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What are Shingle Keyways? And How to Reduce Debris Buildup

Posted June 21, 2022 by Patrick Morin
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A roof in poor condition can decrease your home’s resale value.

This is only one of the reasons why you need to keep your roof in good condition. In order to do this, you need to be familiar with some roofing terms and proper inspection and maintenance practices. 

But this isn’t something most people are taught, and it can feel overwhelming trying to learn it all.

Learn all about what a shingle keyway is, why it’s important, and how it fits into your overall roof maintenance.



What Is a Shingle Keyway?

The roofing keyway is the space between each cedar shingle on a roof. These spaces help to maintain good run-off and ventilation for your roof, which is critical for extending its life. 

The space allows for the slight changes in the size of the shingles that happen when they’re subjected to a particularly hot or cold environment. This protects the shingles from damage and allows them to breathe.

The keyways are also how most of the water from rain storms filters down off the roof. They are usually between 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch wide, depending on the size of the shingles.



Potential Keyway Problems

Roofs with keyways that are too large are the number one reason cedar roofs fail. These large spaces easily allow debris to collect, which can bring on rotting and mold. But even if the shingles are installed with the correct size keyways, they can still collect debris such as:


  • Leaves
  • Pine needles 
  • Tree branches
  • Animal droppings


The rotting that can happen from the collected debris can not only damage your roof and cause leaks but can also make a good home for various insects and small animals that can cause even more damage. 

Debris from your roof can often wind up in your gutters, which comes with a host of issues in itself. When your gutters get clogged it can cause damage to the shingles around the edge of your roof. It can also damage the siding on your home. 

Larger debris on your roof can damage the shingles. This can then allow any rotting or mold that’s already started to progress further, easier.

All of this adds up to needing to replace a roof much sooner than you should, along with many other potential problems both outside and inside your home.



Conduct Regular Inspections for Key Problems

To help your roof reach its optimal lifetime, be sure to do regular inspections and maintenance on it. You can do your own homeowner inspections periodically, but there are some issues that only someone who is a trained roofing professional will be able to spot. 

When you check your own roof, be sure to look out for:


  • Missing shingles
  • Damaged shingles
  • Obvious sagging or moss growth
  • Anywhere water could pool if you have a flat roof


You should also check your attic for any signs of leaks. 

In addition to your own periodic inspections, you should also have a professional come out to inspect your roof. This is recommended to be done once per year, but if your roof appears in good shape and you have no issues with leaking, you may be able to extend that time longer.

There are several different focuses of inspections that a professional will do.

Structural Inspection

During a structural inspection, the roofing professional will check for signs of any potential structural issues. This includes things such as a sagging roof, cracks in the chimney, and issues with the other systems of the roof including the gutters.

Material Inspection

The material part of an inspection is similar to how you check over your own roof. This includes checking for any issues with the shingles themselves, or any signs of stains, rust, or moss. 

Interior Inspection

The inspector will check the inside of your house, particularly in your attic, looking for any signs of leaking from your roof. They’ll look at your interior ceilings and walls, as well as the attic, paying attention to any signs of rot, mold, or water stains.

Workmanship Inspection

Here the inspector will be mainly concerned with whether the roofing was installed properly. If there are issues with the quality of the work, it can lead to leaking and other damage.

You should schedule inspections for the spring. This leaves plenty of time to deal with any issues that are found before winter comes and adds a heavy layer of snow on top of your roof. You may also want your roof inspected after a big storm to be sure no damage was done.



Getting regular inspections is not the only aspect of good roof maintenance. To keep your roof in good condition you should also:



Branches that hang over your roof can deposit a lot of debris, and can also act as a bridge for animals onto your roof. Branches that actually touch your roof can cause even more damage to the fragile shingles.



Cleaning Up the Debris

When it comes time to clean up the debris on your roof, you should seriously consider hiring a professional. But, if you’re set on doing it yourself, you can. 

Aim to do this in the spring, and be sure to choose a day with good weather, where there isn’t any rain or strong winds forecasted. 

When you go up to the roof, be sure to keep your safety in mind. Wear non-slip shoes, and have someone on the ground holding the ladder for you. It’s better for the roof if you can work right from the ladder, instead of walking on the shingles themselves.

You can then use a leaf blower to remove the debris, which allows you to clean areas that you can’t reach on your own. Be careful with how you use the leaf blower because hitting the wrong part of the shingle at a certain angle can damage or lift the shingles.

If you don’t have access to a leaf blower, you can go right onto the roof and gently use a broom.



Keep Your Roof in Tip-Top Shape

The shingle keyway is an important part of how the roof functions, but it can also play a part in damaging your roof. Be sure to inspect and clean your roof regularly to avoid needing a roof replacement sooner than necessary.

If you’re in Portland, Oregon, and need a roof inspection, we can help. Get a free quote today!

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