Tile Talk: Are You Fixing or Repairing?

The Importance of Maintenance on Rooftops During Winter

by Richard K. Olson, president & technical director, Tile Roofing Industry Alliance

(Editor’s Note: Richard K. Olson is president and technical director for the Tile Roofing Industry Alliance. The association represents industry professionals involved in the manufacturing and installation of concrete and clay tile roofs in the United States and Canada, and works with national, state, and local building officials to develop installation techniques, codes, and standards for better roofing systems. Olson can be reached at rolson@tileroofing.org.)

Whether you are experiencing an atmospheric rain or pineapple express, the time of year for major rain events is upon us. For the roofing professional it will mean a time of urgency in responding to calls for leaking roofs. The potential for water breaching the system and entering the living space is the greatest concern we receive from the building owner.

The magnitude of calls while trying to capture the increased sales can lead to the question of fix versus repair. Although we interchange these words in our responses, they are really two different approaches. The fix of a roof should comprise how we might stop the leak from allowing water to penetrate the assembly. This can often be accomplished through a flashing, mastic, caulking, or other temporary methods that will stop the immediate threat. The repair is the greater forensic review for identification of the root cause and addressing the permanent fix that restores the long-term functionality of the roof assembly. That said, there are projects where the fix can address the repair if it is a specific cause. This might be a clogged valley, compromised roof cladding, sealing around a roof penetration such as a vent pipe, skylight, or gutter system.

When doing a fix, the roofing professional should take time to consider the repair of any underlying causes affecting the overall assembly. Too often there is a lack of ongoing maintenance that has contributed to the leak opportunity over time. This can allow the roofing professional the ability to create a routine maintenance program moving forward for the building owner.

For every type of roof, the age of the roof and the codes used when it was installed should be reviewed. Over time our codes have upgraded minimums and recognized best practices that help increase the performance and life of the roof.

Our roofing tiles, like other claddings are installed with overlaps. The accumulation of debris can create water damming in both the field and valley areas of the roof. In areas where trees and foliage are present, this can occur on a more regular basis. Even in areas that are desert or coastal based can have a buildup of sand and silt. In the Northwest our dewpoints, moisture, and relatively mild weather allow the growth of moss that can act to deter water flow. This can occur on the edges of the field tile, around flashings, chimneys, and in the valleys.

Flashings provide the transition of water off the roof by either directing it back on the tile surface or daylight to the eave. Proper flashing installation is vital to the performance. Too often we see flashings that are not installed properly, are undersized or the termination onto the tile is not allowing the water to be directed downslope unobstructed. We have seen an increase in flashing issues as the geometry of the roofs have become more complex.

Today’s more complex roof designs can create challenges to determine the amount of anticipated tributary water coming from upslope. Often this will not be known until a significant rain event occurs. Installing the proper valley flashings with increased ribs to slow water flow might be considered. Installing wider and longer apron flashings where hidden valleys transition onto roof planes can help reduce water damming. Gutter and downspout positioning can add significant water to a small area in a rain event and are often positioned over the roof to wall metals. We often see, the upper roof slope drains to the roof pressurizing the wall flashing and allowing water to move under the tile. Additional attention to downspout outflow and direction during maintenance can help reduce this affect. Eave treatments should be evaluated for water damming and an anti-ponding system should be used.

The tile industry has helped identify upgrades for sealed hip and ridge materials that can help eliminate the wind driven rain action at ridge areas. We know the wind can accelerate in these areas and an upgrade to these materials can remove or reduce the leaks that might occur.

A routine inspection during maintenance can help identify if there are any fastening issues for not only field tiles, but trim tiles. We often hear of missing or broken rake, ridge, or field tile that were not identified until the rain event. With areas of roof planes not readily visible, a routine maintenance program can locate and repair these during the summer. This is particularly important if you have had foot traffic from other contractors such as painters, HVAC, or solar.

With existing homes installing solar, this has been a challenge to the roofing professional. Currently most solar installers are not versed or trained in roofing and the damage they create from foot traffic are too often left or improperly fixed. These systems require support brackets, rail systems, conduit for wire, collectors, and electrical boxes integrated into the roofing assembly. Having a trained roofing professional review the installation during maintenance can identify any issues. As an industry we are meeting with the solar manufacturers to help create a stronger training programs on our roofing tile installations to address these issues.

In a storm event, the roofing professional plays a vital function in stopping an immediate leak before it creates a greater damage. Taking that opportunity to help educate the building owner of the difference of a fix versus repair will open new markets for scheduling a follow-up to perform a proper repair to increase the life of the full roof assembly.