Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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Why are Flats Roofs Bad for Houston?

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I may bring up the idea of green homes a bit, but really the point is to build a home suitable for the climate. In other words, we should consider smart designs, not just green designs.

While standing on a roof during a home inspection, I looked across to the neighbor’s roof  where I found a real problem. Actually, I often check the roofs of nearby homes during my inspections, because it may give me clues to the home I am checking. I snapped a photgraph to share with you, so why not take a look.


    Flat roofs have a modernist look, so homes falling into that design style often rely on flat roofs. To be honest, flat roofs are not flat. They have a small pitch which directs water towards a gutter system (in most cases, there are homes that allow the water to roll off any edge). Being a fan of the Bauhaus movement and the developments in architecture since this style, I admire homes with flat roofs.

    To make our homes last, we have to consider the environment in which we are building, and Houston does receive its fair share of rain. What happened to the home above? Good question. The roof was probably designed to allow the water to roll off the edges to the pitched roof. Over time the framing or the sheathing began to sag, allowing the water to collect. Why is this bad? The material covering the roof will weaken, which gives the water a chance to penetrate this area. The framing of the roof can become damaged when this happens. You will be amazed to find how much water can go through a small hole during a long rain. The solution for this homeowner would be to replace the roof down to the framing. Rebuilding the roof will ensure that it will function properly.

    Homes in Houston are better served with roofs that have steep pitches. This design practice is beneficial in two ways. First, the steep pitch allows for water to roll off of the roof quickly. These pitches can help the roof covering last longer, since the water and debris, like leaves, cannot stay on the roof surface to cause damage. Second, a steep roof slope creates a large attic space. Great more storage, you may be thinking. That is not the case. The higher attic will provide space for the heat to rise away from your air conditioning system and the parts making up your ceilings. Your attic still will not be cool, but every little bit helps for energy efficiency.

   What kind of roof style would fit on a contemporary style home, that would be good in the Houston environment? I have see a few contemporary homes which use the “shed roof” to good effect. A shed roof is high at one end of the home, and low on the other end of the home. Imagine a right triangle. The “butterfly roof” is used on commercial buildings, but I cannot recall seeing one on a residence in Houston. Imagine a V shaped roof. Typically, one leg of the V will be shorter than the other leg. The water will collect in the valley, so this has to be sloped well to drain off the rain. For a little flair, maybe a “mansard roof” could work. These are roofs with two different slopes. In the middle of the roof, you have a high pitched roof that comes down to a roof with a lower pitch. This could be used on some contemporary homes for a unique look, and it does help with the factors in the Houston environment to a degree.

   What do you need to consider when planning to change your home to a more appropriate roof for the climate? If you are looking to keep the contemporary feel, play with the roof styles to see what might work with your home’s design. The conversions of flat roofs that I have seen changed the style of the home away from contemporary to a more traditional look, by going with a standard hip or gable roof. Having an architect advise you may not be bad, because you might want some other changes made, like moving the water heater and air conditioning unit into the attic to free up space for other things. Once you have the style of roof, you will want to consult with a structural engineer to find out if your house can handle the new stresses being placed upon it. Lastly, you will have to find a contractor to build the roof. Hopefully the architect or engineer will have suggestions for you. This is not a do it yourself project. Installing a porch roof can be, maybe even putting new shingles on your roof could be for the determined homeowner, but this takes a little more expertise.

   Building to fit the environment is a grren choice; however, it is more importantly a smart choice which will make the maintenance easier and the home last longer.

« « Improving Doors to the Attic| How to Find a Green Home Houston! » »

2 Responses to “Why are Flats Roofs Bad for Houston?”

  1. There are many different areas where your roof can leak. I always felt it is important to isolate the problem area and get it fixed as soon as possible. Remember, it is important to have regular roof inspections done to ensure its integrity isn’t compromised.

  2. Well, I do roof inspections, so yes, I would like people to have regular inspections performed. 😉 I think for many homeowners the discovery that there is a roof leak only comes with seeing water stains on their ceilings. Sometimes the damage may not be so easily noticeable.

© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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