU fireplace would be more than enough to heat a large living or family room. He also points out that “a lot of high-efficiency gas fireplaces have a large turn-down ratio—meaning, they can go from 40,000 BTU down to 12,000 BTU, enough to heat the average bedroom or dining room.” He adds that if you had a 40,000 BTU fireplace and only needed to use 50 percent of its capacity, you’d pay less than $1 an hour to operate.

THE LOG LOOK

You no longer need to burn wood to achieve the warmth or pleasing glow of logs crackling in a hearth. Gas-fireplace manufacturers nationally market and sell ceramic or refractory cement log sets molded from real wood logs and produced in various sizes. Prices, based on size and quality, range from about $400 to $1,000. Realism is further boosted not only by an authentic-looking flame but also by a coal bed of sand and bits of lava rock and rock wool that add to the fireplace glow. Another touch of available realism: the aroma of burning wood.

KEEPING IT CLEAN

Routine maintenance plus proper installation and use is essential to fireplace safety as well as the ability to burn clean and green. To ensure top performance, a gas fireplace needs servicing once a year by a pro who inspects the burner, fan, venting, pilot light and thermostat, and even cleans the glass.

To locate a certified installer in your area, contact the National Fireplace Institute. In addition, the HPBA recommends that all vents for vented gas fireplaces be inspected on an annual basis by a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America and also recommends the installation of a carbon monoxide detector with all hearth products.

For more, don’t miss Gas Fireplaces: A Showcase of Design and Inspiration


Spring Home Maintenance Checklist

As winter ends, give your home a complete physical—inside and out—to ready it for those warm-weather months ahead.

This year, many parts of the country have enjoyed such a mild winter that even in the Northeast, spring weather seems like it’s just around the corner—if it hasn’t arrived already.

Spring Home MaintenanceTake advantage of the moderate temperatures to get a head start on what should be an annual spring home maintenance routine.

EXTERIOR INSPECTION

“It’s good to do a walk-around of your property, especially after a storm,” says Curtis S. Niles, Sr., owner of Armored Home Inspections, Upper Darby, PA, and president of the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). “Winter is tough on roofs and chimneys.” It can also take its toll on windows, walls, foundations, gutters and decks.

Roof. You don’t need to climb up there yourself; with binoculars and a keen eye, you can probably spot trouble. Do you see any shingle-shift, suggesting that some fasteners may have failed and need replacing? Any cracked or missing shingles? What about nail-pops? “We call them eyebrows,” Niles explains. “It’s when nails push the tabs of the shingles up, allowing water to get in where those nails are coming through.” All will need to be addressed to keep your roof at peak performance.

Chimneys. If you have a masonry chimney, check the joints between bricks or stones. Have any fallen out? Is there vegetation growing out of them? Each signals water infiltration. Also, look for efflorescence—”a white calcium-like deposit that indicates your masonry joints are no longer repelling water but absorbing it,” says Niles. Consider re-sealing masonry with a clear, impermeable or water-resistant barrier material (like Thoroseal products). Brush it on, small areas at a time; let it absorb for 15 minutes, then reapply—it may need a couple of applications.

Exterior Walls. Whether you have wood siding, stucco or brick, look for trouble spots, especially under eaves and near gutter downspouts. Water stains normally indicate that your gutters are not adequately containing roof runoff. If you have wood siding, check for openings, damaged areas or knots that have popped out, making way for carpenter ants, woodpeckers and other critters that may nest in or burrow through.

Foundations. When inspecting the exterior of your home, be sure to examine the foundation from top to bottom for masonry cracks. “Routine caulking by homeowners won’t do the job,” says Niles. “Hire a foundation specialist who can employ a two-part epoxy injection system that will bond cracks chemically,” he adds.

Windows. Leakage around windows will admit warm summer air and let cooled indoor air escape, so be sure to check that any caulking and weather stripping you have in place has remained intact. “A tight seal is the first line of defense against air and water,” says Marty Davis, marketing manager, Simonton Windows, Columbus, OH. If you experienced condensation inside the glass on double- or triple-glazed windows during the winter months, the weather seal has been compromised, and either the glass or the window will need to be replaced.

Spring-clean your windows—inside and out—with a store-bought or homemade window cleaner (one cup rubbing alcohol, one cup water and a tablespoon of white wine vinegar will work just fine) and either a squeegee or a soft cloth. Never use abrasive cleaners or a high-pressure spray washer. You don’t want to scratch the glass or crack the caulking around each unit. If screens were on all winter, remove and clean them with mild detergent. Lay them on a dry surface, like a driveway to air-dry before putting them back on. “Never power-wash screens,” urges Davis, “it could damage the mesh.”

My Blessed Life Spring Cleaning SuppliesINTERIOR MAINTENANCE

General Cleaning. Spring is a good time to clean areas of the house that often go neglected. Dust or vacuum chair rails, window casings, tops of wall-mounted cabinets and ceiling fans. Launder or dry-clean fabric draperies and use a damp cloth to clean wood and vinyl blinds. Vacuum upholstered furniture and mattresses and consider renting a carpet cleaner—anything you can do to remove settled dust, mites, and allergens will make for a cleaner, and healthier, home.

If you detect grease residue in the kitchen, consider washing cabinets, backsplashes and walls with warm water and mild detergent. The same is true in the bathroom, where soap residue and fluctuations in heat and humidity combine to create the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. While you’re cleaning tile, look for areas of worn or missing grout, as these may lead to more serious water damage if not repaired.

Air Conditioning. Just as you readied your furnace for fall, now is the time to make sure that air conditioning units are in good working order for the warmer months ahead. Change the filter, check hose connections for leaks, and make sure the drain pans are draining freely. In addition, vacuum any dust that has settled on the unit and connections; over time it can impact the air conditioner’s effectiveness. If you suspected problems with the efficiency or performance of the unit last summer, now is the time to call in a professional to check it out.

Attics. Search for signs that indicate insects and critters have colonized. Also, search aggressively for mold, which often takes the form of “gray or black blotches that look like staining,” according to Tim Gentry, vice president of technical services, DaVinci Roofscapes, Kansas City, KS. Proper insulation and good ventilation will deter mold growth in the attic, so take action now to prevent the problem from developing in the warmer months ahead.

Basements. The basement—prone to dampness and insects—must be part of any thorough seasonal maintenance effort. Dampness suggests higher than normal relative humidity, inadequate ventilation and the need for a dehumidifier. Check the base of poured-concrete walls. “Cracks start from the bottom up, not the top down,” Niles points out. “If there’s water penetration, it’ll show at the bottom of those cracks.” And be sure to use a flashlight to examine exposed framing. “If you see even a quarter-inch or so of tunneling on the wood,” says Niles, “call a pest control company immediately.”

Leaks. Spring is a good time to check for leaky faucets, clogged drains and sweaty pipes. Check under the kitchen and bathroom sink to make sure connections on pipes and hoses are properly sealed, and look for any wetness around the dishwasher that could signal an existing or potential problem. The same is true of your laundry room; check washer machine hoses for cracks, bulges or dampness. The same is true for hot water heaters, which may show sign of corrosion and leaks.

Spring Home Maintenance

Photo: Mark

OUTDOORS

Lawns. Rake the lawn to remove any branches, debris and leaves that you might have missed in the fall; if left, they can suffocate the grass beneath. During the winter, soil compaction, along with chemical changes altering your soil’s PH, may have left your lawn vulnerable to weed growth and other issues. Even if you can’t see weeds, they are more than likely waiting for optimum conditions to propagate. If you want to prevent them from germinating, consider an organic herbicide; fertilizers are better suited to the fall.

Make sure outdoor water systems—pipes, faucets, and in-ground sprinkler systems—are in working order. Once the ground thaws completely, start preparing new garden beds for summer plants. And take stock of your garden tools and lawn-maintenance equipment, including lawn mowers, trimmers and hoses.

Decks and Patios. Look for warped, loose or splintered boards, and do a good sweep to remove any leaves and debris accumulated in the space between boards. “Whether it’s wood, plastic or composite, a deck should be cleaned every year to extend its life,” says Chuck Harris, owner, Custom Lumber Manufacturing Co., Dothan, AL. If the finish on your wood deck is faded or worn, now is the time to clean, stain, and reseal it. If you have composite decking, follow manufacturers’ recommendations on seasonal care. The same is true for wood and composite fences, pergolas, trellises and other structures. If you have a stone patio, a simple hose down provide be all the maintenance required (unless you detect moss or staining, in which case a more serious cleaning may be necessary).

Outdoor Furniture. If you stored your lawn furniture for the winter, bring it outdoors and give it a hose rinse, or wash it with a mild detergent. For metal furniture, check for signs of rust or paint erosion; a simple remedy of spray enamel will prevent further damage from sun, rain and humidity in the months ahead.

Grills. If your gas grill has remained idle over the winter months, check burner jets for clogs and obstructions, and be sure that gas hoses and connections are sound and secure. You’ll also want to check for propane. For charcoal grill owners, make certain your grill is clean of ash and free of grease residue. It’s a good habit to adopt throughout the grilling season, not just in the spring.

For more on spring home care, check out our Spring Home Maintenance slideshow.


Quick Tip: Roof Repair or Replacement

Checking your roof for problem signs now could mean the difference between repair or replacement later.

Roof Replacement

Photo: The Local Planet

The cost of re-roofing is something no one wants to think about, but every roof—at some point—will need to be repaired or replaced. The best defense is to conduct regular checks on the roof surface and be mindful of its performance. Discovering minor problems today could mean the difference between repair and replacement tomorrow.

The good news is that you needn’t climb on your roof to assess its condition. Good vision plus binoculars may be all you need to affirm that replacing the roof is essential or that only spot repair is needed.  “Just because your roof isn’t leaking doesn’t mean you don’t have a roofing problem,” cautions Joann Liebeler, former co-host of PBS’s Home Time and, currently, a spokesperson for GAF

Liebeler cites some “danger signals” you need to look for to know when your roof isn’t protecting your home:

• Water in your attic after heavy rain or an ice buildup.
• Cracked, curling, missing or loose shingles.
• Noticeable shingle decay; mold or mildew growth.
• Visible stains on interior walls or ceilings.

Damaged or missing shingles “can simply require that a replacement shingle be installed,” says Liebeler, “or it could be the first sign that the shingles have reached their useful life and need to be replaced.” But if your shingles are cracking or curling at the edges, she adds, “that’s a pretty good signal that the roof will need to be replaced.”

For everything you need to know about asphalt shingles—their type, style, color choices, cost and durability—go to Asphalt Shingles 101.


Asphalt Shingles 101

Learn everything you need to know about asphalt shingles—their type, style, color choices, cost and durability.

Asphalt Shingles

CertainTeed Roofing Landmark Shingles in Hunter Green. Photo: CertainTeed

Economical to produce, relatively easy to install and widely available, asphalt shingles are today’s most popular roofing material—not only because they’re less costly than wood, wood shakes, tile, metalor slate, but also because their guaranteed life span pits them favorably against competitors. At least a dozen major U.S. and Canadian building-product manufacturers market asphalt shingles, including GAF, CertainTeed and Owens Corning.


THE BASICS
Asphalt shingles come in two varieties: Fiberglass and organic.

Fiberglass shingles are made of a woven fiberglass base mat, covered with a waterproof asphalt coating, and topped with ceramic granules that shield the product from harmful UV rays. Because of the composition of the fiberglass mat, less asphalt is needed to give the shingles their durability and strength. The result is a lighter weight and thinner roofing material. Fiberglass shingles also have a higher fire rating than organic varieties and generally carry a longer warranty. Fiberglass shingles were developed in the 1980s, but have quickly become the roofing material of choice for most homeowners and contractors today.

The traditional organic mat-based shingles are made from a recycled layer of felt paper, asphalt-saturated for waterproofing, and coated with adhesive asphalt into which the ceramic granules are embedded. With 40 percent more asphalt than their fiberglass counterparts, the traditional organic mat-based shingles are heavier, thicker and more costly. While organic shingles are considered more rugged and more flexible, they are also more absorbent and can warp over time. The additional asphalt content also makes them less environmentally friendly.

SHINGLE TYPES
Regardless of whether they are fiberglass- or organic-based, asphalt shingles generally measure 12 by 36 inches and are commonly manufactured in two different types:

Three-tab shingles are distinguished by cutouts—tabs—made along their long lower edge. The result, says Joan Crowe, a technical services director for the National Roofing Contractor’s Association (NRCA), is that “each shingle looks like three separate pieces when installed, but it’s only one.” Three-tab shingles have been around a long time and are still the most economical and most popular shingle today.

Architectural asphalt shingles contain no cutouts, but their lower portions are laminated with an additional asphalt layer. This creates the contoured, dimensional look that gives them their name. Asphalt sealant bonds the layers, reinforcing the shingles’ waterproof capability. Though durable, architectural shingles are not recommended for low-sloping roofs, which are more vulnerable to wind-driven rain.

STYLE AND COLOR
Installed properly, asphalt shingles are no longer easy to identify. Why? Some are made to convincingly mimic the look of slate, wood shakes or even tile. And shingle shapes can be similarly varied; consider the scalloped-edge tabs that complement Victorian architecture or the square, slate-like shingles perfectly suited for Colonial homes.

Color choices are more varied than ever, depending on your taste and the style of your home. You’ll generally find tones ranging from pale gray, medium gray and dark gray to beige, reddish and medium brown to dark brown, plus shades of blue and blue green. There are also variegated looks achieved by mixing light and dark tones skillfully, plus weathered looks designed to make a new roof-look suit a vintage house. There are interactive tools online that can help you “try on” colors and styles to find the asphalt shingle best suited to your home.