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Robert Lamoureux: Roof work by contractors is all wet

Posted: December 31, 2010 5:40 p.m.
Updated: January 1, 2011 4:55 a.m.

Hello Robert,
 I own a large apartment building with over 100 units. After the last rain, there were four inches of standing water on the roof.

There are no roof drains, and the roof is almost like a bowl. What do you recommend I do to address this problem? Is there anything that can be done short of building a new roof?  Could you provide a ballpark of the costs involved? 
Thank you,

George T.

Hi George,
A-100 unit complex has a massive roof and four inches of standing water is a tremendous amount of weight.

This is an incredible amount of stress being added to that building. I would take a submersible pump up there immediately.

Get one that sits very low to the roof and get that water pumped off of there as soon as possible. Place the pump at the lowest point and get started. Keep it pumping through the rains, and keep it monitored. What you’re talking about here is more than enough weight to collapse a roof.

I would recommend bringing a roofer out there to discuss your options. Other than a new roof, a couple of options would be to build it up by putting in crickets.

These are just a way to elevate the roof and get the water to move away from the low-lying areas and into the downspouts — or you could put in roof drains.

Once the roofer performs a visual inspection, he will be able to tell you pricing and recommendations based on your situation.

What you should have, what the building department wants to see, is no water on the roof 72 hours after the rain.

After three days, all of the water should have evaporated. There is no way four inches of water is going to evaporate that quickly.

Hi Robert,

We enjoy your column so much. My husband and I live in Pasadena and go out to one of the local coffee shops every Saturday with my daughter and son-in-law, where we always get the paper and read your column.

Our home is 80 years old, and we have lived there for 40 of those years. We’ve had our roof redone recently, but we continue to get water inside our home.

My husband did what you recommended with a garden hose and a water test and opened up some drywall. He found that the water is coming through the stucco and into our home.

How is this possible?  There are no cracks or holes in the stucco, but the water is going through.

Thank you very much,

Marlene H.

Hi Marlene,

You’ve touched on a big misconception. A lot of people think that stucco is waterproof, but it’s not. As you now know, stucco is porous. Water will seep through it. Stucco is not what keeps the water out of your house. It’s the paper, or  the felt, underneath.

Your husband needs to keep opening the drywall until he can see exactly where the water is getting in. You’ll find that the paper is bad and needs to be replaced, especially since the building is 80 years old.

If the paper is bad all over, then unfortunately you’re going to have to remove all of the stucco and start from scratch. This will require permits.

You should also check the status of your home. As old as it is, it may have a historical home designation with the city. Pasadena has many such homes.

You can incur large fines if you remove or alter something on a historical building without the involvement of the city. So find out everything you can before beginning any type of repair.

If it appears to be only an isolated situation, where the rest of the paper looks good, then just do a break away in that area, repaper and restucco.

Your husband sounds like a hard worker, but if he’s not experienced, I’d call in a stucco company and let them do the repairs for you. If you’re new at this type of work, it’s very difficult to match the finish and the repair can be seen from a mile away.

The pros can duplicate the texture exactly and make it look as good as new.

I enjoy your Signal column and have a question for you. I have a 25 year-old concrete tile roof that has two spots where it regularly leaks after hard rains like we’ve just had. This has gone on for the last 10 years.

The leaks always occur in the same spots, which are also areas where add-ons have been done to two rooms. Roofers have “fixed” it, but the leaks occur again and I’m wondering if I need to replace the roof or give better direction to these roofers.
Please advise and thank you.
Gail O.

Hi Gail,

It’s not your responsibility to have to give the roofers any direction. Just show them where it’s leaking, but that’s all. They’re the roofers, and they’re supposed to know how to roof.

If it’s been 10 years and they can’t fix it, the first thing to do would be get new roofers.

For the repair, I would start by laying down some bituthene, a rubberized membrane, at the transition point. Come in with some flashing and double up the paper.

It sounds like you have to pull the tiles. Tile has manufactured standards that allows for eight percent saturation in a rainfall.

This means you’re relying on the paper past that point.

Get a competent roofer, pull the tiles, start from scratch and do it right — no more “Band-Aids.”

Most of the time you can re-use the tile, if you’re careful.

Hi Robert,
Our property is using fluorescent bulbs by the truckload and they are very expensive.

The problem is, even though they are rated to last 6,000 hours, they are burning out in less than a week. Any ideas why? 

They are for external use so I don’t think it’s because of the cold or wet weather.

Thank you,
Fred C.

Hi Fred,

It sounds like you are using the wrong lamps in a ballasted fixture. If you are using a bulb not designed to work with that ballast, it will either be damaged by the initial surge or power, or by the regulation of electricity that will cause it to burn out quickly.

Eventually, the ballast will burn out. Sometimes you have to break the drywall or stucco to replace them.

Check for information in the housing about the recommended type of lamps to use.

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection.

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