DIY home repairs can look like child’s play when you see an experienced professional carry them out on TV. Those seemingly simple repairs are, very often, anything but simple. Roof repairs, for example, look like they should be a no-brainer. In truth, however, my biggest home repair blunder was trying to fix a leaky roof.
At the house I lived in when I was in high school and first attending college, there was a fairly large, freestanding garage that also doubled as a workshop. We built the garage and installed the roof ourselves. After a few years, the roof began to leak. I was never entirely clear on why the roof leaked, aside from high winds occasionally ripping off a shingle or two. The leak itself, however, was very apparent from the massive and growing water stain on the ceiling.
After surveying the stain on the ceiling and the damaged shingles on the roof, I took it upon myself to fix this problem. I helped to install the roof, after all, and the process of replacing a few shingles shouldn’t have posed any serious problems.
I dragged the shingles, the roofing nails, a hammer and a flat pry bar up to the garage roof. I also brought up a can of tar, under the assumption that I could use it to seal up any apparent holes or gaps that water might seep through. One by one, and very carefully, I removed the damaged shingles. I checked the tar paper beneath and preemptively filled the holes left from the nails that held down the old shingles.
Then, I positioned the new shingle, with a healthy slathering of tar to ensure it would stay secure, and nailed it into place. It was a slow process, made slower by my paranoia about making the problem worse. Still, I persevered, finished, and felt proud that I dealt with the problem. Or, so I thought. The problem was not fixed, though it was improved.
In total confusion, I crawled back up onto the garage roof. I checked my work. It seemed secure. I did a slow walk over the entire roof, looking for more damaged shingles and anywhere rain might sneak into the building. I didn’t find anything. I remained perplexed and annoyed by this turn of events for some time. Wind continued to tear shingles loose and I repeated the process, but my repairs always seemed to fall short.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see at least two places where I went wrong. I made a mistake in technique and one of judgment. The problem with my technique was that I carried out the majority of these repairs in the late fall, which can be very cold in western NY. I underestimated how much and how quickly the cold would harden the tar, which meant the tar probably never got the chance to fully seal any holes. The mistake in judgment was assuming that the problem was confined to the visibly damaged shingles. In all likelihood, there was damage that I simply couldn’t see or didn’t understand how to identify.
While it’s a fact that you can’t fix a problem you can’t find, there were things I could have done to tilt the odds in my favor. I could have waited for one of those unseasonably warm fall days to make the repairs to the shingles. That would have given the tar a better chance to seal any holes. I would also have taken someone else up onto the roof, preferably someone more knowledgeable than me about roof problems, to look it over. They could have made recommendations, or spotted issues I didn’t recognize, and saved me a lot aggravation.