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by Dr. Oneida Cramer

When rain forces you to bring out the rain-gear, but you haven't yet stepped outside, perhaps it's time to call in a roofer. Honestly, a well repaired roof will make the sun shine inside your home once again.

Even public buildings aren't immune. Recently, the Dallas City Council passed a resolution to address the leaky roof problem on the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Since January 1990, there have been seventeen work orders for leaks in the roof originally built on the Meyerson in 1989, according to Dallas City Council member Lois Finkelman. In evaluating the situation, the city staff has reached the point that it's time to replace the entire roof before serious problems develop. The single ply membrane roof system, a material similar to that used in making automobile tires, hasn't failed, but it has reached the end of its expected life (ten to fifteen years with a ten year warranty).

"My instinct tells me that they think it ought to get replaced with something other than what was on there in the first place," said Finkelman. A request for design and material testing to find a replacement roof has been submitted to next year's budget. And the recommendation, which will be compiled probably by an outside consultant, will determine the size of the allotment to be put in next year's budget for the replacement. Time-table for completing the project will take another year or two.

The original metal roof on the Campbell Green Recreation Center, also built in 1989, began leaking during the last two to three years at the rate of about one leak per year, said Finkelman. In this case, regular maintenance has repaired the leaks. And department evaluation of the entire roof has come up with a recommendation that the roof repairs should eliminate recurring leaks without any further need to replace the entire roof.

Two different buildings built approximately the same time with two entirely different roof systems require different solutions. Likewise, residential roofing will require individualized attention although some generalizations can help homeowners pinpoint the problems to their own elusive leaks.

For one thing, the residential roof will age a lot slower than the commercial roof, according to Jim White, owner for twelve years of Griffith Roofing Company, a roofing company in Dallas since 1926. Where a commercial establishment with a flat roof can expect about an eighteen year life span in perfect conditions, a residential shingle roof with an incline not dealing with direct sunlight will last 25 to 40 years.

"But there is no fool proof roof," said Bill Weatherford, co-owner of Weatherford Roofers, founded in 1944 by Bill's father. Generally, leaks will show up in areas around pipes, chimneys, where the roof runs into a wall, and around skylights. Most of the time, roof leaks are due to the metal flashing, according to White. Flashing problems occur around any holes sealed by metal, whether it's the chimney, vent pipe, or skylight. Valleys also give problems due to broken membranes.

Many leaks occur from environmental damage, especially from trees and animals. In areas with lots of trees, leaves tend to pack in the valleys and dam up the water flow; so water finds a path trickling down into the attic. If leaves are left for long periods of time, their deterioration can weaken tiles and flashing in the valleys. In gutters, the build up of leaves will back up water and cause rot in the facia-board (the vertical attachment to the gutter) and soffet (the horizontal back board). Overhanging tree limbs, if allowed to sway over the roof surface, can wear holes in the tiles. Animals, such as raccoons and squirrels, cause problems when they dig holes in the roof or eat it. Although squirrels don't like the taste of new roof asphalt, they will chomp holes in a roof after eight or nine years.

Storms, of course, generate lots of roof repairs, whether the cause be wind blowing off shingles, hail stones damaging the roofs, or wind blowing limbs off trees and onto roofs. Sometimes wind driven rain blows right up under the shingles and creates a leak that under other occasions wouldn't occur.

So, the rainy season often creates a rush on roofers, who find themselves with a heavy load of work from homeowners seeking emergency repair to procrastinators with a major problem. An occasional leak due to unusual circumstances can, perhaps, be tolerated, but long term leaking causes destruction ranging from a rotting deck, termites in moist wood, and/or wet spots on the ceiling. If sheet rock stays wet long enough, it eventually crumbles and falls.

To ensure getting the a good repair job, homeowners should create a plan.

First, for terrible leaks or for piece of mind, get up in the attic during the rain, locate the leak, and set a bucket underneath, suggests White. The bucket will collect the dripping water and should minimize any further damage to the ceiling below. The bucket will also pinpoint the approximate location of the leak.

Then go about the business of calling two or three reputable companies to come out and look at the roof. Do not rush this step. The yellow pages provides one good resource for many companies advertise their years in business and their membership in the Better Business Bureau. Friends can be a second good source. If you look for roofers in the classified ads, take time to call the Better Business Bureau, who list twenty five pages of member roofing companies and keep a record of outstanding complaints.

The roofer should describe the problem, the solution for fixing the problem, the cost involved, and the warranty. You need to select one roofer after comparing all the information. Should you find considerable variation in the problem as stated by the roofers, or in the solutions and/or pricing, you should consider calling additional roofers until you feel satisfied that you know the correct nature of the problem and that the procedure by which the roofer will repair the problem is the best solution. Do not get pressured into a quick decision.

"Workmanship is a major item to consider," said Weatherford. "The best way to do that is get someone who's been in the business for many years and worked on every type of situation that's possible. The best teacher is experience--when you finally worked your way through the various kinds of problems."

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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