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Why are so many roof shingles failing?

Jun 17, 2023

You may be one of those readers who imagine everything is unicorns and rainbows at my home. After all, I’m a seasoned builder. Each week I advise you about how to make the best decisions about products and building techniques so everything goes well at your home. So how could it be possible that I might suffer and struggle with a problem like you do?

Well, this past summer suffer I did. I spent four months working on a steep, blisteringly hot roof replacing my failed asphalt shingles.

Let me ask you now. Is your asphalt shingle roof in bad shape? Are you shocked because it’s gone bad long before its warranty is supposed to expire? My own expensive simulated shake asphalt shingles came with a 30-year warranty. After just nine years, they started to fail.

Last winter, I experienced catastrophic delamination of my shingles. Prior to that, the green ceramic granules were coming off faster than disgruntled fans streaming out of a stadium as their team suffers a drubbing.

Are you experiencing excessive loss of the colored ceramic granules? How about shingles curling on the edges? Are your shingles cracking? Are they brittle?

You’re not alone if a recurring ad in my local small-town newspaper is a barometer. Every now and then a local builder/roofer places an ad saying that he’ll inspect your failing asphalt shingle roof and assist you in filling out any claim papers.

Last spring, I spent some time doing online research and it didn’t take long to discover a spate of pending and settled class-action lawsuits against asphalt shingle manufacturers.

What’s going on? Why did my shingles fail, and why are yours in bad shape? I decided to look into it and tap into my 40-plus years of experience in the building industry.

I would not hesitate to testify in a deposition or on a witness stand that, early in my building career, one rarely saw failures like you and I are seeing today. I worked on many an older home in the Midwest back in the mid-1970s and can’t ever recall seeing widespread curling of shingles or excessive granule loss. When you did see shingles in bad shape, it was often a roof that was long overdue for removal.

I built a grand Queen Anne Victorian-style home for my family in 1986. At the time, all I could afford were standard, plain vanilla 15-year-warranty three-tab shingles. These were the industry standard. After 23 years, they were still in very good condition and there were no roof leaks. My house didn’t have ridge vents or soffit vents. It just had four small static pot vents at the peak. Those are important facts for you to consider.

Thousands of homes in my city, and possibly yours, were built the same way my house was, and the shingle roofs held up as well as my roof. But something happened in the roofing industry in the 1990s and 2000s. I just can’t point to the smoking gun at this point, but I do have a few ideas.

Approximately 12 years ago, I was invited to visit an asphalt driveway sealer manufacturing plant. The first stop in the tour was a large chemistry lab where at least four scientists were hard at work. I was told the incoming rail tanker cars filled with asphalt all had to be tested because the asphalt was not all the same quality and had different chemical properties. That’s an interesting fact, isn’t it?

Asphalt shingle manufacturers blend things with the asphalt in your shingles. It says so clearly on the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association Web site. Go there and you’ll see this: “Fiberglass-based asphalt shingles are manufactured with mat composed entirely of glass fibers of varying lengths and orientations. This fiberglass base is then surfaced with a specially formulated asphalt coating, followed by weather-resistant mineral granules.”

What does “specially formulated asphalt coating” mean? This past summer, I tried to find out and asked the association questions about this and other things. Guess what? They declined to answer my questions and suggested I contact the members of the association directly.

I selected the top three association members, name brands you might recognize, and they all refused to answer my questions, too.

It’s not cheap to replace an asphalt shingle roof. Would you like your roof to last like my simple roof did back in 1986? You can help by completing a simple survey at my Web site: If you complete the survey, I’m going to provide you, at no cost, the results of what I discover as I continue my investigation.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. Contact him through his Web site at

Catch up with some of Tim’s previous columns:

What you need to know before knocking down that wall in your home

Will exposure to rain hurt home’s framing lumber?

How to redirect water around a damp garage

Tim Carter