The Complete Roof Repair Guide
No matter the material or upkeep, every roof will eventually be damaged or worn down. Therefore, it is important to recognize when a roof is in need of repair and understand the details and process involved in making those repairs. In fact, many things will be easy enough to do yourself, and anything else can be taken care of by professionals.
The following article will discuss when you want to repair versus replace your roof, as well as the signs a roof needs to be repaired and common causes of roof damage. It will also go over a few tips for inspecting your roof, explain common repairs, and discuss the costs and other details that might prove useful when dealing with roof repairs.
Repairing Versus Replacing
There are many instances when a simple repair can fix a problem, even if it seems serious because of a leak. However, things become more complicated under certain circumstances, such as if the roof is old and approaching the end of its lifespan. While that varies by the roofing material, old roofs are more difficult to repair.
Materials do not just determine lifespan. Materials can also be a factor in whether repairs are feasible. For instance, a shingle roof will be easy to repair if it is not too old. Meanwhile, a metal roof can be tricky to repair since it requires the removal of entire panels.
Additionally, if the damage is widespread, replacing the roof is generally going to be a better option. On the other hand, if it is only in a small area, you can often get away with repairing over replacing. That includes hail damage, which almost always leads to a large portion of the roof being damaged.
Signs a Roof Needs Repairs
It is usually obvious when a roof needs repairs since you will see external damage or signs of leaks in the house. But there are exceptions, such as minor cracks or holes that are difficult to see. However, curled, cracked, and missing shingles are not hard to spot, and any water stains or leaks inside can help you pinpoint the damage on the roof.
Keep in mind that the difference between signs that a roof needs to be repaired or replaced can be the same. It is usually the type of material, age of the roof, and extent of the problem that determines which is suitable.
Curled, Cracked, or Missing Shingles
While not all roofs use shingles, it is the most popular roofing material used for homes today, particularly asphalt shingles. However, whether due to age or other reasons, they can experience cracking or curling. They can also fall off. Regardless of the issue, it needs to be fixed immediately.
If your shingles have been subject to wear and tear, you might also find granules in your gutters. The pieces look like black sand and can be a sign that you need to take a close look at the shingles on your roof. Checking for the granules is also a good reason to clean your gutters out regularly.
Dirty or Dark Shingles
There is a chance that dirty or dark shingles are not an issue, but such an appearance can also indicate that there is moisture beneath the roofing. Trapped moisture can lead to other issues down the line, and it can also be related to mold or mildew.
Worn or Damaged Flashing
Flashing is vital for keeping moisture out of the joints, which can be particularly vulnerable to leaks. It can be found around certain features on the roof, including a chimney, skylight, or plumbing vent pipe. Check around the edges for damaged, deteriorated, or missing flashing, which should be repaired immediately.
Water stains also indicate a problem and are a common sign that your roof needs repairs. Finding a discolored spot on the wall or ceiling can point you toward where the damage is on the roof. Additionally, you might hear dripping in the ceiling before spotting a water stain. You can also take a look at the insulation in the attic to see if it is wet. If it is, there is a leak somewhere.
Aside from wet insulation, there are other signs that you might see in an attic that show you need roof repairs. They include things like water damage and visible light coming in through the roof. In serious cases, you might also notice sagging decking or rafters, which need to be addressed quickly.
Common Causes of Damage
There are numerous things that can cause a roof to be damaged, from simple wear and tear to environmental factors. Even sunshine can be damaging, especially when it comes to flat roofs that have not been equipped with a reflective coating or a similar measure. Here are some other common causes of roof damage to be aware of:
Wind can get under and pry up shingles and other roofing
Rain erodes cements, tars, and sealants as it looks for any way in
Snow/Ice are heavy and bring a lot of moisture that can be damaging
Moss/Algae builds up and causes problems if left alone
Trees lose branches, fall, and rub against a roof to cause damage
There are plenty of other causes of damage, but those are some of the common ones you can keep in mind. After all, if you do not know why the damage happened, you might be doomed to repeat it and need additional repairs down the line.
Inspecting the Roof
The above section already discussed many of the signs your roof needs to be repaired, but they are not always obvious. That is especially so if you have a small leak or the damage is covered by debris. Therefore, when you suspect a problem, do a thorough inspection of the roof.
Start by looking inside, checking for signs of a leak or water damage. That includes inspecting insulation and looking for signs of punctures and animal activity. Look at the roof membrane, especially if you are dealing with a single layer.
It is also important to clear away debris from the roof and clean the gutters and drains, which can hide signs of damage. The gutters might include shingle granules that point toward a need for repairs. Debris can cover cracks, damage, and other issues that might cause problems.
Additionally, once you have a clean roof, you can take a closer look at joints, seals, and flashing that might show small cracks or damage that is difficult to see. Such problems can cause serious issues down the road, and they are usually easy to fix. Try to do regular inspections and repairs as needed to increase the lifetime of a roof.
Repairing a Leaking Roof
Leaks are common, but it is important to repair them quickly. The problem is that they can be difficult to track down, especially if you are not familiar with finding them. Therefore, the inspection is particularly important. Moreover, it often requires an internal and external inspection as you try to figure out where the water is getting in.
Finding the Leak
There are many things you can do, but you should start by taking a simple look near the area where you believe the leak to be. Sometimes, you get lucky, and the cause is something obvious, like a tree branch or damaged shingles. However, if you do not see anything, take a look inside, starting with the insulation.
Here are a few tips that might help you track down leaks during your inspection:
- If the roof has a pitch, you need to take that into account when comparing the location of the indoor water stain and external damage.
- You can have someone spray water on the roof with a hose while you go inside and look for the leak to identify the right area.
- It is common to see leaks around roof penetrations, such as plumbing and chimneys. Whether it be damage or seals, these are vulnerable spots.
There is also a chance you will have to move insulation to get a good look at what is going on. Regardless, once you find the source of the leak, you will have to take steps to fix it before a larger issue pops up.
Fixing the Leak
There is no single way to fix a leak since it depends on where the water is getting in. In fact, some of the necessary repairs will be covered below with repairing shingles and flashing. However, before getting to the specific repairs, you can consider tarping the roof to give yourself some temporary relief.
Additionally, when you find a leak, make sure to also look at the structure below. If there are signs of rotting or damage due to the leak, that must be fixed before you can slap on a new shingle or add some new sealant. However, this type of repair is better left to a professional. For simpler problems, such as a cracked shingle, take a look at the sections below.
The most common type of shingle is asphalt, which is used in many of the houses out there today. It is affordable, lasts quite a long time, and is not difficult to repair or replace should problems occur. The shingle repairs covered will include the following:
- Straightening and reattaching curled shingles
- Fixing cracks with sealant
- Replacing missing or broken shingles
Wood shakes will also receive a brief mention, though you will likely want to leave those repairs to professionals. As for asphalt shingles, many of the repairs serve as viable DIY options, especially if you are dealing with three-tab shingles.
Straightening and Reattaching
Curled shingles might happen naturally over time, or wind and other factors can cause them to curl at the corners. Either way, the fix is relatively easy. You want to start by straightening it, ensuring the curled shingles are smooth. Once that is done, follow these steps:
- Place sealant around the corners
- Push the shingle down
- Spread roofing cement at the edges
You might find that working with shingles is more difficult if it is cold since they tend to become brittle. Waiting until it is warm or using a hair dryer is a good solution to make them more flexible, though you need to be careful not to use anything too hot since it might damage the shingles.
Cracks are another relatively simple fix, though that assumes the crack is clean and easy to work on. Once again, grab some sealant, then place some under the damage and apply pressure. After, squeeze another bit of sealant directly on the crack and spread it to finish the repair.
Completely replacing missing or damaged shingles is the most difficult repair of those covered here. You will first need to buy a replacement, then you will need to remove the broken shingle if it is still there. Follow these steps to properly remove a shingle and prepare to place the new one:
- Take a pry bar and loosen the broken shingle by lifting the front
- Go ahead and loosen the shingle above the one you are replacing as well
- Get the pry bar underneath the one to be replaced and loosen the nails
- Completely remove all of the nails
- Remove the shingle and clean the area below it
Once the space is clear, you can begin to place the new shingle, which involves sliding it in and securing it with nails hammered into the corners. Following that, replace the nails into the shingle above and finish things off with roofing cement at the edges and on the new nails.
Repairing Wood Shakes
Wood shakes are a bit more involved than shingles, which means you might want to call a professional if you do not have experience fixing them. However, if you want to give it a shot, find the damaged shake and split it with a chisel to make removal easy. Just be sure not to damage the surrounding shakes or the roof underneath.
Once the old shake is removed, you will use a hacksaw to cut the nails and make room for a new shake. The next step is cutting a new shake, which should be around 3/8 of an inch thinner than the gap to allow for expansion. Then, just slide in the new shake, secure it with nails, and cover the exposed nails with roofing cement.
Any location on a roof where there is penetration or two surfaces join can experience problems that can be tough to detect but relatively easy to fix. Leaks are especially common due to faulty sealant or general wear and tear. However, there are also times when the damage requires you to replace the flashing completely, which will also be discussed below.
Gaps and Damaged Seals
Small issues, such as gaps of less than 1/4 of an inch, can be solved through resealing. On the other hand, larger issues will require patching or replacement. Here are some of the problems you can fix quickly and easily using sealant or cement:
Gaps: Scrape away the old sealant or cement and wipe the area clean. Then, let the area dry before applying new sealant or cement.
Cracks: Cracks require the application of new sealant or cement, which can be worked into the problem area with a putty knife.
An exception is if you are dealing with a crack on the collar of an exposed pipe or vent. In those cases, you will want to use waterproof silicone caulk to properly repair the area. While these types of sealant issues are common with flashing, a new layer of sealant is not always the answer.
Bent, Rusted, and Loose Flashing
Sometimes, the flashing is bent, rusted, or loose. All of these problems require additional steps before they can be resealed and put back into play. However, if the repairs do not go as planned, you might have to replace the flashing as a final measure. Before that, take a look at these problems and their potential repairs:
- Bent Flashing: Remove any sealant and try bending it back into place, making sure it is straight and tight against whatever it is around. Assuming it bends back into place, reseal it to finish the job. Pliers can be helpful here.
- Rusted Flashing: The quick fix for a rusted spot is sliding new flashing beneath the area. Once it is in place, you can use roofing cement to seal it. However, if the rust is severe, replacing the flashing might be a better option.
- Loose Flashing: Assuming there are no other issues, loose flashing can be solved with some roofing cement. However, make sure there are no other issues, such as loose shingles around the flashing.
If there are loose shingles around the flashing, you do not want to secure it with nails since that might compromise the flashing. Instead, bond the shingles and flashing with roofing cement.
If the issue cannot be repaired simply, the last option is to replace the flashing entirely. That means prying up the old flashing and removing any cement or sealant to ensure the area is clean and prepped for the new flashing. When prying flashing up, a pry bar or chisel can be helpful.
When two areas are joining, you want to use pre-bent flashing at the joint, ensuring the flashing overlaps at the joint by about four inches on both sides. You also want to add ice-and-water barrier strips prior to installation. Once setup is complete, seal the flashing with roofing cement or caulk and hammer nails into any nail holes to install.
Repairing a Flat Roof
Another common roof type is the flat roof, though the name is somewhat misleading since it is not entirely flat. Instead, it uses a slight slope to drain water, utilizing watertight materials to ensure nothing gets through. While flat roofs usually perform well, cracks and other types of damage do cause problems on occasion. Fortunately, most of these problems are easy to repair.
Cracks and Holes
When dealing with cracks and holes, you start by slicing open any blistered spots. These are caused by trapped moisture and overheating, and they must be taken care of before any repairs can be made. Make sure not to cut too deep, then scrape off the damaged material.
After making sure the area is dry, you can push sealant inside small holes and cracks. However, that is not always easy, so you might want to flatten the area with a utility knife, removing the surrounding material. Just be careful not to cut the layers below the damaged portion. For cracks, using a trowel to lift the cracked area is also an option.
Once the membrane is flattened, use the trowel or another instrument to spread cement to fill the gaps and provide waterproofing. The layer should be about 1/8-inch thick and be pressed into the damaged area. Make sure to spread it six inches past the damaged area while completely covering the crack.
The next step is placing a fiberglass mesh layer for additional waterproofing and durability. Cut it to size and press it down before covering it with another layer of cement around half an inch in thickness. The goal is to cover the mesh entirely, ensuring it cannot be seen. Let it dry, then consider adding gravel to prevent sun damage.
Roof patches are a great option for repairing a flat roof, and some of them come in comprehensive kits that make the job even easier. Just make sure to get a kit with patches that work on the type of roof you have. Here are some general steps to take to repair a roof with a patch:
- Cut away the damaged area with a utility knife
- Fill the area with roofing cement, spreading beyond the damaged area
- Place the patch over the area, cutting it to size if you wish
- Cover the patch with additional roofing cement
- Cut and set another patch for added waterproofing and durability
- Add a final layer of cement over the second patch that is half an inch thick
The steps are similar to dealing with cracks and holes but with a few additional layers. Additionally, you might still want to add a layer of gravel or use a different method to ensure there is no sun damage done to the roof.
Resealing the Roof
The most extreme repair is completely resealing the roof, which is usually reserved for times when a simple seal or patch is not enough. The first step is cleaning the roof. After that, spread a half-inch layer of bitumen primer across the roof using a paint roller. Once the primer is down, you want to follow these steps:
- Roll out the fiberglass mesh so that it fits from one side of the roof to the other
- Curl the mesh ends back and use something to hold it down to prevent unfurling
- Mix the bitumen roof sealant and paint the roof back to the curled mesh
- Once you have painted to the curled mesh, do the same for the other side
- Unfurl the mesh and press it down, then coat it with a half-inch layer of sealant
- Repeat the process with more rows of mesh until the roof is covered
- Wait twelve hours and coat the entire roof with another layer of sealant
Once you are satisfied that the entire roof is properly resealed, you will want to finish things off with a reflective coating to protect it from the sun. Make sure the roof is dry, then apply an even layer of the reflective coating to the roof, giving it up to a day to dry, depending on the weather.
Other Roof Repairs
While the above are some common types of roof repair, there are many other roof types and materials. That includes rolled roofing, which is quite easy to repair yourself, and slate roofing, which is best left to a professional. Metal roofing is another popular option that is not something you want to repair without the right tools and experience.
Often, it is a good idea to approach a professional about any repairs you are unsure about. Even if it is a repair you think you can do, you might want someone to look to ensure there are no problems with the layers beneath that need to be addressed.