Understanding Hail Damage: What to Survey after a Storm
Depending on your roof material, it’s not always easy to determine if it has sustained hail damage after a storm. For example, if your building has asphalt shingles or a metal roof, you may see obvious dents. However, on a built-up (tar and gravel) roof, you might see few to no visible signs of damage.
Why is Determining the Extent of Roof Hail Damage Important?
Whether or not hail damage is visible, roof repair costs add up fast, as do the costs from water damage that could impact your building if the roof is not repaired properly. Keep in mind that it can take several years for hail damage to lead to water incursion issues, and most hail damage insurance policies only give you one year from the date of a loss to file a claim.
This is why it’s so important to know what to consider after a hail storm—even when you don’t see obvious signs of damage. Before we discuss a few of the items to survey and consider after a hail storm, let’s quickly look at the interplay between hail and a few common roofing types.
Asphalt shingles include a fiberglass membrane that needs to stay structurally sound for the shingles to do their job of protecting the roof from the elements. The issue is not simply cosmetic when hail damages the membrane; over the course of several years the shingles will begin to disintegrate, which can eventually lead to significant water damage. Given the slow-to-appear nature of the damage, and the high costs of replacing a roof on your own dime, it’s important take a close look at asphalt shingles after a storm (you can very rarely determine the extent of the damage from the ground).
Flat roofs are constructed using a variety of materials that often look perfectly fine after a hail storm, but may be damaged. For example, TPO or PVC roofs may not show any visible damage, but large hail could break the fiberglass mesh underneath the shell, which will cause the roof to wear out faster than normal. Often times, there is a recovery board or insulation layer under TPO or PVC roofs that can be compromised, impacting the fire rating of the substrate to these types of roofs.
Built-up roofing systems (tar and gravel) can also be difficult to assess because there are often no clear visual indicators of hail damage. Built-up roofing is put together using several crisscrossing layers of black tar paper or felt, each of which gets saturated with tar. While the top layer (which is often covered in a thin layer of gravel) may look completely unchanged after a big hail storm, the felt membranes may in fact be dented and damaged. Over time, the expansion and contracting of the tar can lead to water incursion in the damaged areas. Fortunately there is a method to assess damage to built-up roofing, which involves shipping a small cutout portion of the roof to a lab that can dissolve the tar to assess the felt membranes.
Metal roofing systems are often pieced together using two to three-foot-wide strips. In some cases, hail may only cause visual damage to the metal in the form of dents. But in many cases, hail could also damage the seams and joints of the metal strips across the roof, which could lead to water leaks and associated damage.
When Do You Need Professional Help? Three Helpful Indicators:
Hail comes in many sizes and densities, so it can be difficult to know when you actually need to be concerned about damage. Whether you’re staring at piles of pea-sized hail on the ground after a 20-minute storm or there were only a couple of minutes of golf-ball size hail, here are some signs that indicate it would be a good idea to at least talk to a professional:
- Damaged vehicles—If the roofs of nearby cars were dented, then there’s a good chance your building also sustained hail damage (especially if you have a roof type that won’t show visible damage).
- Damaged siding, downspouts or windows—If you are unable to safely inspect your roof, hail damage to other parts of your building, such as dented downspouts or siding, can be a good indicator you may need to take action.
- Work on neighboring properties—If a neighboring building sustained hail damage and is being repaired, it’s a sign you should more closely inspect your roof and building. This can be especially helpful if you have a difficult-to-evaluate roof type and your initial survey of the area doesn’t indicate any trouble.
Get the Help You Need
Clearly, determining the extent of hail damage isn’t always easy. But from a cost and potential future headaches perspective, it’s important to get it right. After all, you don’t want to foot the bill for roof replacement costs and cleaning up water damage several years from now by missing your insurance claim deadline.