Flat Roof Troubleshooting

The appeal of a flat roof for residential structures is that it is less expensive to install than a pitched roof. Sections of a flat roof can often be utilized for other purposes including an entertainment area or a rooftop garden. However, regardless of the type, flat roofs tend to be high maintenance if they are to last the standard lifespan of pitched roofs. Here are some flat roof troubleshooting tips to help you keep it strong and healthy for 20 years or more.

Types of Flat Roof Damage

Different types of flat roofs experience different types of damage. An asphalt flat roof is susceptible to blistering, while a concrete flat roof is prone to cracks and surface wear. An EPDM flat roof can be pierced by falling debris or debris pushed around in high winds. Felt flat roofs are more vulnerable to thermal movement, cracking and splitting than other kinds of flat roofs. All types of flat roofs can experience ponding – a large area of a roof covered by water 48 hours after a period of rainfall due to poor drainage and/or blocked leader heads or downspouts.

Reasons Flat Roofs Fail

The main reason flat roofs fail is lack of proper maintenance – like gutters, a flat roof should be cleaned once in the spring, then again in the fall. Other reasons for flat roof failure are:

  • blocked downspouts, outlets or leader heads
  • lack of flashing or damaged flashings that haven’t been replaced
  • was improperly installed i.e. insufficient slope
  • incorrect recommended pitch for the type of roofing material
  • drainage system not compatible with roof type

Any part of a flat roof that has been damaged by splits, cracks, blistering or puncturing needs to be repaired as soon as possible. When ponding occurs, the source needs to be identified and addressed. Clearing the roof of debris and cleaning the gutters typically solves most ponding issues but a thorough inspection of the roofing system, including the gutters, should be done to ensure the cause isn’t something more serious.

Gutters and Flat Roofs

Some kinds of flat roofs include gutters as part of their drainage system.. But some types of flat roofs are more protected than others. If debris lands on a flat roof where it isn’t easily blown away, it can be washed into the gutters, creating clogs in the gutter channel, downspout or drainage outlet, preventing water from exiting the gutter system. When gutters are part of a flat roofing system, they should be regularly checked for:

  • exterior and interior damage
  • damaged or loose hardware
  • the condition of seams, joints, and downspouts