If the roof is not leaking leave it alone! True or false?

The last rains brought in many roofing calls. In our state, when it rains, it really rains - fast and hard!

This year we're making up for some fairly dry winters. It seems that people forget about their roofs until it rains and a leaking problem arises - hey! It's sunny in California most of the time.

The first set of roofs we looked at had a common problem - plugged drains. I'm not talking about just a handful of leaves or a few odds and ends but beer bottles, plastic bags, dead birds, felt pen markers, and cardboard boxes from other trades which had worked on the roof. It seems it's convenient to leave trash up there.

Winds, rain and gravity tend to concentrate any debris in corners and along walls where in most cases the water runs along to the drains and with it any debris. On these roofs the screens were completely clogged and the water couldn't get through to the drainage pipes. The water had built up so high that it had gone through the side walls of the roofing - flooding the building's tenants. Now, the fix was easy but you would be surprised at how much was packed around these drain areas.

The exterior of these buildings were very well maintained but the roof had gone for years without the simple task of cleaning.

In my trade the idea of "if it's not leaking leave it alone!" is a very common misconception. A lot can go on up there that the building owner never knows about.

Building owners are busy with their lives and something like the roof is very easy to forget about. Every year or so it's a good idea to have the roof checked out. It's much less expensive to keep the roof clean and to have minor repairs done than to be surprised by a bigger problem or a lot of problems that are costly. So yearly visits are the least expensive and there is very little to do when you stay on top of it. The repairs are smaller, the cleanups less, you are made aware if another trade has compromised the roof's integrity, etc. I personally use a checklist that has 16-20 areas that get inspected.

So, what should a roofer look for? Here are a few areas:

  • Is the roof clean of all debris: leaves, dirt, granule buildup, A/C parts, electrical bits, old signs, tar cans, bottles, etc. The list is long; all kinds of things arrive on the roof. Keep it clean.
  • Check pipe and duct penetrations for cracks or splits.
  • Check A/C ducts for any splits - reseal with appropriate sealer. Tar is the WORST to use on A/C ducts.
  • Check all A/C and skylight curbs for any new splits or cracks.
  • Check the top of the parapet walls for any holes or joint cracks in the coping metals or roofing cap.
  • Check the side walls of the parapet walls for any openings or damage.
  • Check drains for any splits or cracks. This includes overflow drains as well. If the drain is a side wall drain I check the exterior side as well near the leader head for any splits in the seals.
  • Run water through internal drains to make sure they are clear and running freely. Check side wall down pipes as well.
  • Check for any new installations that may have been done. Was the roof affected at all? E.g. electrical, pipes, vents, satellite dishes. Were they properly water proofed?
  • This is not a complete list of everything that should be checked but it gives you a fair idea.

Commercial Cool Roof Systems provides thorough maintenance programs and roof inspections for commercial properties.