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Tip: Roof Leaks

Q: Will preventative maintenance help prevent my roof from leaking?

A: Yes. In most cases, the actual problem that created your leak started three to four years before the leak occurred. Sometimes wind damage or another act of nature will cause an immediate leak, but usually the roof leaks because an area has deteriorated. Roofers find felt paper exposures on shake roofs that are only seven years old.

Q: Why would my cedar shake roof leak?

A: The number one cause is a hole in the felt paper applied under the shakes. The south and west sides of your roof dry out from the sun. The shakes become thin and eventually open up, exposing the felt paper (which is the actual waterproof leak protection for your home.) Soon the felt paper dries out and cracks. A hole in the felt paper normally means water in the attic.

Another common problem is caused by excessive debris on the roof. Oak leaves and moss are the worst because as water passes through them, it becomes acidic (low pH level). The water on a shake roof actually flows under the shakes, over the felt paper underneath, and back out on top the shakes below. This acidic water can dissolve felt paper, causing a hole not visible from above. Even if the shakes look good on top, the felt paper may be ruined underneath. And you can imagine how difficult (and time-consuming) it is to find those leaks!

Q: Why would my flat (or low pitch) roof leak?

A: Flat roofs are commonly roofed with tar & gravel, rolled composition or, unfortunately, cedar shakes. Often the seams open or the tar & gravel cracks, a condition called “alligatoring.” This commonly happens to most tar & gravel roofs at the end of their life span, which is typically 10 to 12 years. In most cases, the roof should be replaced as soon as possible.

The problem could also be found in the area where the flat (patio) roof joins a steeper roof. All too often, these roofs are not joined together properly. It was once common practice to put shakes over the patio of a home roofed with cedar shakes. Though this may look good, it was not smart because shakes do not conform with the contour of the roof. The area where the patio joins the main roof will often collect water, which can then flow horizontally, find an overlap/hole in the felt paper and leak. In short, it is hard to fix a flat roof.

Q: Why would my “life-time” tile roof leak?

A: Usually it is from the flashings, debris in valleys or poor original construction. Cracked tiles should be replaced and debris kept off the roof. Great care should be taken walking on tile roof because metal tiles can be dented (opening up joints and seams) and cement/concrete tiles can crack, allowing water to reach the felt paper. Most tile roofs are constructed with a batting system underneath. Exposed, these wood strips can collect and hold water, which may then find its way through a nail hole.

Q: What other reasons might a roof leak?

A: High winds can cause leakage around flashings and valleys. Few roofs are designed for such acts of nature. You should also be wary of solar panels, air conditioners and antenna tie-down bolts. Bolts through roofs are bad news! Chimney shrouds/hoods can also be a source of leakage.

Unfortunately, poor construction is becoming more of a problem. Leaks on seven-year-old shake and tile roofs can originate during construction but not become a problem until the roof gets older and looser. As a roof ages, water can go places it could never reach before.

Q: When my roof was leaking after a storm, every roofer I called said they would come to fix it, but no one was willing to give me an estimate to repair it first. I always get competitive bids when hiring someone to repair my home, so I figure they are taking advantage of an emergency situation in refusing to give me an estimate first.

A: Your reaction is understandable, and we have heard of contractors taking advantage of emergency situations by charging $300 to $500 to spend less than an hour on a roof fixing leaks that often don’t go away. So it is important for consumers to understand how honest roofing contractors handle roof leaks in order to understand why giving estimates, especially during emergencies, is simply not efficient.

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