Category Archives: Homeowner Advice


alligatorHe knocked at the door at supper time. It was like an old time movie. A man in a trench coat, hat pulled down over his eyes. He flashed a badge in a leather wallet. ”Animal Control Division” he said, ”Mind if we look around?”

“We”, I puzzled? Nobody was with him. A black van was parked at the curb. I was nervous. Animal Control?

The dog has her tags, and her shots. And the cat, did he need tags too? And what about the gold fish?

He was looking me right in the eye. My thoughts flashed from hostility to confusion and anxiety.

“No, I don’t mind, ”I finally said. I felt temporary relief, making a positive decision and being a cooperative citizen. Temporary, because he immediately pulled a hand-held radio from his coat pocket and spoke into it. ”Let’s go!”

The back door of the van burst open, and four men rushed out, wearing black boots and black flack vests with ANIMAL CONTROL printed across the back. Two of them grabbed a ladder while the other two stood guard, chrome steel leashes in their hands. They ran to the house, threw the ladder against the flat roof and within seconds had scrambled up the ladder and out of sight.

I was numb with shock. I could hear boot steps and shuffling on the roof. Then, the radio crackled. ”We got ’em,” the voice from the roof said.

The man’s eyes never left my face. He put the radio back in his pocket, and pulled out a pair of hand cuffs. ”You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say …” he started reciting as he cuffed my wrists together.

“Wait, wait!” I yelled. ”You can’t do this to me. What did I do?”

I will never forget the word he spoke so casually, ”Alligators.”

Psst, Buddy, want a hot tip? Got a flat roof with hot tar roofing? Want to stay ahead of the law? Read on.

There are a lot of built-up hot-mop tar roofs around, on homes with low slope roof framing. Built-up, because several layers of light weight fiberglass sheets are cemented together with molten tar. Usually three layers of sheet felt are applied, with tar between. The bottom layer is nailed to the roof sheathing. Hot-mop, because the hot tar is spread around on the felt with a large mop.

Tar roofing is more waterproof than shingles, but is not guaranteed under standing water. The cheapest type of hot-mop is called flood coat. It is left with a layer of tar on top, exposed to the weather. This is a bad practice. A better roof is a cap sheet, where the tar is covered with a top layer of mineral-surfaced, rolled roofing. Also, gravel or volcanic rocks can be spread into the hot tar to protect it from the sun. Or, a reflective coating can be brushed on the exposed tar for protection.

Obviously, hot-mop is not a do-it-yourself project. It requires specialized equipment to melt the tar, and is dangerous. But maintenance of a hot-tar roof is critical to its long life, and this is where the homeowner comes in. You can buy a flood-coat roof job, and with a little work and material cost on your own, turn it into a better roof than a cap sheet.

Tar is a petroleum product. If you heat up heavy crude oil, the volatile hydrocarbons which make fuel oil, gasoline, jet fuel etc. evaporate off. Heat up a black, exposed hot-tar roof in the sun, and the same thing happens. The tar shrinks and cracks as it evaporates, like mud in a dried-up river bed. It’s called ”alligatoring”.

You may not get thrown in the slammer for an alligatored hot-tar roof, but you will get hit in the wallet. You save a few dollars with a exposed flood-coat tar roof, but pay in the long run. Unprotected flood-coat tar roofing will get you 10 to 15 years max. Cap sheet or flood coat with a maintained reflective coating will get you 20 years plus.

Spend more for a protective white mineral cap sheet. Or else, save on a flood-coat and allow it to weather for six months or so. This will etch the surface and remove surface oils. Then, you can paint on a layer of aluminum reflective coating, also known as mobile home coating. It works better than cap sheet. The silver color reflects better than white, and the roofing remains smooth, able to shed debris and resist moss growth. Wash the roof and repaint every five years or so when the coating starts to wear off, or whenever you paint your house.

If you already have a flood-coat tar roof, wash it down. Try TSP (trisodium phosphate) or Spic & Span detergent. After rinsing, use roof tape, a gauze-like reinforcing tape sold at lumber yards, and plastic roof cement, on large cracks and tears. Do not use rain patch, which has a solvent added to allow semi-adhesion on wet surfaces. Brush the cement into the surface with a stiff bristle brush to assure positive adhesion. Lay down a layer of tape over the cracks before troweling on a thicker top layer of cement. Then, brush on several layers of fiber-reinforced roof coating over worn or alligatored areas. Put on two coats at right angles to each other. Let newly coated areas sit exposed for several months. Then use a roller or brush to apply aluminum reflective coating over the entire roof.

There are fashion trends in the construction industry, just as elsewhere in modern society. An example is gravel top coats, where gravel or volcanic pumice is glued to the roof with a flood coat of tar. These were popular several decades ago. Straight out of California, and they probably work well down there. But up here on the Coast, with constant winter rain and trees everywhere, the gravel soon fills up with dirt, leaves, and needles, and eventually grows a fine crop of moss. The gravel washes into the gutters. And try and find a leak under a layer of gravel!

Another common feature on low-pitch roofs is the integral gutter. This is where the lower edge of the roof is curved back and up behind the fascia board (gutter board) to form a trough, with downspout outlets thru holes in the roof sheathing itself. There are no gutters on such a roof. This works fine for a while, and would work even better if the troughs were sloped to drain to the downspouts, or the troughs were made of copper or stainless steel flashing. But they seldom are, and water eventually collects in puddles, leaks start, and the sheathing rots. When we reroof one of these, we always cut off the trough and install real gutters.

Thanks for reading.Take care of your house. After all, a house is the largest investment most of us ever make.


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