Be Safe and Proactive with Roof Repair

I’ve been watching something as I drive to work that I want to share with you. I pass a house that has bundles of shingles sitting up on the roof. Those bundles have been sitting there, up near the ridge, for almost a month.

I have no idea why the shingles haven’t been put on the roof or what is wrong with the roof in the first place. The house is about 50 years old, and no doubt this isn’t the first re-shingling job it has needed. I have no idea if this abandoned roofing job is a professional or a DIY one — but whatever it is, it’s wrong.

The leak — and I assume there must be a leak or else why do the repair — clearly still isn’t fixed because I saw they then laid a big tarp over the roof and the bundles of shingles — which are still sitting underneath it. The tarp wasn’t properly tied off by the way, and it was flapping in the wind.

Then it started to snow. The snowstorm lasted all night. When I woke up there was 10 centimetres of heavy wet snow on my roof — I expect they got the same. I thought about that roof, with the weight of those abandoned shingles, plus the snow. I didn’t like the math.

The weight of shingles plus snow might be a concern, depending on the condition of your roof. If there are already two layers of shingles, and if maybe the sheathing is rotten or in bad shape — you never know what might happen.

Roofs are designed to take into account both dead and live load — and that includes snow load. The code varies by region, to allow for areas that traditionally get more snow. If the roof isn’t in terrible shape, maybe there’s not a huge risk of the excess weight coming right through the sheathing. The most likely thing that could happen is that those bundles of shingles will slide right down and off the roof, possibly injuring someone.

It’s the responsibility of the contractor or the homeowner to properly store materials. Leaving bundles of shingles on the roof is not proper storage.

Which brings me to my question: is it a good idea to re-roof in the winter?

Common sense tells you that you shouldn’t be removing shingles in bad weather — that would just expose the sheathing and allow more leaks. But, if you’ve got a leak, what are you supposed to do about it? Do roofers even work in the winter? You don’t see many roofs being done, that’s for sure.

The safety of the workers who are up on the roof is a big concern. It’s obviously more dangerous to work on a roof in snow and ice and wind. But professional roofers do work in the winter, and in an emergency situation they’ll come out and at least get you a solution that will hold you until better weather. But remember, if you have a leak, a tarp will get you through, but it is a band-aid solution. You’ve got to get to the root of the problem when spring comes.

Roofing materials should be applied in optimum conditions, so roofers pay attention to temperature and amount of moisture in the air. If you look at an asphalt shingle, there is an adhesion strip along the nailing edge. That’s obviously going to do its job better when the weather isn’t too cold for the glue to work properly. The lion’s share of the work is done by the nails that hold the shingle to the roof, but that adhesion strip helps.

Traditional torch down membrane for flat roofs have to be done on a day with low humidity, or it bubbles and fish-mouths and doesn’t adhere properly. There are now cold-applied products that can be used to repair leaks in the winter months. Of course, you’ve still got the problem of locating the source of the leak.

The best course of action — if you aren’t 100 per cent sure where the leak is — is to shovel off the snow, tarp your roof, and wait for better weather.

If you have a problem, like a massive ice dam, but there’s no leak yet, there will be eventually. Get ahead of the problem. Take photos of it. Contact the roofer and make an appointment for them to come out and do the repair when the weather improves.

Whatever you do — don’t go up on the roof yourself. It’s not safe and it’s not smart. Call in a pro. They’ll know what to do, what to look for, where to trace the leak. They’ll remove the snow. They may break an ice dam away, but they know how to do it without damaging your shingles and sheathing or your gutters and soffits.

Just don’t ignore the problem — it won’t go away. Sure, the leak may stop once the snow has melted, but it’ll be back next year. And, the more damage that’s allowed to happen, the more it will cost to repair.

It’s like when you’ve got a slow leak in your car tire. You know there’s a nail stuck in it, but what you do is keep refilling the tire instead of replacing it. That solution will work for a while, but in the end your tire will just blow.