Is my roof healthy, or is it making me sick?
One of the most costly expenses that homeowners frequently deal with is the replacement of their roof. Roofs are generally replaced due to suffering damages from a storm or if the homeowner is lucky, the roof system actually lived out it’s full lifecycle and just simply needs to be replaced. Either way, when homeowners are replacing their roofing system, the question that is often left unasked is, can my roof cause me or my home to be unhealthy? This article intends on showing you how Having a roofing system that works for you and not against you is a big step towards solving the issue of creating and maintaining a healthy home for your family. This article is not intended to nor will it provide you with every bit of knowledge you need to fully vet a builder or roofing contractor, but it should provide you with enough information to start a conversation with your roofing contractor, builder or even architect. Having this conversation will let you take control of your project and know pretty quickly if the people building or restoring your home have any understanding of building science. Let’s get started!
“For 21 years I served my community as a public servant and now serve my community by providing quality roofing services with an emphasis on roofing best practices and contractor integrity”.
For starters, who am I? My name is Rick, I am the owner of Fortis Roofing Systems located in Weatherford, Texas. My entire work background has been entirely service based. For 21 years I served my community as a public servant and now serve my community by providing quality roofing services with an emphasis on roofing best practices and contractor integrity. I approach roofing systems and roofing practices from a builders perspective. This allows me to look beneath the roof’s surface and think outside of the box concerning energy, water and vapor management. Basically, I don’t believe in just throwing up a roof and collecting your money. I believe there is a good, better and best scenario on roofing systems available which also applies to installation methods as well. We will discuss these options later in the article. Let me be clear to everyone reading this article, I am a student not a master of building science and always will be a student. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I am not too scared to admit that research, conversation and adaptability to positive changes is the only way to better serve our clients.
“The reason some of these topics are sensitive, is because many contractors are “old school” and have found success doing things the same old way over and over again”.
Ok, so Let me say this, Some of the issues that we will discuss in this article are very sensitive subjects to many construction related contractors (all trades), and will probably ruffle a few feathers. I am ok with this, because it creates industry conversations on how to build healthy homes and roofing systems and better take care of our clients, or at least it should. The reason some of these topics are sensitive, is because many contractors are “old school” and have found success in doing things the same old way over and over again. Sure, some of those “old ways” can be correct, efficient and acceptable, but as building products and practices evolve and get better, so should our own practices and willingness to accept the fact that we need to embrace these changes because, ultimately it benefits the client that has placed their trust in their contractor.
“The main goal of any contractor should be to provide a healthy and sustainable finished product”.
What is a healthy home and how do you achieve a healthy result? My definition of a healthy home was formed not from google, or websters dictionary, but from learning from one of my mentors Mike Reese. Mike is the owner of Eureka Fine Homes (www.eurekafinehomes.com). Over the last few years, Mike has opened my eyes to many aspects of home building, including a home’s many systems and how they can either work with each other or against each other. Ultimately, Mike instilled in me that the main goal of any contractor should be to provide a healthy and sustainable finished product. Building a Healthy Home is simply when a builder’s efforts utilize proper and adequate products and installation methods during the building process to achieve maximum efficiency of energy and management of water and vapors. These practices should help to ensure that your home is “MANAGING” (to the best of it’s ability) mother nature’s elements. What elements am I talking about? Mainly water (moisture), but also air. The ability of your home to effectively manage these two elements will determine how healthy and sustainable your home will be. Why did I emphasize the word “managing”? Because you cannot stop Mother Nature! You can only try to manage it. If your contractor does not have this mind set, seriously consider bringing someone else into the process that can either help educate you and your contractor on building science or simply replace your contractor with someone that operates with this mind set. It could potentially save you thousands of dollars (if not more) down the road.
Let’s start with water!
imagine that you have a roof leak located at your chimney from being poorly or improperly flashed. Where is that water going? Well, more times than not, it’s going directly into your home. Where in your home? Well, water tends to follow the path of least resistance. So, that means that you could potentially have a leak at your chimney but get the visual signs and symptoms of a water leak somewhere totally different, even in a different room of the home. So, I assume that you just had chills run up your spine just then. Assuming what I just said is possible, that means that potentially, you could spend a bunch of time and money not only trying to find the source of the leak, but also repairing and or replacing materials that were damaged because of the leak.
Is there a product or installation method that can guarantee that I won’t have a leak then? The answer is No.
You can however attempt to manage where the water goes if it does in fact defeat the the levels of protection put into place to begin with.
What can I do to manage the water once it defeats my first line of defense? This all depends on where you are in the build process. For instance, on a new construction project, a product called Ice & Water shield should always be utilized (in conjunction with your typical metal flashing components), anywhere water can gather or penetrate your home.
Ice & Water Shield is a rubber based material with an adhesive backing. The material is non-porous and has a very low permeability (breathability) rating. Basically, it’s not gonna let water pass through the material. Once Ice & Water shield is properly installed in Places like headwalls, sidewalls, chimneys, skylights and valleys as well as any roof penetration (vents, pipes, etc.), you can then install a quality synthetic underlayment over the top of it. Some states even require that Ice & Water shield be used along the entire perimeter of your home (eaves and rakes). Why would some states require this? Because they know water WILL at some point get under the shingle / roof covering material. It may get under the shingle due to ice damming, wind driven rain, lifted shingles because of wind, hail damage on a shingle that eventually breaks down and creates a hole allowing water to get underneath, etc. The list can go on and on with scenarios on how Mother Nature is going to find a way in. Regardless of how it gets in, you want to try and ensure that the water cannot get into your home and cause massive damages.
To take things a step further, a contractor could also install roof deck tape on each seam of your roofing deck panels. This method does a few things extra for the sustainability of your home, but for the purposes of this article, we are just focused on giving the water a way off the deck by not coming through the seams.
In a re-roof situation, you typically don’t have the luxury of removing the cladding of your home. This means that you generally aren’t removing brick, siding or stucco. Because the cladding is not being removed, you can’t place Ice & Water shield in certain areas like sidewalls, headwalls, and up the chimney walls.
So, what can be done in a re-roof situation? The answer is that you still use ice and water to the best of your ability. You can still utilize this product along the edges of your walls, in the valleys, around roof penetrations and along the perimeter of your home should you so chose to do so. It’s absolutely a much better practice than using nothing at all. You can even tape the seams of your roof deck to help minimize the chances that water penetrates your home.
Isn’t some of this overkill? Not when it keeps your home and wallet healthy. This mind set or way of building / renovating a home is called the belt and suspenders method. Meaning having a backup to your back to your backup. This is where it requires your contractor to think ahead or even think like they themselves are water. Where can I get in, and do I have a way out. Just as important, HOW FAST CAN I GET THE WATER OUT? If your contractor is providing water a way out or off of your home, that is awesome, but if they are providing a FAST way out or off of your home, then you have just achieved a great thing.
Most every roof is sloped right? Yes they are. Some are heavily sloped and some have very minor slopes. It’s common knowledge that a heavily sloped (steep) roof will shed water way faster and a lesser sloped roof will shed water slower. But what if water gets under the shingles on a steep roof, will it shed the water? Sure, you will get some of the water off of the roof simply because of gravity alone, but because you don’t have a gap or a thermal break between the shingles and the roof deck, you in a sense are creating friction between the water and shingle, ultimately slowing and in some cases, stopping the drainage process. Many times, this gives water just enough time to find a way underneath your synthetic underlayment, onto your decking where it can rot the deck, or even find it’s way into your attic space through the seams where the roof deck meets.
Next up is air!
Just as we need air to breath and stay alive, so does your home. This section will be almost solely from the roofing aspect of air management and less about the internal air filtration, circulation and ventilation that a home needs.
With roofing systems, air management is typically referred to as ventilation. Ventilation is super crucial for homes that have a vented roof. Typically, homes have what is called soffit vents and roof vents. The soffit vents are actually intake vents that allow air to enter the homes attic space from the lower portion of your home. The air travels upward and is eventually exhausted through roof vents which are typically placed in the upper thirds portion of your roof. The exhaust vents can be either through ridge vents, box vents, turbine vents or even electric and solar powered vent fans. This allows the heat in your attic to escape your home and to also maintain proper humidity levels in your attic so you don’t create a wet environment above your living space. Many state jurisdictions have codes that require a minimum of 1/300. meaning that for every 300 feet of attic floor space, you should have 1 foot of net free ventilation. It’s important to note that this formula includes the use of both soffit intake and roof exhaust. It’s important to ensure that your intake is balanced / equal to your exhaust. Best practices can go as high as 1/150. This just means that you are providing more ventilation than the minimum required. Either way, just ensure that your ventilation system is balanced.
Some homes are fully encapsulated with spray foam. When a home is encapsulated, the home should not have soffit air intake and also should not have any ridge or roof vents exhausting air. It literally defeats the purpose and effectiveness of the spray foam insulation. When a home is totally encapsulated, the internal air filtration, circulation and ventilation becomes a very important aspect that your builder needs to be aware of and properly address. With that being said, we will discuss some roofing systems that can work with your insulation system to provide for optimal results.
So far, we have talked about attic ventilation. Is there any other way to ventilate a roof? The answer is absolutely. The next method is called above deck / sheathing ventilation. In my opinion, it’s crucial to utilize this method when possible. This is the method in which you would ventilate a roof that is over a foam encapsulated home.
What does above deck ventilation do? Well, we first need to discuss how you achieve above deck ventilation. With certain roofing systems, you can utilize what is called a batten system. For a batten system to provide above deck ventilation, the batten system needs to be able to elevate your roof covering material off of the deck while allowing at the same time for the flow of water and air not to be impeded by the batten itself.
Roofing systems such as stone coated steel roofs, tile roofs, and metal roofs can utilize the above deck ventilation method. The reason is because these roofing materials themselves are rigid and don’t form to the roofs surface. So they can be elevated off of the deck and still hold their shape. When these materials are elevated off of the roof deck, it creates an air gap between the roof material and roof deck. which sometimes is referred to as a thermal break. What does this air gap provide? Well, first, it provides air flow. Secondly, it provides water a FAST way off of the roof. What happens when a flow of air hits water? It tends to dry the water out, leaving your roof deck dry and less prone to leaks. Are you starting to see how the use of these systems can work together to protect your home from water damage?
But wait….there’s more! Above deck ventilation helps to keep the external hot air and UV from entering your attic space thanks to the thermal break. The thermal break (gap) is basically keeping your roof material from directly transferring the external heat onto and into your attic. The gap allows air to cool the roof material from underneath and venting the hot air right out before it gets into the attic space. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Let’s start seeing a return on our investment through energy savings.
Let’s summarize what we just read here!
We have learned that regardless of the roof material used, there are steps that we can take to help alleviate the penetration of water in our home and ways to properly manage air and vapors. But more importantly, I hope I have shown you that it is important to look beyond what someone who knock’s on your door tries to sell you. Sometimes, it’s better to spend a little more money up front than it is to spend much more money down the road because you or your family is literally sick from the many problems that can be caused from water leaks and poor or inadequate ventilation.
If you think you have an unhealthy home, or see signs that your home has suffered damage that may have caused a leak, I suggest reaching out to a trusted contractor to start trying to mitigate any further damages.
If you would like to speak with Fortis Roofing Systems about any new construction roofs or even roof replacements, please give us a call at 817-576-8797, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, our roof inspections are always no obligation, only information.