Thunderstorms and Roof Leaks: What You Need to Know

If you live in one of the Great Plains states, then you know just how fast the pouring rain from a thunderstorm can add up. And the more thunderstorms you see, the more you need to pay attention to the impact they may be having on your building. After all, no building is 100% waterproof and if there is a way for water to get in, it will—whether or not you notice it. This blog explores why it’s important to look for leaks after thunderstorms along with three things to remember to minimize leaks and related damage costs.

Short Storms, Lasting Damage
Given that thunderstorms usually come and go in the span of a few hours, it’s easy to forget about them as soon as the sun returns. But all it takes is a short, intense burst of rain to cause a leak that can lead to mold or other issues in your building, if it’s left unaddressed for too long.

In the spring and early summer in the Dallas, Texas area, we receive a lot of calls regarding building damage from supercell thunderstorms. For example, one of our university clients is in the path of a recurring supercell that regularly causes leaks to multiple buildings from short, intense bursts of rain. And in 2017, a local hospital called us after rising water on its flat roof inundated the skylights and made its way into a conference room, causing damage to the sheetrock ceiling along with the the walls carpeting and furniture.

Finding the Culprit
In some ways, the hospital in the example above was lucky because there wasn’t any mystery about where the water came from. In many cases, however, tracking down the source of a leak can be challenging because water and gravity are tricky partners. For example, water could travel from a hole in the northeastern part of a building next to an HVAC vent down an I-beam to the southeast corner of a building where it then drops in on top of ceiling tiles on a lower floor. Confusing right? Tracking down the source of the leak in these types of instances can be difficult and sometimes can take a series of dye tests before you can be sure about what’s happening.

Preventing Leaks and Minimizing Damage Costs
Fortunately, in most cases it doesn’t take a lot of extra work to prevent roof leaks during intense thunderstorms. Here are three things to focus on:

1) Maintain it. On a flat top roof, the number one thing you need to do to prevent leaks is to properly maintain all drains and gutters throughout the roof. That means it’s especially important to inspect the roof and gutters in early spring before thunderstorms set in to remove debris from winter winds.
2) Keep a maintenance record. Set a reminder to regularly check the roof and note that the work has been completed. Adjust your maintenance schedule as needed based on how often leaves and other debris find their way onto your roof and into gutters.
3) Fix it right the first time. Once you identify a leak, avoid using band-aid fixes to save on costs. Yes, you may save a few thousand dollars in the short term, but in the long term the costs of business interruption and paying for additional restoration services will likely far exceed the costs of doing the initial repair.

While following these steps helps reduce the likelihood of building leaks during thunderstorms, they aren’t a guarantee. That’s why after big storms pass, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for signs of leaks and address problems right away.   

Thanks to Don Seeley in our Dallas, Texas office for sharing his expertise in this area! 

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