7 Roof Problems and What to Do About Them
Your roof covers the largest asset you own, so it pays to know the signs of trouble. Fortunately, many of the danger signals are easy to see-you can sometimes even spot them from the ground. (Tip: Binoculars help!) A small leak can go undetected for years, causing huge damage before you notice anything. It’s a good idea to inspect your roof regularly. Many contractors offer free inspections. But even if you have to pay, it’s better than finding leaks after the damage is done. Here are a few of the most common and easy to recognize signs of roof problems.
Metal flashing prevents leaks where shingles meet other surfaces, like walls and chimneys. Proper flashing work takes time and know-how, so sloppy roofers sometimes slather on roof cement instead. It seals out water long enough for them to cash your check, but it soon hardens, cracks and leaks. In the end, all it does is make a proper repair more difficult. So if you see heavy ‘tar’ patchwork on your roof, fix it right—before it leaks and leads to interior damage.
No Chimney Cricket
A wide chimney forms a dam on your roof. Debris builds up behind that dam and holds moisture, which leads to rusted flashing and wood rot. Any chimney wider than 30 in. needs a “cricket,” or “saddle”: basically a small roof built behind the chimney. A properly installed chimney cricket will direct water and debris around the chimney and off the roof. If your chimney doesn’t have one, watch for holes rusting through the flashing. If you’re getting a new roof, be sure the contractor’s bid includes a cricket.
Missing Kick-Out Flashing
Kick-out flashing is critical where a roof edge meets a sidewall. Without it, roof runoff flows down the wall and possibly into the wall. This is worst when there is a door or a window below and water can seep behind the trim. You might not notice it for years, but eventually rot will destroy sheathing and framing. In extreme cases, the stucco is the only thing holding up the wall! Don’t wait for that to happen to you. To see how to add kick-out flashing, read Use a Kick-Out Flashing to Stop Rot.
Bad Chimney Flashing
Good chimney flashing includes sections of “step flashing” that run up the sides of the chimney, and “counterflashing.” Counterflashing fits into grooves cut into the chimney and covers the step flashing. Cutting, fitting and installing all those parts takes time, so sloppy roofers take shortcuts.
Improperly flashed chimneys (top photo) cause lots of rotting roof sheathing and framing members. Chimneys need to be properly step-flashed and counterflashed so that water can’t run down the face of the chimney and into the attic. You can’t rely on caulk or roof cement to keep water out. If you suspect your flashing is shoddy, crawl into the attic after a heavy rain. Look for signs of water around the chimney and downhill from it.
Missing Gutter Apron
When water flows off the edge of your roof, some of it clings to the underside of the shingles and dribbles toward the fascia. If you have gutters but no gutter apron to stop the water, it will wick behind the gutter. Eventually the fascia, soffits and even the roof sheathing will rot. You may see water stains below the gutter on the fascia and soffit. This is a sure sign that the gutter apron is missing.
The best time to add gutter apron is when you’re getting new shingles. But it is possible to slip gutter apron under existing shingles. A dab of roof cement every couple feet will “glue” it to the shingles and hold it in place. You’ll have to remove gutter brackets or straps and then refasten them after the apron is in place. Gutter apron is available at home centers in 10 ft. lengths.
Vent Flashing Failure
Your plumbing system includes “vent” pipes that pass through the roof. And like any other roof penetration, that sometimes means trouble. There are two kinds of flashing used to seal vents: a “boot” that relies on a snug rubber seal, and all-metal flashing with soft lead that can be bent over and into the pipe. Some versions are made completely from lead; others are galvanized steel with a lead collar. When any type of vent flashing fails, the solution is to replace it. To see how, read more on plumbing vent flashing.
When a large hailstone hits an asphalt shingle, it can tear or even puncture the shingle. But usually, it just knocks granules off the surface. When a shingle loses its protective layer of granules, UV rays from the sun begin to destroy it. More granules fall off around the damaged spot and the bruise grows. The damage may not be obvious at first, so if you suspect hail damage, get an inspection from a roofing contractor. Most offer free hail damage inspections.