When you discover you’ve got [roof damage](/roof-damage), you’ve got a choice: [roofing replacement or repair](/roof-repair-vs-replacement).
In this article, you’ll learn what your options are, the pros and cons of each, and why, in most cases, a good roofer will usually recommend a roof replacement.
We’ll start with a quick review of the terminology — what’s meant when you hear different words used by roofers — and then discuss the pros and cons of your options.
What’s the Difference? Roofing Replacement vs. Repair
What is roofing replacement?
Roof replacement involves removing all the old shingles and felt paper or moisture barrier and replacing them with brand new materials. It might also involve repairing or replacing the deck or any other damage that’s revealed when removing the old roof.
How is roof repair different from roof replacement?
Roof repairs focus only on the damaged areas of the roof. If the damaged areas aren’t widespread, repairing can seem like a good option. But even if the damaged area is small, it might still be advisable to replace the whole roof.
There are also two other repair options you might have heard about. These are sometimes offered as budget-conscious solutions when the roof damage affects more than one or two areas: partial replacement and re-roofing.
Partial replacement is often done when damage is a little more extensive, but it’s still limited to just one or two sections of the roof.
Partial replacement involves removing all the old shingles from the entire section or side. A new roof is then installed and merged with the old roof at the ridges or valleys.
New shingles rarely match the old existing shingles. So the main idea here is to avoid the patchwork effect that can result from repairing just a few damaged or missing shingles.
Re-roofing, simply put, is adding a second layer of shingles on top of the old. It could technically be considered a repair because it doesn’t replace the old shingles.
Each of these solutions for dealing with damage to your roof have their advantages and disadvantages. So let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of repairing and replacing your roof.
Pros & Cons of Repairing Your Roof
Some homeowners make the mistake of waiting to deal with roof damage until there’s enough work to justify calling a roofer. But the best time to deal with roof damage is the moment you see it.
Delays can lead to more severe problems. Water can get under the shingles or behind the flashing. Missing or damaged shingles can allow wind to lift up even more shingles.
Leaks into the attic or the interior of the house can result in thousands of dollars of damage if left unattended.
Once you’re aware of any damage to your roof, deciding whether to repair or replace your roof can depend on a lot of factors. (These are the 8 factors you need to focus on.)
But when comparing the pros and the cons of repairing your roof, there are four areas worth focusing on — the cost, the time involved, the functionality and the aesthetics.
Roof repair: Here are the pros.
Cost - Repairing your roof may be less expensive than replacing your roof if the damage is minor or limited to a small area.
Time - Repairing your roof is quicker than replacing your roof. This could be important if the roof is exposed and bad weather is expected.
Functionality - A repair won’t actually extend the life of your roof beyond its original life expectancy, but it may help the roof reach its full lifespan. Repairing damage quickly helps prevent the need for more extensive repairs later on.
Aesthetics - Roof damage can make a roof vulnerable to the weather and diminish the appearance of the house. Repairing the roof not only protects the roof from the elements again, but restores the street appeal.
Roof repair: Here are the cons.
Cost - Repairing your roof can be more expensive per square foot than replacement. Since it’s usually a small area, you lose out on the bulk pricing for materials, and the labor involved is usually the same.
If you opted for a partial replacement (replacing a whole section or side) it might turn out to be almost as expensive as replacing the whole roof.
Time - Although repairs can often be done quickly, it’s important to remember that they are temporary. The original roof is still limited by its age and quality.
Lifespan - Repairing your roof may not address underlying issues. Sometimes the repair can only deal with what’s accessible without removing the old roof.
Water damage or other underlying issues may get overlooked. Replacing the roof allows for inspection of the deck and structure.
Aesthetics - Replacing missing or damaged shingles will rarely result in a perfect match. As shingles age, they lose some of their granules and they may fade. Even if you have shingles left over from the original installation, a perfect match is unlikely.
Pros & Cons of Partial Replacement
Here are the pros of a partial roof replacement.
Cost - Partial roof replacement is only a bit more expensive per square foot than a total roof replacement.
Time - Partial roof replacement takes less time to complete since it’s focused on a smaller area.
Functionality - Since the new section is essentially a new roof with new felt or moisture barrier and new shingles, it will perform like a new roof.
Aesthetics - New shingles over the entire side or section won’t stand out as much as replacing only a few missing shingles would. The new shingles extend to a ridge or valley and minimize the color or age differences between the old and the new.
Partial replacement: Here are the cons.
Cost - The cost of removing and discarding the old roof material can be just as expensive as an entire roof replacement. The base costs of setting up the job, getting a crew on site, dumpsters for removal, etc., don’t change that much even for a small section of roof.
Time - The average roof only takes 1–2 days to replace. Partial replacement may save you a day, but it won’t help the older sections of the roof last any longer.
Functionality - The new section should last as long as any new roof would. Be aware, though, it doesn’t really extend the life of your roof.
Let’s say the old roof is rated to last an additional 10 years, and the new section is rated to last the full 20. In 10 years, when the whole roof finally needs replacing, you’ll have to remove that new section as well and miss out on those extra 10 years.
Aesthetics - Running the edges of the new section to a ridge or valley does help hide the comparison of old with new, but it can also make the ridge or valley appear bulky or uneven.
Pros & Cons of Re-roofing Your Roof
Re-roofing is technically a repair because it doesn’t replace the old shingles. It simply adds another layer of shingles directly on top of the old. It may provide some immediate relief for a roof that has begun to fail, but there are some major drawbacks.
Here are the pros of re-roofing your roof.
Cost - Re-roofing is the least expensive way to repair your roof from a cost-per-square-foot perspective. Since there’s no labor involved in removing the roof, the savings can be significant.
You also save because there’s no need to haul away the debris from the old roof.
Time - Re-roofing is the fastest way to get your whole roof covered with new shingles.
Functionality - With a new layer of shingles, you have an instant layer of protection over the layer that may have begun to fail.
Aesthetics - If the old roof was stained, damaged or just tired, re-roofing will provide an immediate face-lift to your roof.
Here are the cons of re-roofing.
Cost - Most building codes only allow for a total of two layers of roofing. So when it’s time to replace the roof entirely, the cost of removing 2 layers may offset any savings you realized when you opted to re-roof.
Time - The average roof only takes 1–2 days to replace but it doesn’t extend the life of your roof. In fact, re-roofing may shorten your roof’s lifespan by years.
Lifespan - Shingles don’t last as long when placed on top of old shingles. They do best when they’re attached to a smooth surface.
Some shingle manufacturers will actually shorten their warranties, or void them altogether, if they are laid on top of old shingles.
Another disadvantage to re-roofing is that it doesn’t deal with any of the unseen issues of the first roof layer.
Aesthetics - If you’ve ever seen a roof that looked lumpy or uneven, you might be looking at a re-roofing job. The second layer of shingles will eventually conform to the shape that’s underneath them and may even curl up at the edges.
This can be even more of a problem if the first layer was a higher quality roof. For example, architectural shingles are more dimensional than 3-tab shingles. A second layer of shingles may have difficulty laying flat over the more contoured look of architectural shingles.
That can also mean wind and water can potentially get blown up under the new layer.
Roofing Replacement (And Why We Recommend It)
Replacing your roof is the most comprehensive way to deal with roof damage.
If your roof is brand new and still has a lot of miles left on it, repairing it can make sense. But if the damage is extensive, or if the roof is nearing its expiration date, roof replacement may be your best option.
Here are the pros of a roofing replacement:
Cost - Roof replacement is the most expensive option for dealing with roof damage. However, over time, the cost of replacing your roof may outweigh the cost of having to do repairs over and over again.
Let me explain…
When you repair a roof rather than replacing it, there are often additional problems that don’t get addressed — which means the roof requires constant repairs and could end up costing more than a roof replacement would have cost.
When it comes time to finally replace the roof, you may have to do structural repairs that could have been avoided by replacing the roof earlier.
For example, one homeowner thought he could maximize the life of his roof by repairing it over and over again. Any time a leak sprung up, he would replace a section, add a little more caulk or apply some sealant.
In fact, he did get a few more years out of the roof than it was rated for. But patching didn’t solve some of the inherent problems with the roof, and every time water got inside, it did a little more damage.
Eventually, he gave in and had the roof replaced. The roofers took off layers and layers of repairs. When they exposed the deck, they realized the deck was damaged beyond repair.
They removed the deck and discovered that the entire roof structure was compromised. Rafters, insulation, even the ceiling structure had been damaged over the years.
The replacement ended up costing three times what it would have cost for a normal roof replacement. The owner ended up spending thousands of dollars in repair, plus the added expense of rebuilding the entire roof from the ceiling up.
Time - Most asphalt roofs only take about 1–2 days to replace. Other roofs, like tile or slate, may take longer. But having your roof replaced isn’t as much of an imposition as you might fear. Most service roofers do an excellent job of making sure the homeowner’s life isn’t interrupted.
Functionality - A new roof can last decades, and many come with a limited lifetime guarantee. Repairs, on the other hand, are temporary and don’t actually add to the life expectancy of the remaining shingles or tiles.
Replacing your roof restarts the clock on your roof’s lifespan.
A new roof also means your roofer can adequately inspect the deck for any damage that isn’t visible until the old roof and flashing is removed.
Aesthetics - Nothing compares aesthetically to a new roof. It can make a home look brand new again.
Repairing your roof can be the right decision in certain circumstances, but roof replacement might be the only good solution for your situation.
Roof Replacement or Repair: Which Is Right for You?
From a financial perspective, repairs may seem like a good, short-term fix, while roof replacement may seem like overkill (especially if you only have a small leak).
But it’s important to remember that a repair may not do enough to solve your problem, A leak indicates your roof might be failing. If that’s true, a roof replacement can actually be more economical in the long run.
Not only that, the materials available for roofs today are better than ever. Your roof may only be 10 years old, but newer roofs are stronger, more energy efficient, and can resist damage better than older roofs can.
If you’re debating a roofing replacement or repair, make sure you’re looking at the bigger picture. Don’t assume that a repair will solve the problem. In the long run, a replacement may be your best solution.