Roofing Tips: Securing Your Skylights

Today, on In the House, Jim helps a listener with his leaky skylights. Learn about skylight maintenance and roof repair as they explore this common issue.

Jim: This morning we are talking with Al who has a question about leaking skylights in his pitched roof. Good morning, Al. How are you?

Al: I'm fine, thanks. I have four skylights on my roof, and they're all leaking. When it rains with any significance, they leak pretty much. I got up there the other day, and there's a bit of debris piled up on the side of the skylights; they're flat on every side. I moved the debris away, and there's about an inch between the bottom of the skylight frame and the roof itself, so I cleaned all under them. You can see that the traditional shingles are ... well, I could see where water could get in there. I was wondering if I could just put some kind of compound in there to patch the leak to avoid a costly repair. You think that would work?

Jim: I’ll need to ask you a couple of questions, because there are several different types of skylights. How old is the roof roughly? And when you're up there, do you see a metal flashing?

Al: No. I really don't.  I'd say the roof is about 15-20 years old.

Jim: So it is getting near the end of it's life. It's probably not good news to hear, but here in Florida, 20 years on a roof is pretty good. If you do everything right, you can get longer than that, but 20 years is about the standard - especially if it's just a traditional 3-tab shingle or something like that. The other question is ... how steep is the roof; is it a real steep roof or pretty low pitched?

Al: It’s pretty steep, it's dangerous to walk on... I'd say for every foot, it drops about 7 or 8 inches.

Jim: Okay, that would actually qualify as a steep roof. Is the dome part of the skylight plastic or glass?

Al: I'd say it's plastic.

Jim: Okay. All those things pretty much add up to a leaking skylight. To answer your question about putting a compound on there… if you got it good and clean and applied the compound down in there pretty liberally, it could help for a while. I would definitely consider that a temporary patch, but it might buy you some time. I'm very much a do-it-yourselfer, but obviously, you should be very careful on the roof; be safe if you are doing this yourself. You probably don't want to opt for getting a roof repair done now when you may be replacing your roof in just a couple of years. Right now, you're at the “buying time” stage anyway of your roof. I would definitely give it a good liberal dose of roofing cement; it's not a true fix, but it could buy you the time that you need in order to get ready for your roof to be replaced.

Al: Okay. You confirmed my thoughts. Any particular product you recommend?

Jim: If you just go to one of the big box stores, don't get the cheapest one because that does not adhere very well. We get ours from a distributor, I don’t recall the brand, but it's in a silver tube in the roofing section, not in the caulking section. I recommend getting it already in the caulking tube; it's a bit more expensive that way, but it's way cleaner and much neater because you can force it down in the areas where you need it to go.

Al: Okay, thanks so much.

Jim: You're welcome. Good luck with that project; hopefully that will buy you just enough time to where you can save up and get in position to replace the roof. It's never fun to replace a roof, but it's part of owning a home, and it's part of living in Florida for sure.

It's interesting when you think about roofs in Florida. Of course, the vast majority of roofs are shingle roofs. Shingle roofs are asphalt-based, and so they do degrade over time. There's no way to avoid it. It's a great product. I like shingle roofs, and of course, there are different grades of shingles. They have improved them quite a bit over the last 20 years. They have lightened the weight of shingles, as well as increased the strength. That's always good to be able to do that when you can do that - lighten the load on your roof, as well as make the shingles stronger. They've done that by adding fiberglass matting and improving that matting over the years, decreasing the amount of petroleum-based product that they put in there. They've also improved things like the granules where they have a copper base inside them, or they're permeated with copper so that algae and fungicides won't grow on them. This will also extend the life of your roof.

A skylight is basically just a big hole in your roof. There's no way around it. I like them. It's great to have natural light, but it is definitely one of those things you need to keep an eye on. If there is potential for the debris to build up, or it's near a valley or there's anything strange about it, you definitely want to watch it. Most of the time you can just take a look up from inside your house and see if there are any water stains in the corners. If you do feel comfortable and your roof is safe, then you can get up there once a year and make sure there's no debris behind your skylights, and make sure they're cleaned out. Be extra cautious, or have a professional do it for you.

Read more about roofing and skylight repair on our website. Listen Saturday mornings to "In the House". Get more Home Tips and show info at the In the House website. For a free inspection and estimate on your next Home Improvement Project, visit Universal Roof & Contracting or call now. Orlando: 407-295-7403 Jacksonville: 904-647-3907.

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