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Consider a Pre-Winter Roof Check


With the rainy season just around the corner, this is the ideal time to look for problems with your roof and correct them. Even if your roof is relatively new, check it every fall because normal settling of the building, coupled with seismic activity, can cause cracks.

Those who are comfortable climbing a ladder and walking on a roof should look for the items listed here. Others should leave the inspection to a professional.

* Roof penetrations.

Any place that a pipe, vent or other structure comes through the surface of the roof is a likely place for a leak. Seal cracks with clear silicone caulking compound (like GE Silicone II) or roofing mastic (like Henry's No. 208), available at most home centers.

* Cracked tiles.

If you have a concrete or Spanish tile roof, eventually cracks will appear because of pressure from shifting and settling. These cracks are not likely to directly result in a leak as there is a waterproof membrane below the tile, but they need to be fixed because they allow damaging sunlight to hit the membrane. If the pieces are fairly intact, they can sometimes be cemented together for a permanent, watertight repair with clear silicone caulk. Otherwise the tile needs to be replaced. Of course, use care walking on any tile roof to avoid breaking more tiles.

* Chimney flashing.

The sheet metal strip that encircles the chimney where it contacts the roof is a likely place for water to get in. Make sure it is sealed tightly where it touches the brick. Repair any cracks with silicone caulk or roofing mastic.

* Wood shingles.

Look carefully for any holes or cracks in wood shingles that could allow sunlight to penetrate to the waterproof membrane below the surface. Special painted metallic shingles are made for this type of repair. Get them from most roofing suppliers. They are designed to slip under a damaged shingle to protect the surface below from any holes in the surface of the shingle.

* Roof valleys.

Make sure that all "valleys" are free of debris. During heavy runoff, water can back up behind accumulated debris in the valley areas and be pushed behind shingles or flashings, causing a leak. Check for debris accumulation once monthly during the rainy season.

* Drains.

Drains need to be kept clean at all times, especially on flat roofs. Clogged drains have been known to cause roofs to collapse. Clean all roof drains before the rainy season and at least once monthly when the rains begin.

* Flat roofs.

Inspect for openings in seams between the rolled sections of roofing material. Cover any problem areas with roofing mastic. If you note areas of excessive weathering or irregularity in the surface, contact a roofer for repair now before a leak occurs.

* Tree limbs and vines.

Make sure vegetation is cut back away from the roof line and ideally trimmed back below it. Tree limbs and vines have the potential of damaging the roof surface if they are allowed to grow onto it.


Gary Abrams is a general contractor who has written about home improvement for The Times for 10 years. Comments and questions can be sent to him at

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