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Help me out here---but doesn’t this seem just plain wrong?

     In 1972 I had not yet built my first “real” house.  I had up to that point fooled around with various tree houses, underground forts and Ferro-cement domes.  It was not until 1976 that I designed and built one of the first passive solar houses in Upstate New York.  I get thinking about these roots whenever I encounter a house built around those early years.  Of course the tree houses and underground forts go back to the 50’s while the Ferro-cement domes entered the picture around 1971.

     The other day I inspected a house built around 1972 with perhaps the most unusual roof-window installations I have ever seen or imagined.  I am completely baffled that these structures have not created massive problems for the roof structure over the years. 

Tar Glazing

     One can see that the excessive tar built-up over the single pane glass and old style jalousie windows in an attempt to create a dam against flooding of the roof.  And trust me----this roof floods.  At the time of inspection there were large amounts of water on the roof due to plugged roof drains and sagging roof structure.

I better reflect on this for a while

     My buyer asked me why anyone would build with flat roofs.

     Good question----with no good answer, except to say that it is a matter of “architectural design.”  Of course one could always talk about saving materials and cheaper roof structure----but this does not take into account the costs of additional roof coverings necessary over the same period of time as a better type of roof, additional maintenance costs, higher heating and cooling costs, and probably other negative aspects.

     Of course some people insist on having a “lake view.”

Lake view property

     That said, modern flat roofs can be done better than they were in 1972-----with proper insulation, proper slopes and good drainage----they still require more maintenance and have shorter life spans----but some of the coverings are getting quite good.  Some of the newer PVC roof coverings will last longer than cheapo 3-tab shingles----so I guess that is a good thing.  In my opinion any roof surface not designed to last a hundred years is a poor choice---but what do I know.

 

Charles Buell

 

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Seattle Home Inspector

 

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Comment balloon 35 commentsCharles Buell • April 20 2010 05:08PM

Comments

What a nightmare.  I hate flat roofs to Charles.

Posted by Vic Steele, Broker/Consultant (Vic Steele, Broker CA BRE 01349863) about 8 years ago

Hi Charles...What do you know?  Plenty.  That's why I love to read your blog. 

I wonder if this house has ever had a home inspection done before.  Surprising that it has stayed this way for so many years.  No "lake view" would be worth this potential problem.

Kate

Posted by Kate Elim, Realtor 540-226-1964, Selling Homes & Land a (Dockside Realty) about 8 years ago

Charles...

Flat roofs are indeed a maintenance nightmare! Interesting photos.

Posted by Richard Weisser, Richard Weisser Retired Real Estate Professional (Richard Weisser Realty) about 8 years ago

Vic---you are not thinking "job security" :)

Kate, thanks----and there was very little staining at the interior---and no signs of "major" repairs.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Richard, it is really hard to understand why they are so popular given the amount of problems.  I know in some instances it is away to max out height limitations.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Charles, interesting post.  Who in there right mind would want a flat roof  :)  not me as I do not want a water view like the one shown in your photo.

Posted by Rebecca Gaujot, Realtor®, Lewisburg WV, the go to agent for all real estate (Perry Wellington Realty, Adam Conrad, Broker) about 8 years ago

Very interesting Richard, You seem to have a knack for coming upon the most unusual inspection issues. Never a dull moment ;-)

Posted by John Thomas, EcoBroker, MSEE, MBA (E3 Green HOMES) about 8 years ago

Rebecca, there sure are a lot of them----someone must like them

John, no one has ever called me Richard before :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

I don't think I would want to have to climb on the roof for my waterview. With the winter we had flat roofs took a beating and were a good reminder of why you wouldn't want one.

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) about 8 years ago

Yo Charlie,

      There is a good argument here for a catfish farm.  They already have the lake.  I once saved two dozen live catfish in my master bedroom bathtub, until my wife blew a gasket.  She didn't understand the aesthetic or culinary value of fresh fish.  But I think it might work here.

Steven Allmann, Home Inspector (Allmann Home Inspection Services)

Posted by Steven H. Allmann, Home Inspection Services (Allmann Home Inspection Services) about 8 years ago

All you need is a fishing pole and you could catch some fish..

Posted by Robert L. Brown, Grand Rapids Real Estate Bellabay Realty, West Mic (www.mrbrownsellsgr.com) about 8 years ago

A roof-top swimming pool is a great feature! ;)

Posted by Richard Strahm, Lansdale and North Penn Real Estate (RE/MAX Realty Group - Lansdale, PA) about 8 years ago

Flat roofs like that show up because of additions. There is no where else for the sloped roof to go so, for at least half the cost of a gabled roof over the addition, they just go flat. It's a cost thing. The oner is not going to live 100 years, so why bother.

Posted by Glenn Roberts (Retired) about 8 years ago

They seem to have been lucky so far ... but one good rainy season could lead to disaster. If I were the buyer, I'd want a credit at closing to fix the drainage issue.

Posted by John Novak, Henderson, Las Vegas and Summerlin Real Estate (Keller Williams Realty The Marketplace) about 8 years ago

Hi Charles ~ We've got lots of flat roofs here - on top of triple-deckers. There's a slight slope and a main drain in the middle that goes down through the house to the sewer system. Love that second photo in particular - it looks like a really nice rooftop pool.

Liz

Posted by Elizabeth Bolton, Cambridge MA Realtor (RE/MAX Destiny Real Estate Cambridge, MA) about 8 years ago

Steve, I have seen some jetted tubs that a few cat fish would have loved

Robert---maybe so

Richard---it would be better for skimming stones I think

Glenn that does for sure happen----in this case this is the way it was built

John, 38 years is pretty good "history"

Liz---flat roofs are very common all over the country

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Cindy, sorry didn't mean to miss you but now you have all my attention :)

We don't have much problem with snow loads out here, but when you think about it 4" of water weights more than 40" of snow in most cases.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Mr Charles,

I fail to see an issue here.

Nutsy

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 8 years ago

 

What's the prob? Nice reflecting pool. Kinda reminds me of the Taj...

 

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) about 8 years ago

Without mentioning the obvious problems that can arise from that much water on the roof, it's also a mosquito breeding ground!

If the owner is an entomologist, I don't see any issues here!

Posted by Craig Rutman, Raleigh, Cary, Apex area Realtor (Helping people in transition) about 8 years ago

It looks like that roof is holding a huge amount of additional weight. I wouldn't want to be around when it finally fails.

Posted by Mark Hall, Homes for Sale Vancouver Washington (Elite Realty NW - Keller Williams, Vancouver Washington) about 8 years ago

Nutsy and why does that not surprise me

Michael, it is a nice reflecting pool

Craig----believe it or not but we don't have mosquitoes here :)

Mark, this roof with such a low curb will merely create waterfalls----it likely would not break.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Charles - You do get to do some interesting inspections.  If everything were "normal" we'd all have to look elsewhere for our daily dose of, "Now why would they do it that way?"

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru (TheHousingGuru.com) about 8 years ago

Wow!~ what a mess, Charles. Sometimes a lake view isn't all it's cracked up to be....

Posted by Debi Boucher, "Realtor Showcase" - Real Estate Photography/Virtual Tours ( Real Estate Showcase Photography) about 8 years ago

I commented on this yesterday and today see that it got sucked out into cyber space.

On my son's first trip to Iraq (he left again for his third, all expenses paid!) he sent me a picture of a yucky, brown, muddy puddle the Iraqis called a "lake" near the fence to his base.  He titled it, "Water View."

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 8 years ago

John---I just make it all up :)

Debi---for sure

Jay he better be careful with his "water view."

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

It's Afghanistan this time and I don't think they have any water there.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 8 years ago

Mr Charles,

Does anybody need to be rescued.

Nutsy

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 8 years ago

Jay---not very much I hear

Nutsy---you

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Hi Frank, This roof design looked famliar. Years ago I saw a home with a similar set up. No Jalousie window but the raised roof covered an enclosed patio ( said to have been built to code but turned it wasn't  permitted and certainly not to anyone's code that the city ever heard of). The long and short was that the flat roof would leak and the windows ( which were not atually flashed, created a flood in the family room when it rained( enclosed patio ).

Posted by William Johnson, San Diego Real Estate Voice, GRI CRS e-Pro CDPE (RE/MAX Associates) about 8 years ago

William, frankly----who's Frank?  :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Hi Charles,

Got me! I was on the phone with Frank , a painter. My apologies for not catching that, :-)

Posted by William Johnson, San Diego Real Estate Voice, GRI CRS e-Pro CDPE (RE/MAX Associates) about 8 years ago

William---no problem----it happens

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

"In my opinion any roof surface not designed to last a hundred years is a poor choice---but what do I know."

You must be unfamiliar with the new manufacturing ideals of last century, planned obsolescence makes the economy go round. :)

I was on the edge of a flat roof, never a good place to be, the other day myself. The surface, I was vociferously informed, had been redone 5 years before. Well it needed some more redoing! Flat roofs do not last. And one other thing, flat roofs should be done by experienced commercial roofers, residential companies often make them worse.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 8 years ago

Jim, planned obsolescence is arguably one of the worst features of capitalism.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

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