How to Repair a Roof

How to Repair a Roof

From Hingham Realtor Alice PierceHow-to_Fix-a-Roof

Maybe you consider March to be an extension of winter and if so, your fervor for sustaining home maintenance might wane. The reality is that spring, when defined by date, occurs on the 21st of this month. Before we can blink, everything will be growing and blossoming, exploding by the hour, the ground will be soft, and the windows in our homes will be open to the fresh, spring air.

The seasons can quickly get away from us, but with some planning and vigilance, your house maintenance regimes can be well-paced and sensible. I like to think of it like the way some utility companies work; pay a set amount every month and the busy fuel months don’t seem so shocking.

There are some very basic, and, quite frankly, arduous tasks that are good to get out of the way in the month of March. These things have to do with the structural components of your home, and, once checked, you can forget about them until next year. The most important of these chores is to assess and repair your home’s roof. A leaky roof can become a flow chart of damage and aggravation. Just a bit of prevention can help you avoid this.

The Ladder-less Roof Assessment

Making sure that your roof is sound is the ultimate protection against water damage up the road. Certainly hiring a professional roofer is a possibility at any step, and sometimes an absolute necessity. But there can be great satisfaction gained by making small, basic repairs yourself, providing you approach any and all tasks safely. If you already have a leaky roof and you cannot determine the origin of the water, then you will have to call a professional roofer to do the detective work for you.

There is no need to climb up that ladder just yet since there are ways to assess your roof health with both feet on familiar ground. The first thing you can do is to look around your yard. With the snow and ice gone (was it ever here?), you can look on your lawn for detached shingles that might have torn off during a windy storm. If you don’t see any shingle material, proceed up to your attic, if you are able.

Your attic is an ideal place to check on what’s happening underneath the roof shingles. I suggest bringing your smartphone along so you can photograph any possible problems. Trust me, you won’t remember any possible problem areas. If your attic is accessible, wait for the next rain and look for damp spots or even drips. Look at the areas where the chimney extends up from your house since leaks around the flashing are fairly common.

This next step is useful whether or not you found any evidence of leakage in your attic. If you can get your hands on a pair of binoculars, go outside and look at as much roof as you can, from different distances and angles. This will give you less reason to go on top of your roof. Cover the entire perimeter of your home and try stepping far away from your house to get a good perspective. Although there might be branches and leaves obscuring your view, it is worth the effort just in case you catch that one area of loose shingles.

Fences, bushes and property lines are likely to be the biggest deterrent to a successful roof assessment from the ground level. If you are on friendly terms with your neighbors, and you are fairly certain that a vantage point from their yard or home might prove useful, it cannot hurt to ask. I have heard stories of neighbors warning the people next door to them of potential roof problems. Again, bring along your smart phone for pictures.

Another approach is to look out of your own windows. After you live somewhere for a while, it is hard to remember where you can actually see the roof. The last thing you can do before making the trip onto the top of your home, is to look out of every window in your home that might provide a good view. And don’t forget to take pictures.

Lastly, do you have a drone? Send it up and get it close enough to the areas of the roof that you cannot see, and then get a few shots from higher up. When you retrieve the digital files, send it up on a more detailed mission if need be.
Home inspectors are starting to use drones to get to those places that a home inspector can’t get to easily such as a highly peaked rook, or on top of a chimney. One such home inspector is Jonathan Zeissler, owner of Illuminate Home Inspections who has found the value in a birds eye view.  A Charlotte home inspector has an interesting You Tube video showing the results.

A Safe Climb

The final frontier is to climb up a ladder, but whatever you do, do not climb up alone. Make sure someone is at the bottom of the ladder at all times. And if you are squeamish about heights, find someone that isn’t afraid of heights to go up there for you.

When you do make the ascent, do NOT wear sneakers as they can slide very easily on the rungs of a ladder, and on a roof. Instead wear rubber soled, treaded boots. If the roof is damp, skip it until it is completely dry.

You might be able to avoid completely hoisting yourself up onto your roof by skirting the perimeter. By staying on one of the higher ladder rungs and moving your ladder around to different spots, you might be able to view all the necessary angles.

Either way, once up high, examine your shingles closely to see if any are missing or loose. If you do get on top of the roof, now is a good time to look at your chimney and check for loose or damaged flashing and missing mortar. If you do have a free hand and steady footing, take pictures, and if that feels unsafe, mark the possible problem areas with chalk or neon tape.

The Roof Repair

The most common roofing material around Hingham and the South Shore is of the shingle variety. Fortunately, shingle roofing is fairly straightforward to fix. Whether you find damaged, curled, or missing shingles, or breaks in the flashing or caulking, both insults are fixable yourself. If you do have some repairs to make, only you can make the decision about hiring a roofer or fixing a roof yourself. Generally, if there are large areas in need of repair, or if the overall integrity of your roof is questionable, it makes sense to hire a professional roofer to do the work.

Once you are ready to get the job done yourself get some comfortable clothing, proper footwear and a way to keep your materials organized while working. It is always a good idea to carry your supplies and tools up in a bucket secured with a rope. You don’t want it to come tumbling down mid-repair. Find a friend to help you with the ladder, and who can fetch things that you might need.

Some of the basic materials and tools needed to fix a roof are:

Utility knife (used on the ground)
Small pry bar
Replacement shingle (s)
Galvanized roofing nails
Compound set up in a caulking gun
Putty knife

Any of the torn, partial or rotted shingles need to be replaced with new shingles. Once a shingle has lifted off and can be easily removed, it should be replaced. Note that finding a large patch of shingles in poor condition likely means that there is subsequent rotting due to water damage underneath and should be fixed by a professional roofer.

Before you climb up, use your utility knife to round off the back corners of some shingles to take up with you. This makes it much easier to slide them into place after removing the damaged roof shingle.

Be mindful of the dangers on a roof by working only on a completely dry roof when the sun is out and the wind is low. One can always use safety ropes or a ladder framework to provide secure anchoring. Once up there, watch for nails and notice where any power lines are.

First, you will remove the damaged shingle, or whatever is left of it by carefully lifting the edges of the other shingles around it. Again, this is best done on a warm day so that none of the shingles are brittle enough to snap in half. Sometimes, when shingles get blown off, the protruding nails are left behind. Look for nails and remove them with a pry bar, then slide out the offending shingle. If you see remnants of cement or compound, scrape it off so that the opening is clean.

Next, slide one of your pre-prepared, rounded, new shingles into the gap, with its front edge aligned with shingles on each side and its back edge under shingles in the row directly above it. Lift up the overlapping shingles and fasten the top of the new shingle with galvanized roofing nails through each corner. Then be sure to cover each nail head with roof cement before smoothing down the overlapping shingle edges.

Shingles that have curled back need to be reattached with asphalt roof cement. Get the compound that comes in tubes for use with a caulking gun for an easier application. If it is warm enough out, and the sun is beating down onto the roof, you will be able to straighten out a curled up shingle by bend it back towards the roof. If it is cold out, then the shingle must be heated up before you can work to get it back where it belongs.

This is one point where most of us draw the line between a DIY roof repair and hiring a professional roofer. The only way to heat a curled shingle is to haul a propane torch up to the roof. You then basically heat the shingle until it is just about to catch fire. Once you have a warm, pliable, and cooperative shingle, you then apply the compound generously to the bottom corners of the shingle and press the shingle firmly into place, keeping pressure on it until you are confident that it will stick.

After replacing the damaged shingles, you can also repair the metal flashing around your chimney or dormer if need be. Fill any gaps or cracks with your caulking gun and smooth with a putty knife if need be. If areas look worn, do the same and smooth the compound out to cover the area. If you notice any exposed nail heads cover these as well.

Use masonry caulking to seal small cracks where the flashing meets the chimney, and repair and reattach loose flashing with masonry nails or screws covered with roofing cement. When you attempt this, and any of the do-it-yourself roof repairs, be sure your supplies are secure and nearby since you will need both hands to make the repairs.

When you come down the ladder, enjoy the fact that you fixed an integral part of your home yourself. You can also enjoy knowing that you don’t have to climb up there again until the next roof assessment.

As always, I would enjoy hearing from you about real estate blog ideas and feedback. If you are interested in homes for sale in Hingham or on the South Shore of Massachusetts, or if you are thinking about selling your house, contact me anytime by phone at 781-724-7622 or by email at


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