Just how bad is this water damage?
September 8, 2012 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Just how bad is this water damage a roofing contractor caused to my house? And what should I do about it?

When hired to replaced my hail-damaged (but note: NOT LEAKING) roof, the contractor replaced all of the shingles but failed to replace 4 of the 6 vents on my roof.

The shingles and all of the vents were significantly damaged by the storm. My home insurance company had agreed to pay me to replace 4 vents (claiming the damage to the other 2 was cosmetic and would not affect function). The work order I'd signed with the roofing company said that they would replace those 4 that the insurance company had approved and also anything else on the roof that turned out to be more damaged than the initial insurance inspection had revealed. Verbally I was told by the business manager that all six of the vents would be replaced, and that they would argue with the insurance company to try to get payment for the other two (which pretty clearly also needed to go).

Instead, the roofers replaced two vents, pulled the rest of the hail-damaged vents off, painted them, and put them back under the new shingles. I noticed this problem immediately upon looking at the newly "finished" roof and asked the business manager about it the same day the roof was done, and he said, and I quote, "When the crew got up there they looked at your vents and decided they were not really in bad shape. And we need to save ourselves money wherever we can in a business like this. Anyway you're better off with old vents like yours -- they don't make them like they used to."

As you might imagine I was less than satisfied with his response. But since the rest of the roof looked all right, I didn't feel like getting into a huge fight over it. My husband and I decided that we would tell the insurance company the vents had not been replaced, either replace the remaining vents ourselves hire someone else to replace them, and take the cost for replacing the non-replaced vents out of the amount we still owed the contractor.

Then, a couple of weeks later, before we had done anything about the vents, it rained, hard.

And my brand new roof leaked, HARD. Cups of water cascading over my kitchen cabinets and onto my stove. Water staining across several feet of my kitchen ceiling. Water raining down from my bathroom fan and pooling on the floor.

I will not tell you the whole sordid saga of me calling this company again and again for weeks, and having them come out again and again (late every time, sometimes by several hours, once without a ladder or a flashlight or a tarp) and putter around with caulk, and say that the problem had been fixed, only for me to discover that it had not, in fact, been fixed, the very next time it rained. Suffice to say that the problem was eventually traced to not just one but two leaks -- coming from the flashing around two of the non-replaced vents.

The vents, I repeat, had NOT been leaking, at all, after the initial hail storm damage. In fact the roof has never leaked at all in the five years we have owned this home -- and we did of course check carefully for leaks after the hail storm. The leaks only started after the contractor touched my roof.

So now the contractor has finally fully replaced one of the newly-leaking old vents, and replaced key parts of the other. After our latest heavy rain this week, I think the roof leak is finally fixed.

But I'm left with this water damage to the ceiling in my bathroom and my kitchen.

The damage in my bathroom was significant enough that my bathroom fan rusted and started sinking through the drywall. We finally just took it down, and now have a gaping hole where the fan once was, with crumbling drywall around it.

The damage to my kitchen that I can see does not look as bad. There are watermarks along about 8 feet of soffit and 10 feet of ceiling that abuts the soffit, and a few small dimpled cracks elsewhere in the ceiling a few feet away from the main stains. Of course, I cannot see what's hidden by the (solid wood) cabinets that I discovered water flowing over. But in the damaged ceiling parts I can see, the drywall at least still feels pretty solid -- not crumbly or warped despite the staining.

The contractor has said that he will "make it right" by painting over the visible damage in the kitchen with stainblock white paint and installing a new fan (which I had already bought, so he's not even paying for that) in the bathroom, and spackling / painting around it, possibly replacing some of the drywall immediately around the hole (but not the whole ceiling).

I told him I was even more concerned about non-visible damage -- to the back side of the drywall, to the tops of my cabinets, to my fiberglass attic insulation, etc. My attic is unfinished and the insulation likely received a fair soaking given how far the water had to travel from the source of the leaks to come out where it did in the kitchen. I'm worried about potential mold problems, and think that perhaps the insulation may need to be replaced.

The roof leaked visibly during every heavy rain for a month -- three major storms, including one (Hurricane Isaac's remnants) that lasted most of Labor Day weekend. The holes the leaks were coming from were small but we have recently gotten A LOT of rain.

The roofer claims the leaks had not been going on long enough to do significant damage or cause a mold problem. I don't believe him, because he's already proven himself to be a corner-cutter, and he has no financial incentive to be honest with me. Who is right?

(YANMHandyperson. I do, of course, plan to spend the next week getting estimates from actual construction contractors who are NOT this tool who broke my pretty house, but given my luck with contractors recently I thought I would try the green for general advice, too.)
posted by BlueJae to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
Get a lawyer. It sounds like there is a lot of damage and both your contractor and your own insurance company are giving you static. Lawyer up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:59 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you're going to have to rely on local contractors, since we can't see or assess the damage. The insulation could be an issue, especially if you've got blown-in cellulose which might not only mold but also compact when wet and become permanently less effective. Fiberglass can dry out and be fine if it's not wet for a long time. Drywall that gets slightly dampened and then quickly dries out isn't necessarily ruined, but it's not worth trying to save it if it's at all questionable; drywall is cheap if you're not penny-pinching to a fault as your last contractor seems to be doing.

I suggest you have another roofing company (one with an excellent reputation) inspect the vents. The first roofers clearly were neither honest nor competent, and may have "fixed" the leaks in a slapdash way that will fail prematurely.

On preview, I agree that a conversation with a lawyer is in order.
posted by jon1270 at 6:06 PM on September 8, 2012

Response by poster: Just a note re: contractors with excellent reputations: I left it out because my question was already long, but I did check this roofing contractor out before hiring. There were no complaints against them on Angie's List or the BBB; they had a nice website, a business license, insurance, professional materials, a reasonable contract, etc.

This is the actually second time since I've bought this house that I've had a contractor who I checked out beforehand totally fail at a major home repair and then wig out on fixing it. If anyone can recommend to me an honest STL-area contractor to call to take a look at this, I'd be happy, but I'm really nervous about trusting contractors at this point since the usual reliability checks haven't worked for me.
posted by BlueJae at 7:02 PM on September 8, 2012

Best answer: I recently had an awful experience with contractors, and the people who helped were professional inspectors, particularly one who does expert witness testimony for lawsuits, as well as other contractors. Contractors could point to what was done wrong, but the expert witness guy spotted those same issues and also knew what to do about them. What he advised was going to California's contractors licensing board (CSLB). Does St. Louis have something similar? That expert's help was not cheap, but filing a CSLB complaint was free.

Here are a few thoughts on your situation based on what you said.

- I don't believe professional roofers seal around vents with caulk. I thought it was a black, tarry substance.
- Fiberglass insulation can dry out and be fine.
- The typical time frame for repairing water damage without risking mold or other problems is 48 hours. The insurance I looked at that covers water damage requires you take remedial action to start drying things out within 48 hours.
- In your shoes, I'd insist that they tear out the drywall, let the whole area dry out, and replace the drywall. Painting is inadequate, particularly because wet fiberglass may still be keeping it damp on the upper side.
- Your cabinets are likely okay. If they were particle board, I might worry.
- How's your flooring? If your kitchen has flooring that isn't particularly waterproof (e.g., if it's wood laminate), you might want to think about that.
- You may still have a smaller leak inside your walls. It may be worth having someone come out with one of those moisture detectors that they use to prevent mold. No signs of water seepage along the vertical walls?

Good luck.
posted by slidell at 9:10 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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