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Tips on roof leaks

Last week we began our look at the challenges a home owner can face after the passage of a hurricane, if the roof loses some of its covering. We look in particular at the problems that can arise from leaks, even if only a few shingles are blow away or broken.

Always keep in mind that while storms, though expected at this time of year, their passage could be infrequent, while rainfall can be a daily occurrence. This means that while the winds may do minimal damage, the small holes they leave could cause considerable damage and of contents.

So last week we offered some pointers on plugging these holes with roofing cement, a black-tar-like substances that can come in a bucked to be troweled on or in a pouch that allows you to direct it to the smallest point of a leak. But what if you don’t have any roofing cement and the store is not open.

Here’s some more advice from the experts:

Plugging/Capping Small Holes: If you cannot buy or borrow roofing cement from a neighbor, then you could very temporarily plug the open holes by inserting nails of the same or slightly larger diameter than the nails or screws originally in place.

If you are apt to run out of nails or screws to fill nail holes be sure to start at the lowest part of the roof that is over areas where you don’t want water leaks because there will be more water flowing over the lower part of the roof than the higher part.

Another obvious way to protect a roof is with tarps or plastic sheeting. This may sound easy; but, in practice it is not. In fact unless you have experience applying tarps or plastic you will likely find that repairs to the tarp or plastic will be needed. This is said to encourage you to do a thoughtful and thorough job of securing them.

Tarps and Plastic Sheeting: This can be a very effective way to protect a large part of a roof. However, they have the problems of being difficult to tie down to withstand even ordinary winds and the sun quickly causes them to deteriorate. Wind can tear them rather quickly so be sure to check them regularly. They need to be held down really well because they can act like sails on a sailboat creating a lot of force to pull them off the roof.

Be very careful when putting tarps or plastic on the roof because they tend to very slippery (in fact slick as ice, very dangerous) and they hide protrusions on the roof over which you can trip. In addition they hide openings, like skylights, through which you can fall. Installing tarps or plastic sheeting can be very dangerous. Some “blue” or any color tarps may not last more than a few months. So if you use tarps, check them once a month for brittleness. If they become brittle they will tear away from fasteners holding them down. As stated earlier the forces on roofs in even very moderate winds can very easily tear them from the roof.

Roofing Felt:

If you have had work done on your roof in recent years, you may have a roll or two of roofing felt left. This can also come in handy when you have lost tiles after a storm.

Roofing felt is the black paper like material you have seen applied to roofs that is sold in three foot wide rolls. It is designed to be used under the weather roof where it is protected from the sun and wind. Sunlight causes it to warp and become brittle. Thus it is not a very effective long term measure for protecting a roof. Even mild winds can tear it. Obviously it is better than nothing and should be considered a fall back to tarps. It is commonly available as a No. 15 and a No. 30. The No. 30 is considerably stronger than the No. 15. The best ways to secure felt is with roofing nails that have metal or plastic tabs about 1″ square or round under the head of the nail or with boards lapped over the felt. The big tabs on roofing nails help prevent wind from pulling the felt over the heads. To be effective at holding down the felt, the nails should be placed on a grid one foot by one foot and both horizontal and end laps should be nailed with nails no farther apart than six inches. Felt should be lapped in shingle fashion with layers overlapping about three inches. End laps should be at least six inches.

Hints for Applying Tarps, Sheeting, or Felt: Tarps and plastic sheeting material needs to be extended over the ridge of the roof. If gutters are present the material can be wrapped over them and secured to the underside of the roof under the eave. If there is no damage to the roof cover on the other side, you need to use ropes to tie off the tarp or sheeting to large screw eyelets or some other form of anchorage to the fascia or soffit on that side of the roof.

If you have to use felt paper, it is likely that you will not be able to extend it over the top of the roof. In this case it will be very difficult to seal the upper edge of the felt in a way that you can ensure that water does not get underneath.

You can try to create a shingle effect (This means starting at the bottom and applying one layer of felt over the top edge of the one below). Then, try to feed the upper edge of the top felt piece under the intact roofing material above. This may not be easy, but there is not much choice except to try. Even if it is not perfect it may well be better than nothing in keep rain out. One key is to try to ensure that the felt material that is fed under is well secured (and possibly sealed with roofing cement) to minimise leaks and to help it withstand winds that typically come with rain.

Given the predominance of metal roofs in Barbados, next week we will look at what you can do when you suffer losses in this area as a result of high winds.

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