Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why does my Roof Leak and How do I Repair IT?

There is almost nothing more concerning to a homeowner or buyer than buying a home with a leaky roof. While our roof plays an important structural role in the design of the home, we most of all depend on our roof to keep us dry in the rain and when our roof leaks it is a major concern.

Why do Roofs Leak?
Water flows under the force of gravity and winds and is always trying to follow the path of least resistance. When the path of least resistance allows water to get past the roofing system, a leak will develop. Roof systems are largely divided into ‘flat roof’ systems or ‘steep roof’ systems. 

A 'steep roof' system uses layers of roofing products like tiles or shingles to create a series of umbrellas that water flows down as it follows gravity. These umbrellas are typically installed in at least two layers at any point and there is often an underlying tar paper or plastic material as a last line of water defense. Leaks tend to happen most often at weak spots in the roof coverage like at chimneys, pluming stacks, skylights, and changes in roofing materials or angles. The roof system in these areas is penetrated and if the roof material and flashing is not correctly installed and maintained, it creates a risk area for water to penetrate. When the leak occurs in an area of concentrated water flow like a roof valley, leaks can be quite severe.

Flat roof systems require the entire surface of the roof to be water tight. Leaks in flat roofs can be caused by failing roof products, poor maintenance at roof penetrations, or by mechanical damaged often caused by people.

How Can I Tell if My Roof is About to Leak?
Roofs are very unpredictable as to when they will fail. New roofs that are poorly installed can leak in the first rain fall and roofs that have worked excellent for 15 years may fail suddenly on the 16th year. Regular maintenance is needed on roof systems in order to ensure the material is solid and that any roof penetrations are water tight. Most roof systems have a life span around 20 years. Having a roofing contractor begin an annual maintenance program on the roof when it is about 10 years old can help to extend the life of the roof to the maximum amount and reduce the risk of leaks prior to roof replacement.

My Roof is Leaking, How Big a Repair Job is It?
Small leaks in roofs can be a very big nuisance. First, water can flow down surfaces in the roof before eventually showing a leak on the interior ceiling. This can create a big challenge for roofing contractors to find the leak, especially a small one. Even with a small leak found and patched, the repairs to the interior of the home can be very disruptive and likely will cost more than the roof repair.

Major (or multiple) roof leaks may suggest that the roof material has reached the end of its service life and needs replacement. This can be a very expensive job for home owners but replacing a roof every 20 years or so it part of regular maintenance on a home and should be budgeted for by home owners.

What do Home Inspectors Look for When is Comes to Leaks?
As we have discussed, roofing systems can fail unpredictably. SitePro Inspectors are doing a visual assessment of the roof looking for damage to the roofing material, quality of installation, correct flashing, signs of regular maintenance, and trying to estimate the remaining life of the roof. Common roofing comments from a home inspector may include:
  • ·         No Deficiencies Observed/Satisfactory - At the time of the SitePro home inspection, the home inspector determined the roof material was in good condition and in the early to middle part of the roof material life expectancy. The home inspector visually does not have concerns about the roof in the near future. This is not a guarantee the roof won’t leak, it is just that as a trained observer, your home inspector cannot see a problem during the visual home inspection.
  • Maintenance Needed/Further Evaluation by a Contractor – The SitePro home inspector can see some concerns on the roof system and it needs some maintenance which should always be done by a roofing contractor. This maintenance may be flashing details that need improvement, missing roofing materials, or areas that may need some repair. The inspector may categorize the concern as minor maintenance or a bigger repair job.
  • ·         Roof Nearing End of Service Life, Budget for Replacement - In these cases, the SitePro home inspector is observing that the roof system even with maintenance will need replacement soon. Home buyers should not fear this comment as all roofs need replacement and the home inspector is giving the home buyer notice before purchasing the property to anticipate the upcoming expense.

Final Thoughts
Water is a very unpredictable element. It can be driven under our roofing systems in heavy winds or find the smallest of cracks in a roof system in which to leak into our homes. The best prevention for roof leaks is regular maintenance during the roof life cycle and preventive replacement at the end of the expected service life of the material. 

SitePro, LLC
Van Hibberts
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