5 Lesser-Known Causes of Roof Leaks

roof leak downers groveWhen I say that being a roofer is like being a dentist, people usually give me a strange look. What could possibly roofers and dentists have in common? More than you may think! It’s not that our professions are similar, but the way our clients address their problems have a lot in common.

For instance, many people avoid going to a dentist for regular checkups until they have a toothache that won’t go away. Some of them end up having a root canal or-even worse-lose their tooth.  Sounds a lot like some of our clients… They don’t do roof checkups or maintenance and then end up having a leak. Now tell me how having water seep into your living quarter is any better than a horrible toothache?  

To be fair, not all leaks are equally preventable. So this time let’s cover the most common causes for leaky roofs besides the obvious ones (the roof is old or it was damaged by a hail storm).

1. Poor workmanship.

Installing a roof is not a rocket science, but it does require skills. Lack of skills in general (or lack of experience working with a specific product), “I don’t care” attitude, fatigue due to heavy workload can contribute to the fact that mistakes are made and the homeowners is the one who’s going to have to pay. In case of built-up roofs, problems can arise if specific preparations are not taken. Issues with adhesion can result when the area isn’t cleaned, dried, and primed properly prior to installation. Those are things that are difficult to visually see, but could lead to future problems, premature aging, or premature failure. Make sure that the contractor and crew you’ve hired are educated in proper installation techniques specific to the roof they are installing.

2. Blow-offs.

Leaks are not the only problem that can result from improperly installed flashing. Hot bituminous roofs where flashing is poorly attached may experience open seams and laps and ultimately cause blow-offs, reduced puncture resistance, and code issues. Wind uplift resistance can be reduced greatly if seams are not cured adequately on cold-applied mod bit systems.

3. Lack of maintenance.

There are many reasons not to neglect the roof, including lack of finances. And yet ignoring problems is not a good solution. Even minor problems tend to get exacerbated with time, so waiting usually means even higher costs to fix the problem in the future.  Don’t neglect routine inspections. You don’t have to know a lot about roofing in order to do that. Things like ponding water, a piece of slipped base flashing, pitch pockets that haven’t been filled – those should be obvious whether you know a lot about roofing or not. Addressing minor problems before they escalate maximizes roof life as well as minimizes headaches and expense.

4. Ponding water.

During the design of a dead-level roof, slope should be added with tapered insulation or crickets. If we don’t take proactive measures when we’re actually designing the roof, then we’re building in ponding water. UV rays compounded by ponding water can have adverse effects on BUR and asphalt-based mod bit roofs. Before repairing the roof, the source of the ponding water should be investigated. HVAC units without condensate drain lines could be the culprit. Always inspect thoroughly before making a repair. Check drains to make sure they are free of dirt, silt, and debris.

5. Improper repairs.

Using materials that are not intended for application on specific roof types can result in permanent damage to the roof. One of the most common problems we see with metal roofs is improper repair. People go up with caulking and plastic roof cement and improper materials that are in no way intended for that purpose. However, this problem isn’t exclusive to metal roofs. On a built-up or modified roof, that five-gallon bucket of plastic cement can solve a lot of problems. But if I take that five-gallon bucket of plastic cement up on a single-ply membrane, I may actually damage the membrane itself. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use and take note of repair products with a shelf life.