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Prevent & Repair Roof Damage

If your home is your castle, then your roof is your best defense against invaders. Water, snow, ice, mold and mildew are all enemies waiting for their opportunity to strike. Protecting the integrity of your roof is critical to protecting the investment you’ve made in your home.

Whether your roof is two years old or twenty years old, you should inspect your roof every spring, and if you live in cold climates, do second inspection check in the fall. The best preventative maintenance you can do to extend the useful life of your roof is to perform semi-annual inspections and identify problems when they arise.

If only it could be so easy! Cleaning your roof is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
If only it could be so easy! Cleaning your roof is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Your home’s roof takes more abuse from the weather and elements than any other component of your home. Preventative maintenance saves money and gives you a longer roof service life. This guide will show you how to keep your roof in the best possible working condition.

A Word on Roof Maintenance and Safety

Binoculars are the safest way to check your roof. In most cases, you can see everything you need to right from the ground. If you can, use a window cleaning brush to reach eaves, joinery and wall cladding.

If you do have to use a ladder to inspect and clean parts of your roof, make sure the ladder is taller than the roofline by at least two feet. That way, if the ladder slides left or right, it will still remain on the roof line.

Also, if you drive a long stake or piece of rebar into the ground behind the ladder, this will prevent it from sliding backwards while you are on it. Never lean over the side of a ladder to reach other parts of the roof. Get down and move the ladder.

A few additional roof maintenance safety precautions include:

Always take safety seriously when performing roof cleaning and maintenance.
Always take safety seriously when performing roof cleaning and maintenance.

  • If you decide to go onto your roof, and your roof has more than 15 degrees of pitch, use a roof ladder. It’s nearly impossible to stop yourself before you reach the edge if you slip and fall on a steeply pitched roof.
  • If you can’t reach sections with a roof ladder (hipped roof or dormer windows are examples) you need to be able to affix safety ropes.
  • Never climb onto a damp or wet roof! Roofs that are wet, even just a little bit, can be very slippery—especially if you have some mildew or mold on it.
  • Wear soft shoes with a good grip, and always walk along nail lines.

Annual Spring Roof Check Up

Inspect your roof in the spring for debris, moss, mold, damaged tiles or shingles, and damaged or clogged gutters. By repairing it and cleaning it up after the winter season, you will extend the life of your roof.

Leaves and Pine Needles

  • What to look for:
    • Any buildup of leaves and pine needles deep enough to hold moisture on the roof will need to be removed. Debris not only traps moisture, but causes mildew to form underneath it, interrupts the flow of water off the roof, can block gutters, and can put undue weight in one area.
  • How to fix:
    • Use a plastic leaf rake, push broom, or air blower. Generally, power washers are too strong for most roof types and the water can make it slippery and dangerous. Even when sweeping or raking, use light pressure to avoid causing damage.
  • How to prevent:
    • Trim overhanging trees to allow sunlight to reach the roof. This will also reduce moisture and mildew problems, and will reduce the amount of debris that builds up.

Moss on Roof

Unless you want your roof to look like this, semi-annual roof cleaning and inspection is generally a good idea!
Unless you want your roof to look like this, semi-annual roof cleaning and inspection is generally a good idea!

  • What to look for:
    • Moss has a shallow root system and needs a constant source of moisture to survive.
  • How to fix:
    • Since the roots are shallow they are usually easily removed with a long handled scrub brush or by spraying with a garden hose. Always clean and spray from the top of the roof toward the bottom to avoid damaging shingles.
  • How to prevent:
    • To prevent moss buildup, you might want to consider nailing zinc strips to the ridgeline. Rain that washes over the zinc creates zinc oxide, which will kill most moss it washes over. Copper strips are also effective and last longer. Install copper strips under the ridge shingles with four inches exposed to the weather.
    • Zinc and copper strips can be found from most roofing suppliers.
    • Finally, cut back tree limbs and remove leaves and pine needles. This will allow more sunlight to reach the roof and reduce the amount of moss you have to clean next year. Also, increasing the amount of ventilation in your attic will minimize moisture buildup and moss growth below the shingles.

Mold, Algae and Fungus

  • What to look for:
  • Black or discolored streaks on the roof indicate you have mold, algae or fungus. Check north facing roofs and shady sections most carefully. Over time, they can eat away at roofing material, causing deterioration and leaks.
  • How to fix:
    • Water alone won’t eradicate mold, algae and fungus. You need to either use a chlorine bleach solution, copper sulfate solution, or premixed professional solution designed for this purpose.
  • Chlorine Bleach Solution – mix 1 part bleach to 3 parts water.
    • Before you begin working, hydrate all the plants near your house by watering them thoroughly. This will keep them from drinking in any of the bleach solution.
    • Apply the solution with a hand sprayer and let sit for 15 minutes. Rinse with a hose. Check to see if any mildew remains (it will feel slimy when you touch it). If you still have mildew, let the roof dry and repeat the process.
    • When you are done, always rinse the chlorine bleach from the roof thoroughly—if left on the roof, it could damage some types of shingles.
  • Copper Sulfate Solution – mix 12 ounces (dry measure) of copper sulfate to 1 gallon of warm water.
    • Before you begin working, hydrate all the plants near your house by watering them thoroughly. This will help prevent them from drinking any of the solution.
    • Apply the solution and wait for the mildew to turn brown. When it is dry, sweep the mildew off the roof with a push broom. Rinse the roof thoroughly when done.
    • Finally, as we’ve mentioned before, cutting back tree limbs increases air and sun exposure and reduces the buildup of mildew and algae.

Roof Gutter Maintenance

Remember to check roof gutters and downspouts for leaks or debris that cause poor drainage.
Remember to check roof gutters and downspouts for leaks or debris that cause poor drainage.

  • What to look for:
    • Check that gutters are not clogged with leaves and debris and that they are draining properly. Look for cracks, open seams, or sags where the gutter has pulled away from the roof.
  • How to fix:
    • Wear rubber gloves; debris can hide sharp objects and it is smelly. Scoop debris into a bucket that you hang from your ladder using an s-hook.
    • Bring a hammer with you to fix any loose nails you come across and tighten the gutter back to the roof line.
    • After you scoop out debris, flush the gutter with a hose.
    • To clean the downspouts, insert the end of a hose into the downspout and turn the hose on full. Do the same from the bottom. Don’t force the hose into the bends, because it could get stuck. If there are clogs in the bends, use a plumber’s auger (snake) to work them out, or dissemble the bend to remove the clog.

Maintaining Roof Shingles, Tiles and Slates

Look for missing or damaged shingles, tiles or slates. Also check for missing nails. See our article on repairing shingle, tile or slate roofs for more detail.

Roof Drainage

On sloped roofs, removing debris from roofs and eaves and cleaning the gutters once or twice a year will solve most drainage problems. Remember also to check the downspouts and drains for damage, leaks or clogging.
For flat roofs, you need a drainage system that handles water, and it should be in working order at all times. Check to make sure water is not ponding anywhere.

Chimney Maintenance

While inspecting your roof, don’t forget your chimney. If mortar is crumbling that means moisture could be getting in. Also inspect the chimneypot. If this is damaged, you might need to replace it. If the chimney is no longer used, block off the top to keep birds out, and prevent rain and drafts from entering. Most repairs to these parts of the chimney require a professional.

Check the flu pipe, cowl and fastenings in and around the chimney. If they are becoming corroded, remove the rust and paint with galvanized iron primer and apply roof paint. Replace fastenings with galvanized or stainless steel fastenings.

Roof Flashing

Flashing is used at connections between roof sections, around chimneys, vents, skylights—anywhere the plane of your roof is interrupted. They can be manufactured from steel, aluminum, copper or vinyl.

  • What to look for:
    • Loose flashing or flashing with holes in it.
    • If you find loose flashing, don’t simply nail it back down. Replace the nails with galvanized screws for a longer lasting solution. Then, cover the screw heads with roofing cement. If you have copper flashing, use copper screws. Galvanized metal will cause copper to corrode.
  • How to fix it:
    • Small holes in flashing can be repaired, but larger ones require the replacement of the flashing. To repair a hole in flashing, clean the surface and abrade it with a stiff wire brush or sandpaper. Clean it again. Cut a patch of replacement flashing material that is larger than the hole by 2” on all sides. Apply roofing cement to the hole and the surrounding area and press the patch firmly over it. Hold for about 3 minutes. Cover the patch with another layer of cement.

How to Seal Chimney Flashing

Chip out the mortar and caulking that joins the flashing to the chimney, using a hammer and chisel. Caulk between the chimney and the cap flashing, and between the cap and step flashing with roofing cement.

How to Seal Vent Flashing

Calk between the vent pipe and the vent flashing (the cone shaped support for the pipe) with roofing cement. Lift the shingles surrounding the vent flashing and apply roofing cement on them, extending it up to the vent flashing. Keep extra shingles on hand in case you need to replace any while you are working on this. Check that all the areas where shingles meet the flashing flange (the flat part beneath the vent flashing) are sealed with roofing cement.

How to Seal a Skylight

Lift the shingles around the skylight and apply roofing cement under them. Extend the cement across all joints up to the flange (the metal girdle of the skylight box).

How to Seal a Drip Edge

Flashing along the rake (sloped edge) and drip (straight) edge of your roof is also flashed. To seal the rake edge, lift the shingles along the downward slope and apply roofing cement all the way to the edge. Don’t seal the drip edge along the flat face of the eave, because that will block drain holes.

How to Seal Flashing Along a Dormer

Chisel out any old caulking and re caulk between the flashing and shingles or siding with an outdoor weatherproof caulk or roof cement. Caulk seams in flashing also.

Annual Fall Check Up

Keep tree limbs trimmed back to avoid nasty roof damage during storms and high winds!
Keep tree limbs trimmed back to avoid nasty roof damage during storms and high winds!
If you live in a cold climate that gets snow, a fall inspection and cleanup can prevent costly damage. Build up of heavy snow can cause ice dams, and the weight can damage roofs, gutters, and downspouts. Fall roof maintenance steps can include:

Clean Gutters and Down Spouts – removing debris, snow and ice from gutters and drains ensures that melting snow can run off into the gutters without becoming trapped on the roof, and potentially refreezing. Check your gutters periodically throughout the winter and keep them clear of debris.

Remove Snow Buildup – use a long handled rake made for snow removal to remove built up snow during the winter. This will prevent ice dams and reduce stress on the roof due to excess weight. Ice dams form when snow melts during the day, flows under the shingles and refreezes at night. If this happens repeatedly, water can enter the attic and damage the roof and even the insulation, ceilings and walls.

Install Adequate Attic Insulation – especially if your home was built before 1970, check to see that you have adequate insulation in your attic. Most builders recommend a minimum of R-30, and R-38 in colder climates. This will reduce the chance that heat escaping from your attic will melt roof snow, creating ice dams when the melted snow refreezes at night. It will also cut your heating costs and help your house stay warmer.

Install Adequate Attic Ventilation – make sure you have adequate ventilation system in your attic. This will keep the underside of your roof deck dry and cool, and extend the roof life by reducing dry rot, cupping and curling.

- Local Fresh  updated May 27th, 2008
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