For Warm, Dry Winter, Check the Roof


If your house survived the last couple of winters unscathed, consider yourself fortunate. But don’t feel complacent.

Most roofs and exterior waterproofing suffer more damage during a warm summer than during a wet winter. To help prevent a problem before it happens, prepare your house now for this winter’s storms. Here are the basics:

* Cut back tree limbs that could touch the roof or eaves during windy conditions and remove any vines growing on the roof surface. Tree limbs and vines damage the roof surface, leading to leaks.

* Keep leaves and debris off the roof. Debris can lodge in areas that water drains through, causing blockages that can result in leaks. Sweep debris out of “valleys,” from behind chimneys and especially away from drains on flat roof areas. Check the roof several times during the rainy season for new accumulations.


* Clean gutters and downspouts and recheck them several times during the winter.

* Inspect gutters and downspouts for leaks by running a hose into them and watching for proper runoff. Patch any small holes by cleaning the inside with a wire brush and sealing with gutter cement or silicone sealant from most hardware and paint stores.

* If you have a flat roof with drains, install rustproof “hardware cloth” steel mesh (from most building centers) over the drains to keep debris from causing clogs. Form a dome over the drain opening and wedge it in place. Check it several times during the winter for material buildup.

* Inspect the roof for cracks or openings of any kind. Pay attention to areas where vents or flashings come through the surface or where joints exist. These are the places where leaks will often occur.

Small cracks up to a quarter of an inch wide can be sealed with silicone sealant from most hardware and paint dealers. Larger gaps can be patched with roofing cement such as Henry’s No. 204 or No. 208. Follow container instructions.

* When inspecting the roof, check for missing or damaged shingles and tile. These can sometimes be repaired by simply sliding a new one into position. Be careful not to damage the “paper” below the surface.

Many building suppliers sell painted “tin shingles” which are often easier to work with than regular shingles. Tiles that are out of line can normally be pushed back into place with a good shove from the lower edge.

Cracks in tiles can sometimes be repaired by fitting the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle and seating the joint with clear silicone sealant.


* Check for cracks or breaks in painted trim above the roof line or vertical wall surfaces above a roof (such as a second-story wall above a first-story roof). Leaks from these areas are often mistaken for roof leaks. Repaint or seal any cracks with caulking material.

* Take a close look at all your windows and wood trim around the house. Seal any cracks or repaint to keep water from leaking in.

* Inspect area drains around the property for clogs or damage. Run a garden hose full force into each drain for a minute or so to assure proper flow.

Follow these guidelines and you gain many more years of life from your roof and waterproofing systems.


Gary Abrams is a general contractor who has written about home improvement for The Times for 10 years. Comments and questions can be sent to P.O. Box 711, Thousand Oaks, CA 91319. Please include a self-addressed stamped envelope.