After a Tree Falls

A raging storm has caused a tree limb to fall on your roof. Your first impulse is to climb up and check out the damage. But before you get the ladder, consider this: If something is heavy enough to damage asphalt and wood, think of what it can do to you. Exercise good judgment when deciding whether or not to call in a professional. If you aren't used to working from a ladder or going up on a roof, opt for the pro. Also call one in if your roof is steeply pitched. (Stay off the roof if the pitch is more than 4:12.) Otherwise, to remove the fallen limb safely, follow these tips: Inspect the underside of the roof from the attic. If the plywood sheathing or rafters are damaged, call your insurance agent — and a pro. If water is leaking in, lay boards across the ceiling joists to create a steady platform. Then place buckets, pans, or plastic sheeting to catch the leak. If the sheathing and rafters are sound and the roof is dry, put on your nonskid shoes and go up on the roof. Always work above the fallen limb; if it shifts or rolls you'll be out of the way. And be sure the ground below you is clear. Use long-handled pruning shears to cut off small branches. Then cut the main limb away in manageable chunks with a bow saw. Remember, it's the weight and rocking action of the saw, rather than its pressure, that do the work. Tread lightly and work carefully to avoid causing any further damage. Don't use a chain saw while on the ladder or roof. Chain saws should never be used where footing isn't firm and slip-free.

Once the limb is removed, inspect the shingles for damage. If you find any, keep water out with a temporary patch. That's what some homeowners in Florida did when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992; their efforts minimized water damage from the torrential rains that followed. To make a patch, cut a piece of aluminum flashing large enough to cover the damaged area and slip it up under the shingle course above. If roofing nails are in your way, remove them with a slotted pry bar or cut them off with a hacksaw blade. Keep the patch from slipping out by applying asphalt roofing cement to the area of the patch that slips beneath the undamaged shingles. Plastic sheeting can also make an effective temporary patch — the thicker the better — though it must be secured on all four sides. The best way to hold the plastic in place is to run a continuous bead of asphalt roofing cement around the area to be patched, then press the sheet into place. Or, secure the sheeting by nailing furring strips around the edges, but only as a last resort, because driving in the nails means more holes in the roof.
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