roof repairs are the most difficult of all household jobs for either the owner himself or for a contractor. This might be attributed to the fact that as soon as a man is off the ground he is out of his natural element. Be that as it may, the fact remains that roof repairs have always been, and still are, very expensive. It is one thing to walk into a house and do some painting or work on a furnace, but it is another matter when your job is forty feet above the ground, and you have to consider your safety as well as the work at hand. For this reason the average person should not attempt roof work or repairs unless he is in good shape, sure of himself, and absolutely certain that he knows how to tackle the work with safety.
There are all kinds of roofs. If your own happens to be quite flat, and your house is a one-story building, so that you can reach the roof by using an ordinary ladder, there is little danger in venturing out on it, but if you have to crawl through a window and claw your way around on a steep roof, you will do much better to stay away from it. However, there are a few basic rules for safe roof work which every homeowner should be familiar with.
The first is that you should never stand up on a roof; always work and move around on your hands and knees. When you do this you are not apt to trip, and you cannot fall. You have four points of contact with the roof, instead of the two you have when you are upright on your feet. The second rule is that you must have a safety-line looped around the chimney, or strung right across the roof and fastened to the ground at both sides of the house. If you do try roof work, you will be safer and your work will be easier if you first make sure of your safety.
Roof inspections and roof repairs cannot be made properly unless you feet safe and secure during the entire operation.
Usually a roof will not give any trouble providing that it has been properly laid and that good material has been used. The even, unbroken, large areas of a roof seldom produce a leak unless a tree branch has scraped against it or a heavy wind has torn away a portion of it. In that case the manner in which the repair should be made is quite obvious. If the shingles are of wood, the old damaged shingles should be broken out and new ones shoved up to replace them. The new shingles can naturally not be nailed at the top as would be the case if you were laying a new roof, so one nail should be used in the center of the lower edge. If the damaged shingles are of composition or of asphalt, the same procedure should be followed. If the roof covering is of roll-roofing, the damaged sections should be carefully cut out, and new sections laid so the lower edge of the top strip laps over the upper edge of the repair. Roll roofing should be bedded in roof cement, and the edges well tarred with the same material.
A roof shingle is simply one of a thousand other units. By unhurried procedure, any adult can fit and install a new one.
Most of the trouble with a roof will be found around dormer windows, chimneys, or the vent stacks from the plumbing system. All of these parts of the house are flashed, which means that they have metal shields called "flashings" which protect the break in the roof surface, which their presence makes necessary. In short, every time you have anything coming through the surface of a roof, it has to have a protective shield. These shields or flashings should be made of copper, brass, zinc or lead. In other words they should be of non-rusting material. In an effort to cut down the cost of building, sheet-iron or galvanized iron flashings are often used. You can always detect this by the fact that rust streaks will invariably show up on the roof surface after about a year's exposure to the weather.
Just as soon as streaks appear around the flashing, it is time to get busy. The correct way to treat rusting flashings is to clean off every speck of rust so that you are down to the bare metal. Then apply two coats of heavy paint, allowing the first to dry before you apply the second. After the second coat is hard, cover the entire flashing with a 1/8" coat of non-hardening roofing compound. Tar is often used on such a job, but it is not good because it dries out and cracks. An operation such as described above should be good for from five to eight years in any normal climate.
Chimney flashings are merely metal shields which provide a waterproof joint between the chimney and the roof covering. They should be watched, painted, and kept in good solid shape.
The next most probable point of the roof structure to give any trouble or work up a leak, is in the valleys. These are where the direction of a roof changes, as in the case of an addition or ell built on the house. These long gulleys are a favorite spot for leaves and other debris to settle, and consequently they are often kept damp for months at a time. Naturally this means that the valley flashings are inclined to rust out rapidly. Fortunately, it is one of the most simple of roof repair jobs to accomplish, and it requires absolutely no skill whatever. The first step is to thoroughly brush out the valley and give the old flashing a coat of heavy paint. You then cut eight-inch squares of sheet copper, fold them once from corner to corner, as illustrated, and then shove them up under the shingles in an overlapping manner so that they make scales with the points toward the ground. Where you have roll roofing or strip roofing, you will not find valleys as a rule, but where your roof is shingled, you have to have valleys.
Some houses have slate roofs, and the only repair ever required will be to replace a slate. This is a job for a real slater, or expert; and the chances are a thousand to one that if your roof is slate, you will never have any trouble with it.
There are also tile roofs, commonly called Spanish roofs. These are about in the same class as the slate roofs as they never deteriorate and seldom leak. If a tile should break, it is advisable to get an experienced man to replace it because you will probably manage to break a dozen slates in your effort to repair one. It should also be noted by the homeowner, that both slate and tile roofs are extremely slippery and dangerous to work on.
Roof valleys are found where the direction of a roof changes. They are usually masked against wind and sun, and therefore do not dry out easily. They can be over-lapped as shown, if rust and deterioration have become evident in the material.
A curled shingle is actually a sick shingle which may or may not recover without treatment. It can be put back in correct shape with a well-placed, large-flat-headed nail. Shingles should be well wetted and flexible, to avoid splitting while they are being nailed back into an even, flat position.
More than ninety percent of the roofs covering homes in this country are finished with wood shingles. Considering the light weight and the economy of the wood shingle, they are excellent if made of good wood such as red cedar, and particularly good if they have been treated for resistance to rot.
The main difficulty encountered with wood shingles is curling; and a curled shingle is a shingle which is apt to split. Curling can be easily noted from the ground, and it can be cured by driving a nail in the two lower corners of the shingle, which will bring it down to a flat position again. Great care should be used so as not to split the shingle. Use a thin wire nail that will drive easily, and that has a large flat head. If you should split the shingle, don't be alarmed. Cut a piece of tar-paper the size of the shingle, shove it up under the split, and then nail the two corners.
Temporary roof repairs to take care of an emergency are not at all difficult. The main rule is to be generous with your patching material and not try to just cover the bad spot. The second rule is to be sure to make all laps so that the water sheds off.
Handling tools and paint-cans and brushes on a roof is not an easy matter, but you can make it easy if you will build a simple, small bench as illustrated, so that you have an even and level place on which to set your tools and cans. Professional roofers always use them, and you should do the same.
All first-class building mechanics know enough to be at ease and to be comfortable while they are working. Do likewise.
The professional roofer or exterior finisher, makes sure of his safety before attempting either repair or new work. Experience has taught him that he works faster and better if he is sure of his footing.
(See Chapter II.)