Slate tile fell off roof -- how urgent is this?
March 14, 2017 11:21 AM   Subscribe

We live in a large, old house (1890s?). The roof is made of slate tiles, and I have no idea when they were most recently replaced/repaired/examined. A few days ago I found two connected tiles that had fallen off -- one full tile (4x8?) and one half tile section (4x4?). I cannot actually see where the tile fell from, it's too high/steep to see from either the ground or a 2nd-floor window. How urgent is this issue?

I live in Boston and it is winter. Obviously having a roof is important, but I'm unclear how urgent this situation is. FWIW, when we bought the house about 2 years ago, the inspector deemed the roof to be in good condition, although he did not actually climb up there.

Today we are getting tons of snow, and the forecast for the near future is lots of cold/rain/snow. I realize it's not great to have even a small part of the roof exposed like this, but there's not much (I think??) that can be done right now. Getting someone out to climb up there is just not going to happen in this cold, snowy, windy weather, and anyway they really wouldn't be able to examine the REST of the roof for other necessary repairs since everything is covered in snow.

I have at least a lead on someone who I believe could address this issue (a contractor we worked with to replace our wooden gutters, and who also does roofing work). I'm not sure of his level of experience with slate roofs, but he may have referrals if he can't do the work himself.

My question is, how urgent is this? (Please no panic-inducing comments -- home ownership is stressful!) Should we call as soon as the snow is mostly melted from the roof (even if more snow is still possible this season)? Can we wait to call someone out until like late April/May?
posted by Bebo to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
I would think you're OK for the time being. As you say, no-one is going up there today anyway. Waiting until warmer weather will mean a bit of extra damage to repair when the time comes (perhaps ice damage to neighbouring exposed tiles, some water seepage).

It's not like there's a gaping, open hole on your roof right now. So it can wait for a bit. Your house has been through all of this many times before you came along.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:29 AM on March 14

Do you have an attic? If so, go up there and check to see if there is any sign that water has leaked in. And then check it again when it's raining. If you find signs of water then you want to get it repaired sooner rather than later. Take a flashlight so you can peer into places that are poorly lit.

If you have a finished attic, like with plaster or sheetrock on the walls it might be harder to tell where the water is coming in, but it might be easier to see dampness.

If you do find signs of water coming in see if you can catch drips with a bucket. You might also want to put some plastic sheeting down- like maybe an old shower curtain liner if you have one, or even some garbage bags temporarily- so that water doesn't seep into the ceiling of the room below. And check it and dry it every time it rains or snow melts.

You probably want to call around now, and be sure to find someone who knows how to deal with slate roofs. Call roofers in your area and ask them if they work on slate roofs.

How close are the neighboring houses? And do they have slate roofs too? If so, the slates may have blown off their roofs.

Don't panic.
posted by mareli at 11:34 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]

I came here to say precisely what mareli said, almost word for word.

Certainly get someone who deals specifically with slate roofs, not a general building nor general roofing guy.
posted by tillsbury at 11:46 AM on March 14

Thanks for the answers so far! We will definitely get someone who has experience with slate roofs.

No attic -- there is actually a 3rd-floor condo (the whole house is split into 3 condos, one of which takes up the entire third floor). I will let those people know about the missing tile and ask that they keep an eye for any dampness on their ceiling in that part of the house. I am very sure this tile is not from a neighboring house, there's nothing close enough to have blown a tile where this one landed.

Glad to hear this isn't a true panic situation, just another joy of owning an old home :/
posted by Bebo at 12:43 PM on March 14

A slate roof is pretty tough and can go years missing a few tiles. If it's just a wind/weather/aging related fluke it will be fine.

If you are getting ice dams, however, that could cause lots more damage as ice could back up under the tiles and damage the other tiles as well as create interior water damage. Do you have the kind of conditions to create ice dams? Is the unit that is closest to the roof using the heat any differently than in previous years?

It's not a bad idea to have a roofer roll by and double check that you don't have an ice dam. If you don't, repairs can wait for better weather.
posted by littlewater at 12:56 PM on March 14

I would try to find a roofer now, only because few are experienced with slate and they're going to be in high demand. So it may take time to find someone and especially in spring they might be scheduled pretty far out. Your local preservation group might be able to suggest people.
posted by sepviva at 3:17 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Nthing that you want someone who knows about slate roofs. Better to wait for a slate guy than to hire a regular roofer. It takes special tools, techniques, etc. A regular roofer walking around on the slates could break them, plus regular roofers will (IME) tell you "of course we do slate", then climb up there and say "oh no! your roof is shot and you should hire me to put in a new asphalt shingle roof for much cheaper than a new slate roof". If someone tells you you need a new roof, send them away and get more opinions.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:13 PM on March 14

And keep the slates! If they are in good condition and not broken your roofer may be able to use them again.
posted by citygirl at 9:39 PM on March 14

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