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Remember that wicked nor’easter that lashed your asphalt shingle roof a few months ago?

I’m talking about the storm that scattered parts of the roof all over many homeowners’ yards and neighborhoods. If you’re among that group, are you still playing tug-of-war with your insurance adjuster because they might want the roof repaired, when it should be replaced?

What if I told you that your 15- or 20-year-old asphalt shingle roof should have survived that storm with little or no damage?

How would I know this?

It happened to my own 30-year-warranty asphalt shingle roof, which started to deteriorate after just nine years and catastrophically failed four years later. My shingles started losing colored ceramic granules faster than fans leaving a stadium as their favorite team falls apart at the seams. Many of my shingles were so curled they looked like asphalt potato chips.

And judging by the number of complaints I get from readers, it appears to be a widespread problem.

Identifying defects

Even if you didn’t suffer loss in a winter windstorm, how would you know if your roof is starting to fall apart? Here are the signs that your asphalt shingles might be on their last legs, even if it’s well before the 15- or 20-year life span:

● Steady loss of colored ceramic granules.

● Shingles not lying flat — tips are curled up.

● Small patches where all colored granules are missing.

● Shingles show cracking and are brittle.

Shingles are not supposed to shed granules and curl until they have outlived their warranty. I know this because I’m old enough to have witnessed for decades how shingles used to perform. I also have a friend in Los Angeles who has an asphalt roof on his home in full sun. His shingles were installed in 1965. Some of them have almost all of the ceramic granules still in place.

I was so upset about my roof’s premature death that I undertook a serious investigation. My findings and a chance discovery I made about how you can extend the life of your asphalt shingle roof using copper are contained in a short book I authored titled “Roofing Ripoff.”

My extensive research which involved gathering evidence from other homeowners all across America, pointed to one thing: Many asphalt shingles are wearing out in as little as eight to 10 years. Go back a few decades, and it was not uncommon for normal asphalt shingles to last 25, 30 or even 40 years.

Finding a great roofer

So how do you find a reliable roofer?

As with any profession, there are different levels of skill and ethics. It’s not hard to find the great roofers in your city or town, but it requires a little work on your part.

You need to have a conversation with the owner or general manager (GM) of the local businesses where roofers purchase their materials. I’m not talking about the big-box home centers.

I located a wholesale residential roofing distribution company that has 20 locations in the Washington area in less than 15 seconds by typing “wholesale asphalt shingles washington dc” into Google. There are other distributors, as well, in the Washington area.

The GMs of these locations know the roofers who buy the best materials, pay their bills on time taking the pre-pay discount, and have been in business for 15 or more years.

It’s important to realize that great roofers buy the best materials for a reason. They don’t want callbacks. They lose money when they have to come back to repair a faulty product. They also realize that customers can leave damaging reviews online that hurt their roofing businesses. Great roofers want you to be happy and leak-free. They realize you won’t complain about paying a little more money for great products, knowing that your roof will not leak.

The GMs have a short list of roofers they would call to work on their own roofs. It’s not hard from the GMs’ perspective to separate the great roofers who take pride in their work from those roofers who don’t care about you.

Your job is to go to these specialty wholesale locations mid-morning or mid-day and have a quick conversation with the GM, asking him to give you that small list of the top roofers, the ones he’d have bid on his own home. Call in advance to set up an appointment.

Each week, I do countless autopsies in my column on homeowner projects from across the United States. One of the top reasons why a homeowner has problems is they hoped the contractor was going to do the job right. Because you’re honest in all your dealings, you tend to assume everyone you deal with will be like you.

Stop hoping. You should hope only for things you can’t control, such as the weather and what the upcoming lottery numbers might be.

Once you select the new shingles that will go on your home, take just 15 minutes and read the simple installation instructions. Trust me, I guarantee that you’ll understand them. Most come with very interesting illustrations.

Many manufacturers also have installation videos. You’ll quickly discover the exact nails that should be used, how long they should be, what type of underlayment should be installed, etc.

You then need to ask the bidding roofers simple questions about a few of the things you read about in the instructions. See whether the roofers answer the questions correctly.

Ask the roofer whether he’s going to be on the job with his crew. If not, what’s the skill level of the job foreman? Ask for the names of three past customers and call them. You want to call those customers whose roofs have been in service for at least three years. You want to know whether all has been well or if there were any leaks or callbacks.

The right materials

A West Coast shingle manufacturer started to add a special polymer, styrene butadiene styrene (SBS), to shingles back in 1986. They did this to satisfy the roofers in Alaska, who needed shingles that were flexible in temperatures that approached zero F.

You can buy SBS asphalt shingles. These are more expensive, but the polymer helps extend the life of the shingles.

You should also install thin copper 12 inches wide along the cap shingles at the peak of your roof and along any hips that also have cap shingles. As I was doing research for my book, I discovered that copper ions bond to asphalt and slow down the aging process of the shingles.

Thin copper that’s extremely affordable is available.

All your flashings should be made with metal that can be soldered. If your roofer can still find tin-coated steel, have him use it. If not, use thin sheet lead or copper. Avoid using the standard plumbing vent-pipe flashings sold everywhere. The rubber boot that fits tight around the vent pipe fails in short order. I only use plumbing vent flashings that have a special siliconized rubber boot that lasts for many decades.

You can discover lots more details about all the above in my “Roofing Ripoff” book and in past roofing columns and videos at my AsktheBuilder.com website. If you have questions about your roof, just visit my websites and contact me via the Ask Tim link.

Tim Carter writes the Ask the Builder column. The Washington Post commissioned him to write this article. You can get more information about “Roofing Ripoff” and read the first three chapters at roofingripoff.com .