Premature roof failure—it’s the kind of challenge that keeps an FM up at night. This expensive nightmare isn’t just a money pit, it’s also the waste of a roof that could have endured many more years of service if it had been properly maintained.
That maintenance includes spotting the little problems before they turn into big ones so the roof can continue its long service life as planned.
4 Roof Repair Tips
1. Understand Typical Damage
First, have an idea of what you might find once you access the roof. Certain types of damage are more likely in wet or cold months, for example, while others could be the consequence of a contractor accessing your roof to service an HVAC unit or install solar panels. These three common scenarios account for much of the minor damage you’re likely to spot.
Worker-inflicted: Contractors who access the roof can inadvertently damage it while they’re up there, particularly if they aren’t well-trained on preserving the roof. There are two main types of human-related damage, notes Heshmat O. Laaly, roofing consultant and author of Science and Technology of Traditional and Modern Roofing Systems.
Dynamic damage happens when a worker actively harms part of the roof, for example, by dropping a tool that punctures the surface or spilling a chemical that eats away at the roof’s protective top layers. Static damage, by comparison, is caused by excessive pressure that causes deterioration below. “In both cases, reinforcement plays an important role,” Laaly notes.
In either case, it can be hard to identify the source of the damage if said contractor neglects to mention it. Owen Davis, technical specialist for Professional Roof Consultants, recommends maintaining a strict roof access management policy requiring everyone to sign in before accessing the roof.
“You need to know who goes up there, when they go up, what they’re doing, and where they are,” explains Davis. “That’s critical because if someone does drop or spill something and you find it later during a periodic inspection, you can go back to your roof access control log and say ‘We found damage in this timeline, and we know these HVAC guys were working on this particular unit at this time.’ That also helps cover costs for significant damage—you can show the log to the contractor.”
Storms and seasonal factors: Freeze-thaw cycles that cause materials to expand and contract can badly damage roofs, Laaly says. Rainstorms and other sources of water intrusion can impact insulation value in the short term; in the long term, it can contribute to the development of organic growth that can consume wood and lead to roof failure.
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Wear and tear: It’s also vital to know how normal aging affects your roof system. Periodically examining your roof while the weather is cooperating will help you spot dried-out seams and other age-related deterioration before moisture intrusion becomes a problem, Davis says.
2. Stay Vigilant with Inspections
At bare minimum, you should inspect your roof for damage once or twice a year and repair as necessary, Laaly says. “Unfortunately, many owners think ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” he explains. “They don’t inspect the roof, so they miss issues that can lead to premature failure.”
Davis recommends quarterly inspections with general cleaning added to the spring and fall ones. The fall cleaning is especially important because falling leaves can clog troughs and drains and create ponding water.
“Once a quarter gives you an idea of what condition your roof is in and lets you spot any potential areas you need to address before the next season,” Davis explains.
Predominant failure locations vary by roof type, but typically include any junction where multiple materials meet, such as corners or pipe penetrations. For the most comprehensive inspection, however, Laaly recommends finding a NRCA-certified contractor who can examine potential trouble spots and recommend changes accordingly.
That contractor may also be required to maintain your warranty, so when it’s time to inspect the roof, consult the manufacturer’s requirements to ensure everything is done by the book. Any repairs for damage spotted during your inspection must be handled the same way.
“Roofing repair warranties drive a couple of things. First, they require periodic inspections, and if you’re not inspecting the roof you can void your warranty,” says Davis. “The warranty also requires that you call the manufacturer immediately if you have a water intrusion issue. You’re allowed to do temporary repairs to keep water from coming in until a warranty service agent can come out, but permanent repairs to meet the warranty must be done by an authorized repair contractor.”
3. Know Your Materials
The day to stock up on spare repair materials is not the day water starts coming through your roof. It’s important to be prepared in case temporary repairs are needed.
Make sure you know what material your roof is made of and what can be used to fix it. TPO and PVC membranes are especially tricky, Davis says—they look the same but are not compatible with each other. After you’ve verified what types of repair products are safe to use on your roof, it’s a good idea to have extras on hand for emergencies. These could include:
Plastic roofing cement: “This is available at any home improvement store, but make sure it’s for wet applications because quite often you’re going to apply this in a rainstorm,” says Davis. “It has chemicals in it to allow the plastic cement to adhere to a surface and seal the damaged area in an emergency.” Some cements can even seal when completely submerged, Laaly adds.
Polyurethane caulk or sealant: This can come in handy when water intrusion occurs at a penetration, Davis says. “Use caulk to seal around the jack and the pipe itself,” he adds. “Polyurethane is compatible with many systems.”
Self-adhering roofing tape: There is a wide spectrum of tapes on the market for different applications, so investigate and choose one that fits your specific needs. Look for one with a decent shelf life in case you don’t need the whole roll at once.
High-quality duct tape: As unlikely as it may sound, duct tape can be truly helpful in a pinch. “As you’ll be doing this in the middle of a storm, remember to dry off the membrane as best you can,” says Davis. “Take a blow dryer if you can, just to get the tape on there. You can even put some urethane in a split or a cut and then put the tape over it. That creates a good temporary seal that won’t void your warranty because the repair technician can remove the temporary products to do the proper repair.”
4. Avoid Common Mistakes
Knowing what materials are safe to use for your roof system goes a long way toward preventing mistakes, but there are still a few pitfalls that could trip you up. One common issue emerges with patches that have to be sealed with heat, Davis says: “Often people overheat the patch and end up cooking it by getting it too hot. It actually creates a bigger problem and damages the membrane.”
“The most important thing is to know, inspect, and maintain your roof system,” adds Davis. “Those three things will help your roof last. It costs you less in the long run to keep your roof maintained and serviceable than it costs for you to repair it.”
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