Question: We have a house that is now a little over 20 years old. My wife noticed some small ceiling water spots on our top floor. We have architectural shingles that are rated for 30 years.

We had two roofing companies come out, and while they said that they can fix the leaks (probably flashing), they recommend that we get a new roof.

They said that we can get it repaired, but that they would probably have to come back in two years for a completely new roof.

Now, my question is this: Is it unusual to replace an entire roof nine to 10 years before the rating?

I know that there are several variables that affect a life of a roof, but I only thought by a few years, not 10.

What is also making me somewhat suspicious is that we were among the last homeowners to move into our development, and yet I believe that we would be the first to get a new roof.

Answer: I think you are absolutely justified in being suspicious. I also assume that you've talked to your neighbors, and that their responses have made you more suspicious.

Ratings, I'm told, apply to the materials that make up a roof - the shingles, primarily - so they could be in fine shape while the flashing or what's underneath them may be causing a problem.

A lot of roofing products have not yet been out the length of time for which they are rated. So, for instance, I'm not sure that my Owens-Corning shingles will last 50 years.

What I do is make sure that the gutters are clear, and that tree branches are not sitting on the roof. Each year, I walk the roof and remove debris and twigs from the valleys, so rain and melting snow drain properly.

My advice: Get one of the roofing companies to determine the actual cause of these small leaks - the flashing is a likely cause, although I've not seen your roof - and fix it. In the meantime, keep an eye on the roof and save money in the event a new one is needed.

You should also contact the shingle manufacturer, if you know it, and your builder, if possible, for the real story.

aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies.