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Your Roof is the Water Resistant Helmet of Your Home

The importance of Your Roof:
A roof, the highest part of a house, catches the brunt of wind forces, and wind effects such as wind driven rain. These helmets for houses need to be strong, they need to keep water out and they have to stay on the house, not collapse, and not cause other parts of a house to fail. There are three vital aspects of your roof: the covering that keeps your house dry, all the structure (sheathing and framing) that supports the covering and maintains the shape of the roof, and the connections between the roof structure and the walls below ( the helmet strap, to take the analogy one step further).

When you evaluate the ability of your roof to defend your home against a hurricane, you need to consider all of the elements of a roof because they all play vital, essential roles in protecting your house. Starting at the top is:

  • The roof covering (the weather roof - umbrella for your house) that is exposed to heat, rain, wind, ultraviolet rays and all the other environmental effects that tend to cause materials to deteriorate.
  • Most roof covers are installed over a water resistant underlayment (frequently felt paper, the black material you may have noticed on roofs before application of the final roof covering) that, as long as it stays in place, provides an extra surface where water that gets past the roof covering can drain off the roof.
  • The sheathing to which the roof covering and underlayment is attached. The attachment of sheathing is vital because the suction (uplift) forces on roofs can exceed the weight of a man over an area about the size of a standing man. These forces are not pushing the sheathing down against the roof structure; instead they are trying to rip the sheathing off of your roof.
  • The roof framing is made up of rafters and ceiling joists along with various connecting members or trusses and this framing has to hold up and hold down the sheathing.
  • Gable end walls are treated in this guide as part of the roof framing since they are frequently framed into the ceiling joists and rafters or built into the gable end truss. These walls need to be strong enough and well enough connected and braced to resist both inward and outward acting wind forces on the gable wall.
  • The structural support of eave and gable overhangs is part of the roof framing and has to be properly connected to or integrated into the roof framing because the wind forces on the overhangs are among the highest on the roof.
  • The connections to the walls below hold up and hold down rafters and trusses and tie the whole system together so that your house can resist the forces exerted by the wind.
  • Finally, most roofs are vented to reduce the temperature rise and the buildup of moisture in the attic. While ventilation is important to the long term health and durability of most roof systems and needs to be preserved, it can provide pathways for water to enter your home during a hurricane that could lead to insulation getting soaked, ceilings collapsing and mold growth; even when the rest of the roof remains intact.
  • How hurricane resistant is your roof covering?:
    Your roof covering is the critical part of your house's first line of defense against keeping hurricane winds and water out of your home. It has historically been one of the weakest elements in that line of defense. In Hurricane Andrew, a study by the National Association of Home Builders Research Center showed that widespread damage to roofs seriously affected 77 percent of the homes surveyed. This damage of the roof covering led to severe water damage both during and after Hurricane Andrew. Damage surveys conducted following the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 have also highlighted the frequency of roof cover damage. Of the homes impacted by Hurricane Charlie that had enough damage to file an insurance claim, 95 percent had some level of roof covering damage. Studies have also highlighted the fact that damage to the roof covering during a hurricane can lead to substantial water damage in subsequent rainstorms. Both the initial water intrusion and the later leakage can lead to significant mold problems.

    Roof sheathing loss at gable end. This is a common failure point.

    The Importance of Roof Structure:
    For roof coverings to stay on your house, the roof sheathing (plywood, OSB, or boards) supporting the roof cover must also stay on your house. In addition to supporting the roof cover, the roof sheathing performs a number of other important functions. It provides the structural barrier between the interior of your house and the fury of the storm and it helps transfer wind forces to wall elements that direct these forces down to your foundation. Loss of even one piece of roof sheathing will produce a gaping hole where wind can enter and water can pour into your attic.

The first and most important recommendation about roofs is that you should have the condition of your roof evaluated; starting with the roof cover but also including all of the other elements described above.
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