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Left unattended, water infiltration will result in frustrating and expensive problems.  Even the most experienced historic building owners and caretakers can be confounded, when it comes to discovering and correcting leak sources.  And unfortunately, too many self-serving designers and contractors exploit unsuspecting historic property owners, by introducing complex schemes that use inferior techniques and materials which inevitably lead to more expensive repairs. Who can you really trust for clear and concise guidance?

Do we need to replace our roof?

Waters Craftsmen is often called to investigate persistent water infiltration problems, normally, after the owner has suffered unsuccessful repeated attempts by contractors to rectify the situation.  And typically, we discover the original problem was never addressed.

Historic roofs tend to be in good condition, the failures, such as they are have a propensity to occur at adjoins, i.e. were the roof intersects with a wall, parapet, valley, gutter, dormer, or other adjacent structure.  These areas are the first to degrade over time, because they consist of bends or joints that simply fail after seventy or eighty years of service…or sooner, after unqualified maintenance or repairs exasperate problems.  During our routine inspections, we often find these areas have been randomly coated with tar or caulking, thus literally masking the root cause.  In more extreme cases where metal flashing meets the stone or masonry, the caulk or tar pulls loose from the softer gritty brick or stone, and forms a funnel that channels water into the structure, compounding the problem even further.

Unwary historic property owners are persuaded to tear off the entire historic slate, or copper roof that still has years of functional use and replace it with an inferior composite system, only to learn after the fact, the original flashing was the problem. Unfortunately this scenario is not rare.  Conversely, Waters Craftsmen can pinpoint the exact source of the problem, and like a surgeon, remove failing components, leaving the majority of original fabric intact for future generations.  Our method not only saves you huge sums of money, it preserves the historic structure’s material and character.

Can we patch our historic copper or slate roof with modern materials?

Yes!  But it will require more time to repair, increase costs during routine maintenance, and reduce the functional life compared to traditional slate or copper.

For centuries, masonry, metal, wood and glass have been combined using time-tested methods that provide generations of useful service.  Divergence from these proven techniques, using modern practices and material in the restoration of historic structures, can do more harm than good.

Copper and slate roofs can be correctly repaired and the source of leaks located, provided no modern refurbishing techniques or materials have been applied over the original material.  However, once a gutter, flashing, or valley is coated with mastic waterproofing material, it becomes nearly impossible to reveal the leak.  Furthermore, after tar or goop is applied, re-soldering joints is no longer an option.  I have also seen repairs done using the wrong type of slate…or, the replacement is improperly installed, thus creating weak points which shorten roof life.  It only takes one corroded slate fastener to set in motion a chain of events leading to leaks, which eventually rots the supporting wood frame.  From there, infiltration causes plaster damage to ceilings and walls, and in some cases structural failures.  Non-adherence to proven sound methods can greatly reduce the longevity of your roof.  Small “savings” by using modern material and methods may appear enticing, but choosing a quick-fix route will more likely lead to enormous replacement costs when problems begin to manifest and multiply, as a result using the wrong approach.

Determining whether or not your gutters are functioning properly is a good first step if you are experiencing water infiltration problems. It may seem trivial, but the position of the gutter in relation to the edge of the roof is key in properly channeling water away from the building. There is no set standard for gutter placement, as each situation is different and things like roof dimensions, pitch and type of gutter must be taken into account. For most normal situations involving a hanging gutter system, it is important that the gutter be positioned far enough below the roof line so as to allow ice and snow to slide off of the roof without causing damage to the gutter. The angle of the gutter in relation to the soffit is also important. If the gutter is tilted in toward the building, water will over flow and spill out the backside of the gutter during a heavy rain, soaking the wood soffit and walls below. Do the gutters have sufficient fall? In other words, are the gutters hung in a way that gradually channels water downhill toward downspouts? Do your gutters overflow frequently? To few downspouts or undersized gutters will not channel water fast enough during a heavy rain. This will most certainly lead to more costly water infiltration issues.


Do you have water coming in around the windows?

Do you have an inlaid gutter system, do the gutter sit directly on top of the wall? If so your water infiltration problems could be the result of leaky gutters.  Any water that penetrates the gutter system leaks directly into the wall. On most historic buildings there is a cavity between the outer layer of brick or stone and the inner layer of plaster or interior wall finish. Any water that enters at the top of the wall through an opening in the gutter or parapet will run down inside the wall where it strikes the window header which is the first thing the penetrates through the wall. Once it strikes the window header it runs down along the window jamb where it strikes the sill. This is why we get a lot of calls from people thinking that they have a window problem when they actually have a gutter or parapet problem.

Do you have leaky downspouts?

Sometimes as water drains out of a downspout the pressure that builds up can cause a small leak to spray water onto the surrounding wall where it can cause a multitude of problems. Once the water strikes the masonry it can saturate the wall, freeze and crack the masonry or cause the formation of salt that will eventually cause the masonry to crack. If your gutters are blocked with leaves they can over flow from the back of the gutter and into the soffit where the water can cause a multitude of problems.

Historic property owners are faced with making tough decisions when it comes time to repair or replace their existing gutter system. Cost is usually the determining factor when choosing a company to do the work and the lower the better, right? In some instances yes, but if you want to stay well ahead of the maintenance curve and guarantee a worry free solution for the next 40, 80 or 100 years, it is wise to question the means and methods of who you choose to do the work. There are A LOT of gutter contractors out there that do very well installing and maintaining modern gutter systems on commercial and residential buildings. This does not mean that they are qualified to repair or install a hand crafted, custom copper gutter designed specifically for your historic building.


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