Monday, October 10, 2016


About this time of year I start getting calls from homeowners who inform me, with grim resignation, “My roof needs to be replaced.”

Yup, it may look ugly, but that doesn't mean it will leak.
On many types of roofs, the roofing felt
keeps out the water, not the shingles.
“Does it leak?” I ask.  

“No,”  they respond.

Remember that old saw, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?  It applies nicely to roofs, too.    
Many people confuse a roof’s appearance with its ability to keep out water. But many types of roofing—wood shingles and shakes, in particular—can look positively awful and still function perfectly well.  So don’t automatically assume that a shabby roof is a leaky roof.

Vents and other roof penetrations are notorious spot
for leaks to develop. Look there first. You may
save yourself a ton of money.
Moreover, even if an isolated leak does develop, you may be able to repair it with a five dollar tube of caulk rather than a twenty-thousand dollar reroof. That’s because the majority of roof leaks occur at pipe or vent penetrations, or at intersections with other roofs or walls—in short, wherever the roof material is discontinuous. Leaks are less common out in the “field” or middle of the roof surface, so re-roofing these areas to fix a single small leak is often a waste of money.  

What’s the answer? Find a roofing contractor willing to determine the cause of your leak rather than shotgunning the problem with a costly new roof. This may not be easy—understandably, most contractors would rather sell a big-ticket item like a complete re-roof—but there are a few out there who are still willing to hunt down a leak.  

The stain is here—does that mean the leak is
right above it? Not necessarily.
A sharp-eyed contractor may find something as simple as a seam that’s opened up or a vent with its storm collar missing.  Flashing (the sheet metal installed at roof intersections and penetrations) is another common leak point, especially at skylights, chimneys, and areas where roofs abut vertical walls. Even building movement due to ground settlement or earthquakes can sometimes open up junctures between roofs and walls or chimneys, creating leaks where there were none before.  

Because water often travels sideways along rafters or runs down inside walls before appearing inside your house, water stains in ceilings or walls aren’t always a good indicator of a leak’s location. A discoloration in the middle of a ceiling might well be caused by a leaking vent ten feet away. That’s why it’s a good idea to leave leak-finding to a pro. Besides, a lot of careless stomping around on a roof can create more leaks than it fixes.  
You just spent $20,000 on a new roof.
But was a tube of this stuff all you really needed?

Hunting down roof leaks can be frustrating, but in some cases it may put off the need to re-roof for many  years. Once the leak is found, it’s just a matter of repairing it as recommended by your roofing contractor—sometimes, a tube of caulk or roofing mastic will be all that's called for. 

If the leak can’t be easily repaired, or if the field of the roof leaks—or if you just can’t stand the way your roof looks anymore—then it really may be time to reroof. But until then, repairing isolated leaks can save you a great deal of money. 

So don’t drive tacks with a sledgehammer. Before you resort to the expense of a whole new roof, try the simple solutions first.  

1 comment:

  1. Having dealt with my own roof leaking situation recently, I can attest that the replace-the-roof option is the last one in my book. I don't have $20,000 just sitting around to throw at a new roof. Turns out a plumbing boot at the base of a pipe has rotted and needed to be fixed. $20 versus $20,000 is a huge win in my book.