(UPDATED) If you were a drop of water, where would you go? That’s exactly how our technicians have to think to figure out where a leak is coming from. Sometimes it’s a challenge — leaks rarely follow a straight-line.
To think like a drip, first you need to understand three things about physics
- Water is affected by gravity more than anything else — it’s always trying to move down from wherever it is.
- Water takes the path of least resistance.
- Water is attracted to itself so first it pools up, then starts to move to a lower point via the path of least resistance, and then it pulls on itself to create a stream.
To think like a drip when it comes to your roofing system, you need to understand the drip’s environment
- What type of roofing system is it? A single ply will offer a drip an entirely different set of options than an asphalt roof.
- What’s the deck made of? If it’s plywood, then a drip might like the seams between the 4×8 sheets. If it’s metal, then a drip will like the fasteners. And if it’s concrete, then the drip probably has a whole lot of company before it finally finds it’s way out.
- How many roof decks are there? If a second roof was built on top of the original, the hole, unfortunately, could be in the bottom roof.
- How is the building constructed? If it’s old masonry, it could be a waterproofing issue. If it’s metal, then it’s possibly related to movement.
- What are the potential pathways that might be out of the ordinary? Could it create a stream along structural members? Or could it possibly find a way into the building that has nothing to do with the roofing system at all?
To think like a drip, you need training and years of experience as a leak detective
Finding the leak often takes more time than fixing it. A good leak detective has had years of training — both in the classroom and on the job. It usually takes about five years to become highly skilled at finding leaks.
A good leak detective will visually evaluate both the roof surface and the underside of the roof deck, locating all of the elements that protrude through the roof. He or she will walk on the roof looking for suspicious areas and then push and test each of those areas — if there are any bubbles when the roof surface is compressed, it indicates a mix of air and water that could be your leak.
A good detective will also look for very small holes. Sometimes the pressure inside a building can suck water from the roof through a tiny hole like a straw. Pressure inside the building is created, for example, when an AC system is running and all the doors are shut — the air is exhausting through the AC system so there’s a slightly less pressure inside your building than outside.
Or if there’s ponding on your roof, the weight can compress the roofing materials and open up a crack that wouldn’t have otherwise been a problem. The pressure from inside the building then causes water to flow downward into the crack along the path of least resistance … and into your roofing system. Once inside, the water begins to break down the system.
Sometimes it takes two or more times to think like a drip accurately — drips can be tricky
Sometimes finding and fixing leaks means going through a fair amount of trial and error.
Just like a doctor who’s trying to diagnose a medical condition, your technician will start with the most likely scenario for the drip. “This is what it looks like, so let’s try this.” Usually the most likely scenario takes care of the problem but sometimes the actual solution isn’t the second or even the third most likely scenario. If after the third fix the drip is still fooling the leak detective, it’s probably time for diagnostic surgery. This qualitative analysis of your roof may involve test cuts or even bringing in specialized equipment.
You cannot ignore the drip because it will rain again
The more water that gets into your roofing system, the more damage that occurs. Mold, rotten framing, ruined insulation and stains on your walls and ceilings can be costly, time-consuming and annoying to repair. And just because you noticed the signs of leak today, it doesn’t mean the leak is new. Drips could have been finding their way into your roofing system for months or longer without you knowing it.
So the sooner you get an experienced leak detective on the case who knows how to think like a drip, the better!