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One of the most common and costly issues homeowners call on a contractor to fix is a leaky roof. Not surprisingly, most property owners do not have the expertise (or desire) to get onto their roofs and look for problems themselves.

However, even for a professional, the source of a leak can be elusive as it rarely lines up with where the water is getting into the home. Contractors need to become detectives to correctly identify the source of a leak and understand the path that water travels.

Of course, all of this pain can be avoided with a comprehensive maintenance program. Even the National Roofing Contractors Association recommends that roof inspections and maintenance be performed regularly to help avoid future problems. After all, a homeowner wouldn’t expect a furnace to perform efficiently if the filter was never replaced or a car to run if the oil was never changed. Yet, they install a roof and think that’s the end of the story.

Before an inspection, the contractor should look around from the ground and ask the homeowner if there has been recent extreme weather, animals around the home, leaves, falling debris, trees, satellite or cable work, or an accident that caused damage to the roof.

Once on the roof, follow these five simple tips to help locate and prevent future leaks:

1. If it pops through the roof, look at it. Penetrations are the most common leak sources and will stop the natural water flow off a roof. Look at the following components find the source of the leak:

  • Chimneys. The top leak source. Does the chimney have a cricket? Is it properly step flashed and counter flashed? Does it need to be sealed?
  • Skylights. Water gets trapped behind them. Is the flashing in good repair? Is the skylight itself leaking?
  • Plumbing vents. Do the vent stacks have neoprene or rubber that has cracked with age? Do they need to be sealed or painted? Have critters chewed on the pipe or flashing?
  • Is the satellite or cable flashed properly?

2. Living on the edge. A drip edge is not just aesthetically pleasing, it is also important to ensuring water is kept away from the fascia and moved off the roof. A common leak source in the eaves and cause of wood rot is a missing drip edge. Wind-driven rain will enter the gap between the roof deck and fascia board. As well, a drip edge helps to keep out insects, critters, and snakes. Make sure to check the drip edge when looking for leaks.

3. Every step you take. Areas where step flashing should be installed are common leak sources and maintenance items. Inspect dormers, roof-to-wall transitions, and places where low-quality sealant or mastic has been used in the past for damage:

4. What’s in your attic? Many times, homeowners think the roof is the culprit. However, problems can come from improper ventilation, plumbing, air conditioning, condensation, vent fans, and animal or bug infestation in the attic. Be on the lookout for algae stains on interior plywood; the “M” word (mold); soaked insulation when it hasn’t rained; and black rings or rust around nails, which is the first sign moisture is condensing in attic spaces. Also check to see if there is a lack of ventilation that is causing the attic to overheat or accumulate moisture, and if the intake vents are clogged with paint, spider webs, dust, or insulation.

5. Get you mind in the gutter. Many homeowners do not recognize the importance of their gutters. They need to be installed and sloped properly to drain, as well as be tightly fastened and free of debris. Gutter maintenance should be left to a professional. Check out GAF's video: “How to Stay Safe” – Mastering the Roof.

This is a basic list of maintenance suggestions. A preventive maintenance plan consisting of periodic, professional inspections (generally in the fall and spring), routine maintenance, and minor repairs can help avoid costly problems down the road.

Jason Joplin is the director of GAF's CARE program. Discover even more maintenance ideas through GAF’s technical advisories, available to contractors at their fingertips.

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