March 4, 2009
Contrary to common belief, roof leaks can be found when it is not raining.
While installing a chimney cap last week, I figured it was time to perform the annual roof inspection. My roof is less than 3 years old so you wouldn’t expect to find much of anything. Unfortunately that is never the case. Your roof takes a lot of abuse and you need to keep an eye on it.
Catching roof leaks before you actually notice them can save lots of dollars as roof leaks easily damage walls and ceiling finishes, besides the structure behind the walls. Even though a manufacturer may rate a shingle for up to 30 years of life, different climate conditions may impact the realistic life expectations to more like 17 years. Additionally breaches created by vents, chimneys and other protrusions typically are the source of the failures.
Assuming your roof was installed correctly, most of your problems will be associated with just normal wear. Contrary to common belief, it does not have to be leaking to find it. Most roof problems can be identified on a nice day, it doesn’t have to be raining or leaking to find the problem. In fact, it’s easier to find a leak on a nice day and the repair process will go more smoothly. If you have a roof leak and call a roof repairman in a panic, don’t be surprised he won’t show up until after it quits raining. Standing on the roof when it is wet or during a storm is not recommended and should be avoided. Most of my discussion on the subject will relate to asphalt/fiberglass type shingles which is about 95% of the market. However, most issues are generic and can apply to other roof products as well.
Some of these items can be viewed from the ground, but if you plan to do any of the minor repair, you will need to get on the roof anyway. Most people don’t call a roofer until they have a leak. For a minimal charge, a roofer can perform an inspection and correct most problems in a single visit. Here are the most common roof problems to look for.
- Tree Limbs on the Roof. If you find tree limbs hanging within about 5 feet of your roof, you may consider cutting them back. When the tree adds leaves in the spring or ice over in the winter, they can cause damage. If you find a limb that has been rubbing the shingles you may need to apply some roofing caulk to seal any potential leaks. Shingle replacement or using an asphalt based roof caulk can solve the problem.
- Debris on the Roof. Leaves and limbs can accumulate around the chimney, roof valleys and corners. Leaving this material in-place can breakdown, cause bugs to accumulate and accelerate deterioration of the roof material.
- Bathroom and Kitchen Drain Pipes. (a.k.a.) Vent stacks. Look around the top edge where the lead sleeve is molded into the top of the pipe coming from the vent. Looking at this picture, you can see that squirrels have really abused this vent stack. They can easily chew holes in the stack causing rain water to drip down the side of the pipe inside the house. Most roofers will just replace the lead vent stack. If they are as damaged as this one, that may be your best choice, however, you can add acrylic caulk (grey or clear) around the edges to fill this holes. Also look for exposed nails that are used to secure the flange of the lead vent stack. Add a dab of the same caulk over these nails.
- Water Heater and HVAC Vents. These vents are typically aluminum, tin or stainless steel and will not have the squirrel problem but look for the nail holes and if there is a vent cap, ensure there is a good seal. Use foil tape (HVAC type tape used on ducting) to seal the two if necessary. TIP: Exercise caution around these vents as they can be hot due to exhaust heat from devices they are venting.
- Nails: Normally, most nails are intended to be concealed by other shingles. However there are some places where it is just unavoidable for them to be exposed. Where you find them, make sure there is a good dab of caulk covering them.
- Chimney’s. The chimney should have some form of cap or top to reduce the opportunity for water to drain down the inside of the chimney leaving water on the floor (like my house). Inspect the cap for a proper seal to the top of the chimney. If you don’t have one at all, contact a roofer or sheet metal shop. TIP: If you just need the cap, and plan to install it yourself, take the measurements and find a sheet metal shop. If you contact a roofer, they will typically use a sheet metal shop to construct the cap, charge you 10-20% mark up, plus installation.
- Skylights. Skylights can be a big source for water leaks. Having them installed at the same time as the roof seems to reduce the opportunity for leaks. Roofs are installed as a system, adding protrusions (skylights, vent’s, etc), after the fact creates a breach in the system and becomes a potential location for water to find its way into the house.
- Wall/Roof Joints: Look for good flashing (metal edge) where these two opposing surfaces meet. This would typically be where the roof edge butts against a second story wall.
- Wall/Chimney Locations. Much like #7, these two opposing surfaces provide an opportunity for water to force itself into the house. Look for a good seal here. TIP: Do not remove or pull back the shingles for inspection unless it is the location of a known leak. Roof systems can be fragile especially as they age. It’s not hard to cause additional damage.
- Roof Valleys: Another location where opposing surfaces meet, allowing water to converge. Much like #8, if you do not see anything obvious and you have no known leaks.. let it be.
If you do not know how old your roof is, here are a few additional items to look for that are signs of age and the roof may be near the end of life. If it’s not leaking, just keep a good eye on the items you can address.
- Loss of Asphalt Granules. By nature asphalt shingles will lose some of their exterior surface. The granules provide color and protection. You may see a loss of granules in the valleys and near the edges or areas where there is regular water flow.
- Curling of the Shingle Tabs.This is an indication of age due to the roofing material drying out and losing its pliability.
- Chipped, Broken and Missing Shingles. This is wear and tear that has occurred over 20 plus years. As the material becomes brittle, it is easy for it to chip and break.
- Raised Nails. If you find nails surfacing, or popping up through the face of the shingle from underneath, this is a sign your roof may be approaching its life expectancy.
Overall, avoid spending too much time walking around. Make your inspections and repairs and get off. Excessive activity can cause problems as well.
February 28, 2009
Common water pressure should be somewhere between 45 and 125 psi.
There are many contributing factors that impact this value that may include 1) distances to the water source, 2) size of the distribution lines, 3) elevation of the water supply, 4) primary water line size and the list goes on. However, your plumbing system should work correctly if the pressure is within the 45/125 psi range. If you have just moved from the city to a rural area, do not be surprised if the water pressure is lower than what you have been used to. Contact your water provider to determine if they are within their specification at your house. (If your house is served by your own well, the primary pump will determine the pressure. Wells will be covered as a separate post.) There is no maintenance inspection associated with the water pressure item other than knowing what it is as a reference as it can cause the system to act differently than normal. Recognizing the changes will help to determine if any action is required during high pressure conditions, you may experience excessively noisy pipes, clanging or hammering. Low pressure is pretty obvious… low pressure and low flow. Typically, these conditions can be associated with the service provider performing work that required them to open up or turn off the water near by. If the condition does not pass in 24 hours, you may call them to determine how long the condition could continue. TIP: If you experience low pressure, take the opportunity to fill up some gallon jugs as you may totally loose water pressure before the water line repair is fixed.
If you suspect your water pressure to be out of range, you can check it using an inexpensive pressure gauge available at most any home improvement center. To check your water pressure, simply screw the pressure gauge on to an outside faucet (TIP: closest to the water meter) and open the faucet. This will provide an accurate reading. If you find it to be low or high and intend to call the water department, provide them the reading to assist them in their resolution. (TIP: Knowing what the water pressure is, under normal conditions, is also valuable information)
Since water lines stay under pressure and are considered a closed system, turning the water off, opening the pipes(s) and exposing the interior of the water line allows dirt and mud into the system. It doesn’t matter whether the work is performed by the water provider, plumber or yourself, it can cause clogged water filters, strainers and faucet nozzles. If you are aware of the work, wait about three days, then clean your faucet strainers/nozzles/filters. Look for a future post on this subject. Plumbing-Faucets.
January 25, 2009
In most cases all houses should have a service cut off independent of the water meter. Even though the function can be performed at either location it is not uncommon for the service cut-off to be inoperable or impossible to find especially in older homes. Deterioration to this service cut-off is not uncommon. If you can find it and it works, this would be the normal location to turn the water off when you need to turn-off the water. However, if you cannot operate it with relative ease…. DON’T FORCE IT as it can be broken easily without to much effort. As you can see in this second picture there are several cut-offs and the handles have corroded away. I had to dig out a pail of dirt just to take the picture. If turning the water off at the meter is you choice, see Plumbing-City Water Cut-Off. If this water cut-off does not work and does not leak and you can still turn the water off at the meter, just leave this one alone. The day may come when you find it leaking, replacement will be your best option at that time.
Regardless of where you choose to turn your water off, ensure that it can be performed in one of the two places, and turn the water off at least once to say you did. If you have a plumbing problem typically you need to turn the water off fairly quick. A leak can put a lot of water on the floor as well as cause an expensive call to a plumber. If you can schedule a plumber based on his schedule, instead of an emergency call out, the cost difference is dramatic.
Key Inspection Points and Action Items:
- Locate the water cut-off.
- Atempt to turn the water off here, if not, go to the water meter.
January 21, 2009
Uninsulated pipes installed in unconditioned crawl spaces or attics can freeze when the outside ambient temperature falls to 20F or below.
I am a little late in the season for this one, but here in the Southwest part of the country, winterizing our plumbing is perceived as not a big deal, but in reality, we have more frozen pipes in our part of the country than Northern climates. Our building code are more lenient and allow methods that would never be considered in Michigan or Wisconsin. Several years ago, Southern Louisiana had extreme cold weather over the Christmas holidays. The amount of broken water pipes almost called out the National Guard, due to the extreme loss of water pressure in the city water supply. If you live in Baton Rouge or Houston, it would not be uncommon to find your main water pipe exposed on the outside wall of the house before it goes in the house. For that reason, these tips may apply to homeowners that live in zones 8A or greater as defined by the USADA Hardiness Zone Map.
According to the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois, uninsulated pipes installed in unconditioned crawl spaces or attics can freeze when the outside ambient temperature falls to 20F or below. However, high winds or “wind chill “can augment this number potentially causing frozen pipes at higher temperatures. Wind chill typically impacts pipes that may be exposed to insulation leaks in the building envelope. For example, a water pipe in an exterior wall without insulation is at risk, add the fact that a crack in the exterior wall near the pipe will allow colder temperatures to increase the opportunity for a frozen pipe.
Key Inspection Points and Action Items:
- Wrap exposed pipes: Especially outside pipes, but don’t forget pipes under the house in crawl spaces as well as in the attic. All Home Centers sell foam sleeves to cover the pipes. This is cheap insurance as these sleeve are about $2.00 per 8 feet.
- Cover or wrap the exterior faucets. Home Centers have a solution for faucets that protrude from the wall, but you will have to be creative for faucets that surface out of the ground. My grandmother always tied an old hand towel around the outside faucets…. its pretty ugly but it worked.
- Caulk the cracks: Check the exterior of the house, especially in relation to faucets or pipes on exterior walls. Ensure the surface is well sealed as not to allow cold air to seep into the wall cavity.
- Open cabinet doors: In extreme conditions or extended vacations, open cabinet doors associated with all kitchen and bathroom faucets.
- Dripping Faucets: If it appears you may experience sub 20 degree weather, and you have pipes (especially on the North side) that are at risk, let the hot and cold water run. Granted, this breaks my rule of wasting water, but if possible, try to capture the water in a pan or pail and water your house plants. They are probably drying out since your are running your heater anyway. TIP: If the open faucets stops dripping, leave it open as this will allow the ice formation to expand without damaging the pipes.
- Turn off and drain Lawn Sprinkler System: If cold weather conditions are forecasted for several days, you may consider turning off and draining your sprinkler system. Hopefully you have a cut off and drain. For some of us, watering in the winter is still necessary due to the lack of rain or snow, so you may just turn it off based on the weather forcast. TIP: If you do not have a drain at the sprinkler cut-off, you can activate the sprinkler system for a few seconds to remove presure from the lines.
- Disconnect and drain exterior water hoses: A water hose connected to an exterior faucet will telegraph a frozen condition into the faucet potentially causing the faucet to freeze.
- Extended vacation:If you are leaving the house for several months, you may consider turning the water off and draining the pipes. As an alternative to that, leaving your Central Heater on 60F, will alleviate this situation. Look for future posts on “Extended Winter Vacations” for more details.
January 16, 2009
Knowing how to turn the water off here is a valuable tool in your home knowledge arsenal. Being able to turn the water off changes the complexion of your relation with a plumbing emergency as well as the plumber. It may seem like a simple task and why should you do it; just to say you can? Because when you really need to, time is of the essence, and you don’t have time to search for the right tool. This cut-off, on the street side of the meter head, may be hard to get to so find the right wrench that will work for you. A crescent type wrench works best for me. The cut-off is probably a ball valve and you will only need to turn it 90 degrees from its current position. Be prepared, when you open the meter lid, you will probably find many bug friends as it is a great place to hang out if you are a cock roach. Give it try.
January 14, 2009
The city provides a water meter to determine how much to charge for water usage and also a place to turn the water off. The meter can also be used as a tool to recognize water leaks. If your water bill dramatically changes and cannot be related to service work, changes in household routines, extra house guests or summer watering, the water meter should be the place to start to determine if there are any hidden water leaks. Obviously, if you have any recognizable leaky faucets, fixtures or toilets, these leaks should be addressed. $TIP$: Many municipalities charge related services (sewage, trash pickup) on the same bill, these charges can be relational to total water usage. If you have leaks you may be giving the city extra money due to a water leak. Look for the upcoming post on Chasing Water Leaks for a leak isolation method.