It's black algae again, staining a roof

Posted: June 30, 2012

Question: We have dark streaks on our roof that have appeared over the last couple of years. Shingles are cedar color.

Our home is a rancher with a hip roof and 4-inch pitch. Streaks are unsightly, and we don't know what procedure to follow to get rid of them. You may have addressed this issue previously. If so, I missed it. Don't know why because I read you faithfully.

Answer: I've been waiting for the return of this question since 2009.

The "stain" is, of course, black algae. The problem began surfacing several years ago when asphalt-shingle manufacturers switched from rags to ground limestone as a filler material, roofers say.

Black algae really loves the stuff, with all those nutrients, and shady spots on the roof supply constant moisture, keeping the limestone damp and helping the algae grow.

Mildew — that green stuff — feeds off the black algae.

Black algae typically takes about 10 years to begin appearing, about the time the 10-year manufacturer's warranty on algae expires. Some shingle manufacturers have been adding waste from copper processing to the limestone filler because copper has been proven to deter algae growth.

Roofers say copper tends to be the best deterrent to the start and growth of black algae, although zinc, too, is sometimes used.

Roofers nail copper or zinc strips at the peak of the roof above the portion affected by the black algae. When it rains, water reacts with the copper strip, and what is produced — this isn't a chemistry class — continues down the roof to kill the algae, and the stain disappears.

While some roofers think copper is better, zinc is what most suppliers sell. Other metals also appear to work to some degree, though not consistently, at least from observations.

The obvious question, of course: Is the black algae or the green mildew damaging your shingles?

The mildew simply makes your roof slippery to walk on.

Black algae? Roofers and shingle suppliers seem to say no.

The official policy of CertainTeed of Valley Forge, I've been told, is that the black algae is an aesthetic problem only, and roofers agree with that assessment.

Black algae is ugly, however, and that's why homeowners want to get rid of it. One roofer I've talked with uses a product called Shingle Shield, www.shingleshield.com, which the manufacturer says contains no bleach or chlorine. The active ingredient is sodium hydroxide, also known as lye or caustic soda, which requires the user to don protective clothing — mask and goggles, too.

It does the job, but when it heads down the downspouts, the substance can damage all the plants, the roofer warned.

Power washing with the stuff at the lowest, gentlest setting possible is the way to go.

You don't scrub, because it disturbs the granules that protect the shingles, and that will surely reduce the life of your roof.

Holiday protection. Protection 1, the electronic security provider, offers some tips for home safety during summer vacations.

Secure all windows, including those upstairs, and reduce the chance of easy entry by cutting tree limbs away from second-story windows.

Remove objects that might allow access to your home, such as ladders or trash cans that could be used to enter a window or scale a fence.

Do not leave Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or other social media posts letting people know that you will be out of town.

Turn your telephone ringer down, so no one outside can hear repeated rings, and review your voice mail message to make sure it does not imply you are away; also, use timers to operate lights.

Be sure to have all mail, newspapers, and deliveries held or picked up by a neighbor, friend, or relative.

Questions? E-mail Alan J. Heavens at aheavens@phillynews.com, or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies.

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