Identifying Problems

This story shows you some of things that you should look for in an annual inspection of your roof.

A roof should be inspected yearly for signs of damage so that you can seal weak spots before water starts leaking into your living spaces. Here is how to make a quick and effective roof inspection:

  • Look for any tree branches that reach within 5 feet or so of the roof; they could scrape the roofing during a severe storm. Cut the branches back.
  • Watch for gutters that are stopped with leaves or other debris. These may become overfull, causing water to seep under the shingles during a rain. Worse, in the winter, freezing water can do serious damage to the roofing. See pages 178 -- 185 for gutter repairs and installations.
  • In cold climates look for ice dams -- a common problem that can result in serious damage. Icicles, however pretty, can be a symptom of this condition. (See the illustration at right.)
  • If roofing comes loose during heavy winds, it may not have been installed correctly. Consult a professional roofer.
  • Check the overall condition of the roofing, flashing, and attic ceiling. The photos on these pages will help you identify some of the more common types of problems.

Do not walk on a roof unless you are certain of your safety. Avoid walking on a composition shingle roof when it is very hot; doing so could scrape away mineral coatings, weakening the shingles. Also stay off when it is very cold to avoid cracking the shingles. Stay off tile and slate roofs, especially if they are old, because they can crack.

How Ice Dams Form

If you see ice collecting along your eaves, perhaps accompanied by long icicles, you likely have an ice dam. Ice dams form when insufficient insulation in the attic allows heat to rise. As that warms the attic space, snow on the roof can melt and trickle down to the eave. Because the eave is unheated, it freezes there, creating a dam. As melting water pools it tends to seep under shingles where it can damage the roofing, the sheathing, and the attic framing. The solution is to keep the attic roof cold in the winter by adding insulation to the attic floor, a solution that will also help keep your heating costs down. In addition you may need to provide better ventilation for the attic.

Mineral coating

If shingles have lost much of their mineral coating (you may find particles falling on the yard below) or if several are cracked, it is probably time to reroof.

Cupping

Cupping occurs when the adhesive holding the shingle tabs down has lost its ability to hold. Cupped shingles can be easily damaged in a windstorm and water can infiltrate beneath, possibly damaging the sheathing and even the house framing.

Splitting

Wood shakes or shingles may split due to freeze-thaw cycles or intense heat. Applying a sealer can forestall this. However once the shakes are damaged severely, they need to be replaced. Black mildew is usually a cosmetic problem only and can be removed with a bleach solution or shake cleaner. Moss can also be removed.

Water damage

Water damage often does not appear in the obvious form of dripping water inside living areas. Often the water slowly seeps into the drywall or plaster, causing discoloration. Water stains in the attic are often a sign of bigger problems to come.

Loose or missing counterflashing

Loose or missing counterflashing (which attaches to the brick or wall) can usually be reattached using roofing cement. Gaps between flashing pieces can also be sealed with cement. A hole or small area of rust can also be repaired. If rust is general the flashing should be replaced. If the area has been leaking for some time, call in a pro.

Loose seals

Where shingles rest on top of metal flashing, they usually need to be sealed tightly onto the flashing. Often they can be resealed using roofing cement in a caulking-gun tube or by using a trowel.

 

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