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Roof Matters: Chasing Leaks

Posted by By at 24 August, at 10 : 14 AM Print

Chasing a leak isn’t always as easy as it would appear to be. If you are trying to locate a leak, following guidelines might be helpful to assist you. NOTE: Please note that the words “the leak area,” refers to an area within a 10 foot (3 meter) diameter of the leak.

Flat or Low-Slope Roofs

  • Inspect any roof drains near the leak area. If they are plugged or draining slowly, then there is a strong chance that they are the reason for the leaks. Drains are rarely waterproof if they are plugged. They are generally designed and constructed for water to flow in one direction only…down.
  • Inspect any material seams in the area of the leak. Just because you see “tar” or adhesive sticking out under a lap, it doesn’t mean that the material is adhered properly. Take a flat blade about 2 inches (5 cm) long (like a pocketknife blade), and gently run it along under the lap. If it slides in more than 1 inch (2.5 cm), then the seam should be sealed. If it slides in for the length of the 2 inch blade, it’s a good suspect for a leak.
  • Look carefully at all penetrations for signs of problems. Problems include holes in the metal flashings, shrunken pitch pan filler, deteriorated caulking, curled flashing flanges that are sticking up through the roof membrane, or any other visible defects.
  • Look for blisters that have been punctured.
  • Look closely at expansion joint seams. These are often faulty.
  • Check for splits in the area. Do this by walking the area with your feet close together and taking many small steps, turning in all directions. If there is a split, you’ll see the roof separate between your feet.
  • If the leak occurs near the edge of the building, check the edge metal. It can separate at the seams and tear the roof membrane in the process.
  • Check under debris. A lot times, if debris has been sitting on a roof for a long period of time, then it can hold water which will expedite roof deterioration. Bird, rodent, and other vermin nests have been found under piles of debris on roofs.
  • If you get a freak rain storm that dumps horrendous amounts of water on your roof in a short period of time, and all of a sudden you have half a dozen leaks where before there were none, don’t get overly excited. Most roofs are not designed or constructed to handle that much water all at once.
  • If you look carefully, and find nothing on the roof, then check your attic or ceiling space. What is mistaken for a roof leak can sometimes be a problem with the plumbing, especially with commercial buildings because fire sprinkler lines usually run along the attic space. This is often identified by a leak occurring when it isn’t raining.
  • Another problem that is frequently mistaken for a roof leak is a poorly designed roof-mounted HVAC unit. HVAC units can have faulty pans in them which will permit water to enter the building during a rain storm.

Steep Slope Roofs

  • Look at all roof penetrations in the leak area closely for holes and / or damage.
  • Look for “shiners.” Shiners are nails that were not covered by the following course of roofing material. If left exposed too long, many nails will rust, leaving a hole and causing leaks.
  • Look at the mortar on chimneys and parapet walls. It’s rare, but damaged mortar can cause leaks.
  • If your building has a stucco facade, then cracks in the stucco, especially along the tops of walls, can be the source of leaks.
  • Check to make sure that all drain details are functioning and that your gutter is not full of debris. If your edge details and gutter details are not done correctly, water can back up over the top of the fascia, run along the soffit, and down the inside of the wall where it enters your building.
  • If you look carefully, and find nothing on the roof, then check your attic or ceiling space. What looks like a roof leak can be a problem with the plumbing, especially with commercial buildings because fire sprinkler lines usually run along the attic space. This is often identified by a leak occurring when it isn’t raining.
  • Another problem frequently mistaken for a roof leak is a poorly designed roof-mounted HVAC unit. HVAC units can have faulty pans in them which can permit water to enter the building during a rain storm.
  • Look for areas where there is a lot of debris such as leaves and branches that have gathered. Piles of debris can block water flow which can cause the water to back up under the roofing. This commonly occured behind chimneys and in valleys.

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