By the Carey Brothers, Syndicated Columnists

With wet weather on the way in many parts of the country, now is the time to inspect your roof.

A roof leak can result in significant damage to insulation, walls, ceilings, flooring and personal property. If undetected, a leak can cause rot that will endanger the structural integrity of the roof framing system and cause costly repairs.

The larger the leak, the greater the damage; however, we once found pinhole leak in galvanized sheet metal roof flashing that ruined an entire bathroom during a single storm.

According to the National Roofing Contractors Association, a roof should be inspected at least twice annually — once in the fall before the rains and again in the late spring to determine how it fared during the winter.

Most homeowners can inspect a roof for trouble areas and can make the required repairs. If you have a fear of heights or otherwise feel uneasy about attempting such a project, many professional roofing companies will provide a free inspection and provide a written estimate.

You can also use binoculars for a closer look. It’s a good idea to limit traffic on the roof to prevent damage to shingles or tiles.

Look for loose shingles or shakes, or, if you have a tile or slate roof, check for missing or cracked pieces. On shingle roofs, look for curling, fraying and tears at the edges. Check the flashings around chimneys, vents, skylights and other roof penetrations. They should be tight and in good condition.

Maintaining good roof flashings, especially those at roof edges and penetrations, is crucial. Many roof leaks are actually flashing leaks.

Leaves, pine needles and other debris inhibit the roof’s ability to properly shed water, and are the cause of water backing up between shingles or around flashings. Clogged gutters and downspouts is another cause of leaks. It is important to clear sticks, leaves, tennis balls and other debris from drains, scuppers and gutters at least yearly.

Sometimes a visual inspection of the roof isn’t enough. A water test may be in order. You’ll need to venture atop the roof to do this effectively. Use a firmly braced or tied-off ladder equipped with rubber safety feet and wear rubber-soled shoes to avoid slipping.

Using a garden hose, run water onto the areas where a leak is most likely. For example, if there is a water stain on the ceiling just in front of the fireplace in the living room you’ll want to concentrate on that general area. The chimney flashing may be the culprit in this case and a water test is sure to expose it.

It’s useful to have a helper in the attic who can readily detect where the water is making its way through the roof. Work your way up from the lowest part of the slope, tackling one area at a time and working on a dry surface.

Sometimes a dab of roofing adhesive, a touch of caulking or a small shingle patch is all that’s required. Other times flashing, vents or sections of roofing must be torn out and replaced, in which case hiring a roofing professional would be wise.

If your roof is 15 years or older or has leaked periodically, its condition should be evaluated once annually by a roofing contractor. A new roof should be considered to preserve the integrity of the home.

If you decide to install a new roof, there are two alternatives: recovering (installing a new roof over the existing one) or replacement.

While some building codes will allow the application of up to three layers of roofing, we recommend that all existing roof cover be torn off before the new roof is installed.

Frequently the roof sheathing or wood decking below the roof cover is rotting. The only way to effectively inspect and repair this damage is by removing all of the existing roof cover.

Having the roof sheathing exposed is a prime opportunity to look for protruding nailheads that can damage roofing and become the source of future leaks.

Another disadvantage to multiple layers of roofing is the weight that is placed upon the roof structure.
When selecting a contractor follow these guidelines:

Ask friends and neighbors for the names of contractors they would recommend.
Be sure the contractor has a permanent business address and phone number.
Be sure the contractor is licensed (where required) and check with the licensing agency to check the status of the license.
Get three to four written estimates.
Call your local Better Business Bureau to find out if there are any complaints on file.
Ask for a list of customer references and take the time to check them out.
Be certain the contractor carries liability and worker’s compensation insurance. Ask for certificates of insurance.
Insist on a warranty for materials and workmanship, and at contract time, get it in writing.
Be sure everything is in writing: scope of work, materials, warranties, price and start and completion dates.