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Hurricane Harvey Front Line Roofing Report

Issue #84 | September 25, 2017 | Todd Miller

I had the opportunity last week to visit the Texas gulf coast that was so very brutalized by Hurricane Harvey. My heart goes out to those impacted by the storm. The amount of human suffering resulting from recent earthquakes and hurricanes is hard to even get your head around.

If there is anything good that can come of events like these, it is the opportunity to learn from them and to make changes so that we’re better prepared in the future. One thing that was very apparent during my visit to Texas was that new structures withstood the storm better than old structures did. I assume this is due to enhanced building codes and enforcement, as well as improved building materials and the fact that newer buildings have not been weakened by going through previous storms. I think that, with each storm we learn and can do better in the future.

That said, based upon my 35 years of roofing industry experience, here are my observations from that trip:

First of all, I saw great resilience and desire to rebuild amongst the folks there. A good number of the homes most heavily damaged by winds were second residences, meaning that those owners were not completely displaced by the storm damages. I saw numerous disaster teams on the ground from insurance companies and building materials suppliers, despite almost unbearable heat and humidity. From what I saw, insurance adjusters were being very liberal, totaling out roofs rather than suggesting repairs. They seemed very anxious to get customers “made whole” and to settle claims as quickly as possible.

As far as roofing performance, I saw a number of different things. I did see that, if roof coverings came off in the high winds, synthetic and self-adhering underlayments stayed on roofs better than traditional felts did. The inclusion of these newer materials undoubtedly helped minimize interior damages. That said, in the height of the winds, water was finding its way into homes around windows, by blowing doors open, and through various vents and other roof penetrations. I suspect that very few homes that endured 100+ mph winds didn’t have some water intrusion.

Asphalt shingles, if fairly new, held up remarkably well in many cases, especially if they were a few miles outside of “ground zero” where the hurricane first made landfall in Rockport and Port Aransas, Texas. On the other hand, asphalt shingles did not do so well if they were more than a couple of years old or if they were very close to “ground zero.” And, unfortunately, usually when the shingles failed, they left exposed roof decks (many of them had traditional felt underlayments that also stripped off in the wind), resulting in significant interior damages.

Tile roofs didn’t fare so well from what I saw. In the “ground zero” area, entire roof slopes were removed. But, outside of that area, you’d still see missing and broken tiles here and there on roofs. Some of the breakage may have resulted from airborne debris during the high winds. I visited one metal tile job that really didn’t look too bad from the ground but it had already been totaled out due to a few spots where clay tiles from the neighbor’s roof bounced across it. I was hearing that many HOA’s are considering disallowing tile roofs in light of the blow-offs sustained. I had the opportunity to talk to one HOA representative and help them with writing a proposal for new roofing covenants.

Mechanical seam standing seam roofs seemed to do the best in terms of “staying attached” to the roof deck. This probably means they did the best overall at protecting the interior of structures from water damage. That said, these roofs still visually showed a lot of “stress” in the form of oil canning and ripples that I do not think were there previously. I suspect that most of these roofs will be totaled out due to the stressing.

Interlocking metal roofs – both snap lock standing seam and metal shingles – did fairly well but if an interlock was breached in any way (perhaps from flying / rolling debris or from a poorly fitting flashing at a protrusion on the roof), entire planes of roofs or significant areas tended to be lost. In most cases, it looked like just the affected roof planes can be replaced – the entire roof probably does not need to be replaced as the inherent air permeability of interlocking products avoided the “stress” I saw on mechanical seam products. If a significant portion of roofing was lost, though, it probably resulted in interior water damage beneath that area unless the synthetic or self-adhering underlayment stayed in place and provided good protection.

Through-fastened metal roofing sheets seemed to do well if fairly new but not so well if not fairly new. I assume this is because expansion and contraction had caused fasteners to loosen and fastener holes to wallow out over time, making them very prone to uplift.

It was interesting for me to note that machine split wood shingle roofs with a short reveal (5 – 6″), if not very aged, did extremely well in the storm. There is not a large number of roofs like that in the affected area but the ones I saw did very well.

As you got away from “ground zero,” there was much tree damage to roofs as well as damage from blowing debris. In many cases, unless the structure was breached by a falling tree or branch, the roofs stayed on, preventing water damage inside. Homeowners will hopefully learn from this storm and start to cut trees back away from their homes. This may be not so nice in terms of shade from the hot sun but certainly better in terms of protecting homes from tree damage.

Trim metal and perimeter flashings, of course, were vulnerable to tree damage but they were also vulnerable to wind uplift. Flashings that were cleated otherwise well-secured out-performed floating lineals.

I did drive through some non-coastal areas like Victoria and Refugio, Texas and there seemed to be a lot of roof damages there but I did not have time to really investigate them. I think those areas endured several hours of punishing winds which is always tough on any roof system … plus trees and blowing debris.

In the midst of all of this damage, it was apparent that wind damage was most severe on the “back” side of roofs rather than the side facing the wind. It does seem to me that, with metal roofs, aluminum would be preferable to steel due to the corrosive nature of the salt and brackish water coasts.

As far as Houston … I actually never saw any flood damaged areas though I know I was near some. The flooding of course was devastating and horrible in some areas but that tended to be areas around creeks and run-off ditches and not as widespread as I had expected it to be. That said, there are thousands of families displaced by the flooding. I saw a few asphalt roofs with wind damage in Houston but did not see wind damage to other roofing materials. I also did not see any tree damage in Houston. One comment that was made to me was that the torrential rains around Houston simply overwhelmed roofs and flashings, causing leaks that have never occurred before and, God willing, will never occur again.

From what I saw, there were no huge humanitarian needs remaining last week though of course many people are hurting badly and displaced from their homes for who knows how long. In the hardest hit areas, I saw pallets of bottled water staged but sitting untouched in the hot sun. Rockport, Texas schools do not expect to re-open until next fall. Surrounding school districts have been working hard to make adjustments and welcome those students.

Rebuilding efforts along the gulf coast are already well underway and every place you go, people are saying “Texas Strong” as encouragement. A lot of money has been raised to help those in need. I attended a fundraising event held by a major roofing distributor who had already raised over $500,000.

I encourage you to work hard to make building practices in your area provide the best possible security for homeowners. Helping homeowners know the extra efforts you take and special materials you use – all for their benefit – will really differentiate you from other contractors. Let me know if I can help you develop practices that are best for your climate. And, please, keep those affected by recent weather and natural events in your thoughts and prayers … and maintain your generous and caring sprit. We all never know just how close we ourselves may be to needing the help of a stranger.

todd Miller

has spent his entire career in the metal building products manufacturing industry. He is president of Isaiah Industries, an organization recognized as one of the world’s leading metal roofing manufacturers. Todd is currently Vice President of the MRA (Metal Roofing Association) and a Past Chair of MCA (Metal Construction Association). Through his website, he strives to raise the bar on standards and practices to provide property owners with the best possible products for successful roofing projects.

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