4 Roof Preventive Maintenance Steps You Should Take Before Winter

Before the weather gets worse, here are four roof preventive maintenance steps from a roofing expert you should take as a landlord or property manager to get your rental housing or apartments ready.

By Eric Skoog

No. 1 Gutters and downspouts

These are areas of specific concern whether in areas of snow and ice or heavy rain. Any structure that has gutters and downspouts should have those two areas checked.

Leaves, debris, children throwing balls up on the roof – any of these can plug up gutters and downspouts. When that happens you have improper drainage. With improper drainage, there is a greater chance for water to back up beneath the roof system. Also remember you tend to get ice damming along eaves in cold country, and this can be minimized with proper drainage and installation of electric tape.

Gutters and downspouts are your most important roof preventive maintenance-related item to check every fall. Make sure gutters and downspouts are open and clean.

No. 2 – Clean out roof valleys

The second area for roof preventive maintenance  I would look at would be the valleys on pitched roofs.

 Especially with tile and shake roofs, valleys tend to get filled up with debris.

A valley is a junction where two slopes of a roof meet and water drains from the roof down that junction. If there's any debris in the valley, water tends to be diverted sideways beneath the roof's surface. When water gets under slate, shake, tile, or even shingle, it travels until it finds a drainage point, which might be a nail hole or some other minor penetration where it can get in and cause quite a bit of damage.

So number two would be clean out the valleys.

No. 3 – Look around any roof penetrations

The third area in roof preventive maintenance I would think about would be any penetration in the roof.

You have roof penetrations for kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, soil stacks, and perhaps even roof-mounted air conditioning units or evaporative coolers..  Anything that penetrates through the roof has the potential to leak because you're breaking the roof system. You want to check around those penetrations to make sure that the roof sealant or any gaskets are in good shape,  re-sealing or replacing as needed.

No. 4 – Check around parapets

An additional area for roof preventive maintenance that I would consider a concern is parapets.

Whether on a flat roof, surrounding a flat roof, or on a pitched roof where a wall runs into that roof and terminates you have the potential for leaking. The termination with the pitched roof or surrounding the flat roof may be an issue, but it might also be that the parapet could have gaps or cracking in it which provide ways for water to get into the system and travel.

A parapet is a wall that is built up higher than a roof level and surrounding a roof level. On a flat roof, you could walk on the roof and see the wall around the roof. Or, you might have a parapet that terminates into a pitched roof such as shingle, tile or metal.

Parapets generally go around flat roofs and many buildings have both flat roofs and pitched roofs for architectural or aesthetic effect as well to reduce construction costs. Anytime you have a wall that's running around a roof or terminating into a pitched roof you have a potential for leaks. So those parapets need to be checked just to make sure there isn't any cracking or material that's come off the walls leaving gaps where water can get in or ice or snow. Wherever the wall terminates and meets with the roof's surface it needs to be checked to make sure that there's no break in the roof's surface.

Those would be the four primary routine roof preventive maintenance items that I would check with any roof every fall and it really doesn't take that much time to do it.

Evaluate the age of your roof

The other significant factor with any roof system is age.

With age comes exposure to the sun, to the weather, and over time no matter how good a roof system you have or how good roof preventive maintenance you have, it's going to break down.

The unfortunate part with any pitched roof system whether shingle, shake, slate, or metal, there isn't any material that we can apply over that roof system to extend the life of it. What we have to do with those roof systems is lift them and replace them or at least replace the underlayment.  The underlayment typically used for this purpose is known as #30 felt. With more recent  development of synthetic underlayments and rubberized products, which hold up quite well over time with exposure to heat, and cold, and water, there are alternatives to felt underlayments.

How do you know when a roof is too old to fix anymore?

4 roof preventive maintenance steps before winter

From right to left, Lt. Tim Ferracci, Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Jeff Reinhofer, and Constructionman Apprentice Nicole Ramnes remove shingles from the roof of the home of  an Iraq war veteran's widow's home. Photo by  Kelly E. Barnes.

How do you know when I roof is too old to fix anymore?

I will give you couple of examples. If you take your standard shingle roof, for the first five to ten years you really should have little or no maintenance with a shingle roof.

Starting at about year ten you probably are going to want to reseal around all the penetrations, and then as time goes on maybe about year 15 you're going to start noticing around the perimeter of the building, or if you have gutters or downspouts you're going to start noticing in the gutters or at the base of the downspouts, evidence of granules. Those granules are the surface of the shingle roof starting to come off, and as they deteriorate with age the shingles will lose more granules. That's your indication that something's happening.

Next, with a shingle roof you'll start to see the shingles start to curl. That's a sign of age. Or if you walk on the shingle roof you'll notice that they're starting to crack because they're getting brittle. That's an indication to you that you need to start seriously considering when you're going to replace that roof.

It's a little more difficult with a metal roof, or slate, or shake, or tile because you can't see the underlayment. With wood shake, you start to notice over time that the shakes are getting brittle and flying off the roof. They turn from the bright shiny yellowish tan to a dark gray dull looking product as they age, and ultimately they get brittle. You'll see your roof starting to look kind of ragged, shakes may start to warp and curl up, there may be gaps due to missing shakes. That's a clue to you that there's a problem.

In a wetter climate, you may see significant mold or algae growth on the roof. Particularly in areas like Portland or Seattle with plenty of rain, a shake roof will last probably about 25-30 years, but at some point you're going to have to replace it.

Can satellite dishes cause roof leaks?

Satellite dishes are the bane of my existence.

We get calls and I'll give you an example of two calls I've had over the years.

One was with a flat roof. It happened to be a polyurethane foam roof that we had installed. I received a service call about five years after we installed it. The lady was upset because she said the ceiling in her bedroom had collapsed.

I know people are prone to exaggerate, so I've learned not to accept necessarily what they say, but to go and check it. I agreed to look at the roof, and because our people were all busy I was the one who went there to check it. Sure enough, she was correct. It's the only time I have ever seen this – her ceiling in the bedroom literally had collapsed. She had sheetrock on the bed, insulation was down, it was a mess. I looked at that and thought, "Boy, do I have a problem. We've done something wrong."

I went up on the roof to check and noted there were three holes right in front of a scupper. A scupper is a hole through a parapet wall through which water moves to drain off a roof. Obviously, those holes had been drilled there and left there. Then, I looked at the wall above. There was a new satellite dish fastened to the wall.  I took a couple of photos, went down and asked the homeowner, "When did you have the satellite dish people here?"

"Oh, they were just here last week. I just got new service." And I said, "Well, let me show you a couple photos." I showed her a photo of the satellite dish, then I showed her a photo which included the satellite dish and the holes in the roof right below it. I told her that, "Your satellite dish people first installed the dish on your flat roof right in front of a scupper. They realized they didn't have good reception, so they moved it up onto the parapet two feet away and installed it there. They didn't bother to seal the holes. You need to call the satellite dish people and have them come replace your ceiling." Never heard anything more from her about that.

Another issue was with a shingle roof. Same issue. Got a call, "We have water leaking in." They didn't claim that the ceiling was collapsed. I checked. It wasn't, but there was water damage requiring  sheetrock repair and paint. Same issue. Go up on the roof, there's a nice new satellite dish up on the roof. The installer hadn't bothered to caulk at the holes before screwing the receiver base to the roof. With heavy rain, water leaked  in.

Satellite dishes are a problem. The ideal way to install a satellite dish is not to have it on your roof. It should be fastened to the wall or to the fascia board, so you have no penetrations in the roof. So good roof preventive maintenance involves correct satellite dish installation.

Summary Roof Preventive Maintenance

With respect to flat roofs in multiunit housing, when the roofs are walked, make sure that any drains on the roofs are cleared of any debris because we have had cases where a flat roof has collapsed due to water accumulation.

In one case, we received a call about water dripping into a unit through vents.  We got up there and checked. A child's ball had blocked a roof drain. Somehow a child had thrown a ball up on the roof and it was just small enough that it got stuck in the drain. From the water line on the parapet wall adjacent to the drain, it looked like there was probably 12 inches of water. With the accumulated water, water was running into the roof vents that were higher up on the roof.

That was a lot of weight. I was amazed that it lasted even that long, but with a pitched roof you might have had 12 inches around the drain, and you go 16 feet up the roof you have about 8 inches, so it's not as much weight across the whole roof surface. But still it's a significant amount of water, easy thing to address, so it's doesn't become a problem, and that way you avoid unhappy tenants and potential liability going forward.

About Sunvek Roofing

SUNVEK is a commercial and residential roofing contractor, located in Phoenix, Arizona.  They service commercial and multi-unit housing and HOA’s throughout the state of Arizona.  Areas of expertise include tile, shake, shingle, self-adhered flat roof systems, spray polyurethane foam, TPO and coatings of various types.

4 roof preventive maintenance steps before winter

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