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Flat Roof Repair Tips

Depending on the climate conditions, flat roofs can develop more problems than pitched ones, yet at the same time several of these complications may be easily solved with some preventive maintenance. This inspection should be done at least twice a year and one should look for cracks, rusted or protruding nails and all sorts of damage that may potentially become a rooftop problem.

Most flat roofs are built using a series of asphalt rolls specially created for roofing operations and also with asphalt building paper that is criss-crossed and "hot mopped" with hot asphalt liquid. It is common to use sheets of gravel or crushed stone that is set onto the hot asphalt to achieve a good finishing touch. Given the particular characteristics of these rooftops, professional contractors are usually the ones that install flat roofs as the procedure requires a certain degree of expertise, plus the equipment is expensive.

Nevertheless, there are certain repair and maintenance tasks that anyone can do.

Climbing onto any roof can be quite dangerous. Be very careful and try following these rules to avoid accidents:

  • Always set the ladder on even, firm ground. Assure a firm footing.
  • Do not lap the extension of a 2-piece ladder with less than 3 steps.
  • When extending the ladder, it should go at least 3 steps over the rooftop as you need to step from the ladder to the rooftop. Engage the extension hooks onto the roof and avoid stepping into the valley.
  • Be very careful when climbing out in order to avoid any power lines or telephone cables.
  • The ladder inclination related to the ground should be about one quarter of its length. That means that for a 16 feet foot ladder there should be a distance of 4 feet from the ladder's base to the wall.
  • Make sure the rungs are in optimal condition. Walk over them with the ladder flat in the ground first, to see if they hold your weight.
  • If there are any indications that show that the ladder may be damaged, avoid using it.
Given that most flat roofs normally don't come with an open crawlspace under them, it is not possible to go under the roof and check for leaks by looking for light filtration on a sunny day. In the case of flat roofs other sorts of techniques have to be used to detect holes, leaks or filtrations. Given that the way water behaves is somehow tricky (the dripping zone may not necessarily be the place where the hole is) one must be very careful when inspecting the roof.

Usual trouble spots are:
  • Areas around chimneys, ventilation slits or tacks were the roofing may have moved or the seals could be failing. Roof projections such as skylights should be checked too.
  • Roofing nail heads may be missing or could have rusted. Check them well.
  • Drain systems may be having problems; gutters may be obstructed or punctured.
  • Check all rooftops areas that lack a gravel/stone cover.
  • Inspect seams and other roofing laps.
  • Junctures with other roofs are usually critical spots. Check them well.
  • Inspect all valleys.

While inspecting the rooftop pay good attention to areas were the roof gravel or stones seem to have lost colour. That usually means the water is filtering through and leaking, discolouring the stones in the process.

You should also check for blisters in the rooftop. This is a normal condition caused by moisture getting in between the decking and the roof membrane (tar paper or other materials), and a common cause of rooftop leaks.

If you are planning to inspect your roof, choose a good sunny day with calm weather and make sure that no storms (or rain in general) have been forecast for that day. Always wait for rain to dry up before climbing on your roof (just wait a day or so in warm conditions) and make good use of that time by checking the sort of materials you will need. Try to avoid going up and down the ladder more than necessary and also walking over the roof too much. Remember to wear adequate protective gear (like thick rubber-soled shoes) and to calculate your time well to avoid hastiness.

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*Based on a independently audited survey submitted to 3216 customers. The survey ran from January 2011 until April 2011 with a 70% return rate.

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