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Building flashing home page:
This article describes the use of flashing on buildings to prevent leaks, to seal between intersecting building sections or components.
We explain the basic principles of building flashing: why flashing succeeds or fails, and we list the types of flashing materials used on buildings. By links to additional articles on specific building flashing procedures we provide detals about how best to install flashing at all building areas where it is used: foundation, walls, windows, doors, roofs, and roof penetrations such as chimneys & plumbing vents.
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The consequences of a flashing error or omission on a building can cause serious building damage and even injuries or health problems as water intrusion eventually means costly mold contamination, building rot, building insect damage, and in extreme cases collapse of portions of a structure. Bad deck flashing, for example, has been the cause of more than one deck collapse.
At left we show a plumbing vent stack flashing properly installed on an asphalt shingle roof.
Common Flashing Problem Areas or Mistakes
When we trace leaks on buildings to flashing errors it is often remarkable to see where & how the installer forgot a few basic concepts that explain the use and success or failure of using flashing materials to protect a building against leaks.
Flashing is supposed to redirect water: flashing refers to the use of a material (metal, rubber, plastic, for example) to mechanically intercept water and redirect it back out to the building interior instead of permitting the water to enter the building structure
Water flows down hill: mostly. So if flashing is improperly positioned, say with an opening facing "up-slope" into the direction from which water originates, it's going to leak.
Top Ten Flashing Fantasies We Find on Buildings
Flashing Fantasy No. 1: the bigger the blob the better the job
Why we cannot rely on roof flashing cement as a durable repair is illustrated in our photo at left. "The bigger the blob the better the job" does not hold true in this case.
Consider that we have multiple materials all installed in the same spot: roof framing, perhaps 2x10 SPF rafters, plywood or OSB roof sheathing, roofing felt underlayment, roof shingles, perhaps metal valley flashing (not visible here), and then a smear of flashing cement that the repair person fantisized would keep the roof from leaksing.
The variatiion in thermal expansion properties alone could explain why the roof materials tear apart when exposed to cycling sun and temperature changes.
Add the effects of weather and drying out of the flexible components of the roofing mastic or cement and it becomes obvious that reliance on coatings to seal roof component intersections is not going to be reliable. That's why instead we rely on flashing products that, properly installed, handle thermal movements without tearing and leaking. Also
Liquid roof Flashing Installation Details
Technical note: there are indeed "liquid flashing products" such as Firestone's UltraFlash™ system used on modified bitumen & built-up roof installations. These commercial roof flashing approaches are not simply a liquid or mastic application however.
This photo illustrates a different sort of use of flashing at the building foundation: as a termite shield.
Termite shields don't guarantee that termites won't enter the building; rather the shield makes it a little more difficult for the termites to get into the wood structure and forces them to build mud tubes on the inside or outside of the foundation wall where, in theory, somone can notice their presence.
In this installation, where visual access was inconvenient, the termites simply built mud tubes around the termite shield and entered the buidling unobserved - because nobody troubled to look for them in this awkward area.
Flashing at the building foundation top or between the masonry foundation wall top and the wood sill placed atop the wall is is installed also as a damp-proofing course to stop rising damp in some climates.
Flashing fantasy No. 3: half a (flashing) loaf is as good as a whole
This photo illustrates a common fantasy about step flashing: that we can just tack the flashing upper end to the building side wall and imagine that it will never rain, or that wind-blown rain will never strike the wall and run down behind the upper edge of the flashing.
Counter flashing let into the side of the building wall is what's required.
Why was it omitted here? Probably because of the technical difficulty of cutting counter flashing into the surface of an undulating log wall.
But just tacking flashing against the wall is about as unreliable as pasting a bead of caulk or sealing behind the upper edge of the step flashing -this is not a leak-proof, durable installation.
Flashing fantasy No. 4: longer flashing is better
Flashing in a roof valley with nice looking copper or aluminum is so satisfying - wouldn't it be best to make one giant long piece - after all that elimninates joints. Leaks happen at the joints, right?
Well sort-of. But a too-long copper or aluminum valley flashing segment cycles between hot and cold temperatures, flexes, and eventually cracks as these photographs make plain.
Flashing fantasy No. 5: improvised wall flashing materials are fun and profitable
This photo (above) shows asphalt roof shingles caulked to the building side wall in the role of counterflashing. Will this work? Well yes. Our written warranty would be:
This roof is guaranteed not to leak before our truck leaves the end of your driveway.
Flashing fantasy No. 6: we can just leave the old roof -wall flashing in place when re-roofing
First off the length of flashing extending out from the sidewall in this photo is about one-inch: a tiny fraction of what's required.
Second off, the old roof flashing is bent-upwards so if the roof slopes even a teeny bit towards the building wall, or if wind blows rain in that direction, water will run underneath the flashing.
Third off: the new asphalt roof shingles rarely line up exactly with the stepped flashing of the prior roof.
Whatever was he thinking?
Flashing fantasy No. 7: if flashing sticks up, we can just nail the buggers down!
But every nail puncture through the on-roof flashing is a leak spot, especially in climates where wet snow may end up sitting on the roof surface.
If you are going to go ahead and nail your flashing anyhow, a blob of roof sealant or silicone underneath the flashing at the nail point and atop the nail head on the flashing will at least keep the nailed-flashing from leaking before your truck leaves the end of the driveway.
[ I confess ... I've done this.]
Flashing fantasy No. 8: roof flashing is optional - who needs it anyhow? I mean, isn't the roof supposed to keep the water out?
Our friend Herschel was told by his roofer, the low bidder on the job, that flashing was extra.
So Herschel said "optional?
I don't pay for optional. Leave it off" he ejaculated.
Grinning, the roofer had Herschel sign the contract.
When it rained the roof leaked around the roof chimneys, plumbing vents, valleys, and roof-sidewall abutments.
The attic was a soak-pit. Hell, nobody goes into the attic anyhow. Who cares?
Flashing fantasy No. 9: Vinyl siding is waterproof, right?
Why should we need flashing around windows and doors? I mean, vinyl is obviouslyh waterproof, right?
No. Vinyl siding is not a water barrier on buildings.
Flashing fantasy No. 10: heck no water goes there anyway, right?
I don't see why we need flashing at the deck ledger board. I mean after all, it's all outdoors anyhow. Water just runs off the deck, right?
No. The deck will rot and collapse as will the wall and ceiling of your finished room below it.
More Roof Flashing Fantasies: No. 11 - The Chimney is usually high on the roof so we don't need to worry about leaks or chimney flashing there, right?
I don't see why we need flashing at the chimney. I mean, after all, it's up there high on the roof, right?
As you can see in our photo above, this chimney is at the lower edge of the roof where the total volume of water runoff is greatest; worse, this chimney, discussed
Lots of chimneys exit to the building outside low on the roof not just at the ridge. Our photo shows a chimney next to the roof drain on a low slope building where leaks were recurrent - as discussed
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