09 Feb 2010

Is Your Roof in Danger?

image uploaded by jsmjr on Flickr

From a seat inside Starbucks, we watched a man clear the roof of the National Capital Bank — with a 2×4. The children sipping hot chocolate nearby were in awe and worried about his safety. Based on the conversation on the HillEast listserv there is a great deal of concern about how our flat roofs will hold out under the weight of 26 inches of snow. With expectations to add to that this afternoon, the concern may be founded. The Washington Post reported today that D.C. Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said do-it-yourself roof-clearing efforts “would be a design for disaster,” and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty urged homeowners to “stay with relatives” if they have concerns about their roof collapsing.

Lisa Bergman’s house on 1200 D Street, SE began to worry her on Saturday, and due to a crack in the ceiling she and her family slept in the basement. On Monday they called the fire department. “Our ceiling was caving in and the kingpin sagging which broke the ceiling joist and ceiling,” she said. Thankfully, her roof is now clear, and the repair work can begin.

Scott Seigal’s company Maggio Roofing has crews out all over the city. “Based on my 20+ years of experience replacing DC flat roofs, we see almost 40% of the flat roofs in need of some type of structural work that the owner was not aware of,” he said. “The added weight and considering drifts on the roof are making it so that the load far exceeds what a roof is designed to hold.” Maggio Roofing charges $75 “per man” an hour for the service, and averages 3 workers clearing for about 2 hours per roof. He says they’re fully booked and have developed a waiting list.

Large snow storms like the ones we’ve been experiencing, Siegal said, are the cause of most of these issues. “Flat roofs, if done correctly, are waterproof. In theory the roof should be able to hold the backed up water (even if the gutter doesn’t allow runoff) and not leak within the house.  The potential areas for leaks on these flat roofs are vents that are not properly installed, skylights that are not properly flashed, and from wall flashings that are not properly installed.”

Keep an ear out for creaking, popping and unusual sounds from your attic, and watch for cracks in the ceiling, indications of movement on the roof or strain. Call 311 if you have concerns, or 911 if the situation seems dire.

Contractor Phil Campbell of Traditions Contracting said that withstanding 2 feet or more of snow creates a level of stress that is uncommon for many residential buildings in this area.  “Typically, neglected roofs or those featuring multiple layers are more vulnerable to problems,” he said. ” There is no guarantee and it all depends on how it was built and how it was cared for. This snow storm has created extenuating circumstances.”  Campbell also stressed the dangers of going up on your roof and the added damage it can cause.  “Right now, the weight of the snow on your roof is pretty evenly dispersed and this is positive.  Having people on your roof will increase the roof load and generate unnecessary pressure in a specific area. This can cause damage to the roof supports and create serious problems.  Having people on your roof is very dangerous and may cause more harm than good.  Work with a contractor if you must.”

JDLand reports on the apartment building 1000 block of Third Street Southeast, near Cornercopia, that suffered a partial roof collapse.

Towards the weekend, as temperatures (finally!) begin to rise, ice damming may be more of a problem. Icicles form near the edge of a roof when water has pooled. Clean gutters, proper ventilation and attic insulation are the best ways to prevent ice damming.

If you see evidence that your roof is about to collapse, or God forbid, does collapse, DC Fire and EMS urges you to call 911.  Some signs that a collapse is imminent:  falling drywall, significant leakage through ceiling, cracking of roof trusses.

WJLA coverage a roof collapse from the snow:

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4 responses to “Is Your Roof in Danger?”

  1. Alex says:

    this issue has been the subject of considerable discussion amongst people I know… thanks for shedding some light on things.

  2. Kate McFadden says:

    You’re welcome Alex — I know its on my mind too. I’m most worried about the porch over my doorway – and that the forecast makes it look like the melt is a long way off. Stay safe and stay off the roof!

  3. Damage to a roof can cause a big blunder. It should be identified and repaired asap. Your post is quite useful. Change of weather can cause damage to the roof tops which must be checked regularly and effective measures should be taken, I think after every season for increasing the durability and life of the roofs. 🙂 Thank you for this. 🙂

  4. DC Flat Roof says:

    I am glad this winter is over. We had a few bad weeks. Here is hoping that we have a beautiful spring in DC. Btw that storm last night was killer!

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