Not long ago, Robert De Los Santos realized that the roof on his Saddle Brook home was near the end of its lifespan.
"We'd had the roof for about 30 years and we figured it was getting to be time to replace it," De Los Santos said. The initial plan was simply to replace the shingles for about $4,000, but when contractors got up on the ladder, they found the wood underneath was rotting. "The wood was totally corroded," De Los Santos said. Contractors ended up replacing the underlying wood and the shingles, for a total job of about $8,000. "I didn't have any leaks yet and I didn't want any damage inside the house. I've heard horror stories about people waiting until they had a leak, and I didn't want to go there." Some homeowners would have acted sooner, but many wait too long to attend to major home maintenance projects, many contractors say. "In Bergen County, where home values are higher, people generally do it before the end of the roof's life or for aesthetic reasons," said Michael DeMarco, owner of On the Spot Home Improvements of Saddle Brook, which did De Los Santos' roof. "But in other areas, people tend to wait too long," he said. Major home repair projects can be among the most vexing for homeowners. If the furnace is technically still working (even though it is old and inefficient), who really wants to spend money to buy a new one? Especially now? And a shiny new bathroom is always more alluring than a boring new hot water heater. But contractors say it's important to tackle these less sexy projects before they turn into bigger problems. For instance, if a roof starts to fail, moisture, combined with heat and cold, can badly damage the roofing surface underneath shingles. "You can have insulation damage, you can get mold, the beams can be damaged, you can see Sheetrock damage," said DeMarco. "It goes on and on." Some homes have what are known as three-tab asphalt shingles. An older roofing product, these roofs will last 15 to 20 years. More modern homes might have so-called three-dimensional asphalt shingles, which have a 30-year lifespan. Putting on new 3-D shingles costs $300 to $350 a "square" ? 10 feet by 10 feet ? or about $4,000 for a typical small ranch home, DeMarco said. Flat roofs are usually covered by rubber roofing, a product that lasts about 20 years and costs $600 to $700 a square, DeMarco said. Architectural shingles, a manufactured product that can be made to resemble slate or other materials, cost about $450 a square and last 40 to 50 years, he said.