Flat roofs are a popular choice for modern homes and commercial buildings, but they can be prone to leaks. That said, knowing some of the details that go into patching up a leaking roof can go a long way into extending its lifespan. From identifying the signs of a leaking roof to finding the source of the leak and fixing the leak itself, there are many things you can do to maximize your investment. To understand what we’re working with, let’s briefly discuss how a flat roofing system works.
Flat Roof: Pros and ConsA flat roof isn’t exactly flat, but it has a nearly horizontal surface--unlike a pitched roof. A roof, after all, needs a slope to be able to shed rainwater and have a working drainage system. Roofs with a slope less than 2.5/12 are considered flat. There are advantages to using a flat roof, including:
- Frees up space
- Requires less material to build
- Cheaper to install
- Better at keeping the internal temperature stable
- Allows more flexibility
- Has a timeless and modern design
- Shorter lifespan
- Requires more maintenance
- More prone to leaking
Damage Caused by Roof LeaksFor most homeowners, a roof leak is the furthest thing from their mind. But when it happens? It’s something that’s difficult to ignore. It’s not exactly relaxing to hear the constant dripping of water inside the kitchen, even more so when your home’s interior is a bucket away from getting flooded. It’s not difficult to see why roof leaks should be a priority among homeowners. For one thing, they cause so many potential problems inside the home that could get worse if left unattended, which could lead to higher repair costs. Here are the common issues caused by roof leaks.
Structural DamageRoof leaks are notorious for causing a home’s structural damage. As soon as rainwater enters the attic, moisture can spread along the underside of the roof deck until it takes over the framing. This results in water damage. Soon enough the moisture causes your home’s foundations to rot and warp, compromising your home’s structural integrity. Even a single leak can result in structural damage, although it takes a few years to become noticeable. The problem with single leaks is that they are extremely hard to detect. And once you do it might already be too late.
Insulation DamageWhen water invades your attic during a roof leak, the moisture can soak your insulation, thus reducing its efficiency and causing it to deteriorate. Warm air starts to escape through the vents, causing your heater to kick into high gear, which in turn causes your electricity bill to go up.
Fire and Electrical HazardThere’s always the risk of water getting in contact with electrical wiring and electrical circuit when the roof is leaking, which can result in fire and electrical hazard. The risk becomes even more pronounced when there are gaps in the insulation. There’s also the danger of moisture entering your electrical boxes, which could electrocute anyone who comes into contact with it. As soon as you notice signs of a leak, switch off the circuit connected to the affected area and call an electrician for help. This is not something you can DIY.
Mold GrowthAny area exposed to water is a potential breeding ground for mold. If moisture starts penetrating your home’s foundations then you could have a big problem. Worse, mold growth can negatively impact your health as well. Mold, which can spread through the air, can result in respiratory issues, including nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, and more. You need to get rid of mold before it turns into black mold. Black mold’s health risks are more severe than regular mold.
Slips, Trips, and FallsPuddles on the floor caused by water leaks are accidents waiting to happen. It’s imperative that you mop those puddles away as soon as possible to keep your home safe. You wouldn’t want standing water in any part of your house if you have children running around.
Types of Flat RoofsWhile flat roofs are prone to leaks, the truth is that these issues could have been avoided if homeowners only do their part. Flat roofs usually last between 10 to 15 years, but with regular inspections and proper maintenance, you can extend their shelf-life to 20 or even 30 years. Proper maintenance, however, requires at least some passing knowledge of what you’re working with. In other words, you have to know what type of flat roof you’re using Below are the most common types of flat roofs including their most notable characteristics.
EPDM Rubber RoofsEPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) is known for its flexibility, long shelf-life, and affordable price. Made of synthetic rubber, EPDM has high-tensile strength, making it resistant to tears and abrasions. Out of all flat roof types, it’s also one of the easiest to install. One major disadvantage of EPDM is that its seams are prone to leaks and damages. When these seams crack, pull up, or get frayed, it won’t take much for water to penetrate the home’s attic. Thankfully, seams can be fixed right away using adhesives, although patching them up on a regular basis can be a source of great irritation for many homeowners.
Built-Up RoofsBuilt-up roofs, also called BUR, has been a popular roofing choice in the U.S. for over 100 years, and for many good reasons. These roofing systems are made of a reinforced membrane composed of bitumen and roofing felts. Some built-up roofs are reinforced with fiberglass mats or organic mats, mostly at a standard width of 36 inches. Built-up roofing systems have a shelf-life of 20-30 years but could last even longer in warmer climates. Built-Up roofs are relatively more resistant to leaks and inclement weather, though they are a nightmare to install and maintain.
Modified Bitumen RoofsModified bitumen roofing is nearly similar to built-up roofs except that they are more asphalt-based. Compact and durable, modified bitumen roofs are a popular choice for commercial buildings, although they are a great high-performance alternative for residential homes as well. Strong as modified bitumen roofs are, they are not built to last. At best, modified bitumen roofing can last around 20 years, maybe even more with regular treatment and maintenance. Leaks in modified bitumen roofs are mostly caused by seam failure.
Spray Polyurethane Foam RoofSpray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) roofing is built to last on account of its reinforced polyurethane material and high R-value coating. Thanks to its seamless composition, SPF roofing is highly resistant to severe weather. One drawback with SPF roofing is that they require regular maintenance-- at least twice a year.
Thermoplastic Roofing (PVC or TPO)Thermoplastic roofing systems are made of single-layered membranes installed either through adhesives or via screws and plates. There are many types of thermoplastic roofing but TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) is perhaps the most popular. TPO’s seams are welded together instead of glued, making it highly resistant to severe weather. Its white surface can also reflect ultraviolet right, minimizing the risk of solar damage.
How to Locate a Roof Leak in a Flat RoofIt’s more difficult to locate a leak in a flat roof instead of a sloped one. For one thing, it’s hard to tell which direction the water will go once it penetrates the roof. This is why it can be tricky to find the leak source relative to the location of the drip. Locating a roof leak in a flat roof can be difficult, but not impossible if you follow the steps below, although it should preferably be done by a pro for safety.
- Get up on the roof using a ladder when it’s dry and cool outside.
- Remove any debris that might be hiding leak spots.
- Examine the roof flashing connecting your roof to the chimney, plumbing stack, or other holes in the roof. Are the flashing materials secure? Look for cracks, signs of rot, or gaps where water can easily penetrate.
- Check out for any signs of cracking or rot on the flange surrounding the plumbing vents. The flange is supposed to protect the roof opening so any irregularities could cause leaks.
- Are there temporary patches made of tar or caulking on the roof? If so, these patches may have overstayed their welcome.
- Examine the seams along the roofing material for any gaps or loose edges. Are the seams securely attached?
- Look for low spots on the roof where ponding can occur. Remember, standing water can cause damage to your roof over time. Low spots usually leave concentric marks when filled with water. Check the center of these marks for damages.
Dealing with Water Damage if It OccursThe common issue with flat roofs is that their drainage system is not as efficient as that of a pitched roof. For one thing, the water doesn’t run off the way it does on a sloped roof. The National Roofing Contractors Association categorically stated that standing water starts to become a problem after 48 hours. Which means you have 2 days to get rid of standing water as soon as the rain starts. Allow the water to just stand there for a long time and you run the risk of your roof getting damaged by the accumulated pressure. When water damage strikes, structural issues could impact your home’s foundations, drywalls, furniture, and many other things. So what should one do once water damage has occurred? The first order of business, of course, is to get rid of the water. After all, you don’t want the damage to get worse. Without getting rid of the water, it can be extremely difficult how to spot the source of the leak, much less repair the damages they have caused. It’s important to keep in mind that the location of the drip is not always directly above the source of the roof leak. The water will always take the path of least resistance until it finds an opening. This is where the drip will occur. After spotting the drip, place a bucket under it to keep the water from spreading and causing further damage. If the water is dripping on the ceiling, grab a pencil and use it to create a small hole in the drip. With this done, put a bucket under it to stop the water from flooding the attic. If possible, go into the attic so you can spot exactly where the leak is coming from. Depending on the structure of your attic and roof, it can be difficult to find where the water is getting in, but it helps to examine openings near the vents or the chimney. Once you’ve spotted the source of the leak, put the bucket under it. Patching it up with roof tape or cement should serve as a temporary solution until you’re able to seek professional assistance. You can always go directly on top of the roof so you can put a tarp or tarpaulin over the leak. Obviously, this is just a temporary solution. The goal, for now, is to prevent the water from causing any more damage. The steps above should at least mitigate the damages caused by a roof leak. But as expressed earlier, these are but temporary fixes. To ensure that your home is safe from water damage and its devastating effects, seek the help of a professional roofer. Also, give a restoration specialist to get rid of the water and ensure that all necessary precautions are taken to prevent them from spreading further.
The Importance of Roof InspectionsRoof inspections are obviously important if you want to maximize your roof investment, but they are even more necessary when you’re using a flat roof. As mentioned numerous times in this article, flat roofs are a nightmare waiting to happen if you don’t keep them well-maintained. In fact, it’s recommended that they are inspected at least every two years, especially during the spring and autumn months, since those are the times of the year where rains and storms are most frequent. Since they don’t have much slope, flat roofs are prone to standing water or pooling, which is the main reason why flat roofs require a lot of treatment and maintenance. This standing water imposes pressure on the roof, which could lead to roof damage. The moment you notice any sign of damages on your flat roof, it’s advised that you find a professional contractor who can make the necessary fixes. If you allow your flat roof to receive constant abuse from standing water, chances are you’re going to spend a heftier amount for repairs.
Cost to Repair a Flat RoofRegular maintenance is key to extending the lifespan of your flat roof. After all, roofing issues can’t get worse if they’re amended immediately. Not only does this save you more money in the long run, but it also helps you keep tabs on the overall state of your roof. As the popular saying goes, “knowing is half the battle.” The most common roof issues include:
- Roof leaks
- Drainage problems
- Gutter blockage
- Blocked outlets
- Small tears and holes