Choosing a Roof Cleaning Contractor – What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You
So you have decided that walking around on your wet roof to clean off those ugly black stains is not for you. That is probably a good decision. Cleaning your own roof can be very dangerous.
You may have considered using what I call a “spray and wait” product sprayed on your roof from the ground. But you probably found out that after buying or renting all the equipment you would need and waiting a few weeks for rain to wash the dead organisms away, that you would likely have to repeat the process and the expensive a couple of times to get results. So you have decided to hire a roof cleaning service. I think that is a good decision as well.
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But now the hard part: Who do you hire? It is not as simple as picking a number out of the phone book or googling for roof cleaners. That’s only a first step. You need to know that there are very important differences between roof cleaning contractors. Besides the obvious things like time in business, having good reviews and proper insurance, the methods and chemicals the contractor will use on your roof could mean the difference between a clean roof and a disaster.
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Unfortunately, it is not always easy to know or to find out about these things, because many contractors will deliberately obscure their methods from you. Why? There are two major camps in this industry: those who use sodium hypochlorite (bleach) and those who do not. Those who use bleach do so for their own economic reasons: It is cheap, easy and fast. Bleach is also a very temporary solution to roof staining because it only masks the stain and does not remove the organisms that cause it.
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The black stains on your roof are caused by cyanobacteria, Gloeocapsa Magma, which most roof cleaners refer to as algae. This is a single cell organism and the stain is made up of billions of cells, both dead and living. Together they make up what I call “algal glue”. This glue surrounds the granules that top your asphalt shingles. It is the dead cells that cause the staining, but they do more than that: They provide a microclimate for the living cells. The dead cells protect the living cells from getting too much sun and they also act like a sponge, holding moisture for the living cells. Dead and living cells are intertwined in a single layer of gunk.
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Unless this entire layer is removed from the roof, the stains will be back in no time. Bleach is a strong oxidizer and when applied to the algal glue it oxidizes the upper surface of the stain and the stain appears to go away. But beneath this oxidized layer the algal glue remains. When the upper oxidized layer wears off the stains appear to come back, though they were never really gone. This is why the American Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA) tells homeowners that bleach is only a temporary solution.
You should avoid bleach not only because it is ineffective at stain removal, but also because the EPA has concluded that it will destroy most termite treatments in the ground around your home. You won’t know this happened until you have termite damage. If you do hire a “bleacher”, be sure to talk to your pest control provider about reapplying your termite treatments. Better, avoid contractors using bleach. Then you won’t have to worry about your plants either.
How do you know if a contractor uses bleach? He may tell you so, and his prices will likely be lower than others who don’t use bleach. Some contractors however are very adept at obscuring the fact that they use bleach. Ask for the Material Safety Data Sheet on the product he uses. If it says “sodium hypochlorite”, that means bleach. Look for code words on his website such as “Only Manufacturer Approved Chemicals” and “ARMA Recommended”. This always means bleach.
Finally ask this question: “How will you protect my plants while cleaning my roof?” Answers such as “We cover your plants with tarps”, “We wet down your plants before, during and after”, or “We collect all the runoff” always indicate a harmful chemical is used. Never let someone use high pressure washing on your roof. Insist on knowing all you can about the chemicals a contractor will use.
There are other products which will actually break up and remove the algal glue. With these chemicals the staining will stay gone much longer because the organisms are completely removed. And they are safe for plants, pets and termite treatments. But you should expect to pay a little more for a contractor who uses safe and effective chemicals.
The Roof Moss Cleaners Ltd
78 St Margarets,Grove Great Kingshill High Wycombe
Buckinghamshire HP15 6HP