Proper Roof Ventilation is Critical

Lucas Hamilton

I was in Pittsburgh recently and had the pleasure of visiting a home that was about to be reroofed again – it has been reroofed several times in the last few years.  The house was between 30 – 40 years old and originally had wood shakes which were replaced with asphalt shingles.  The roof was under ventilated to begin with but when they went to the new system it made the problem worse. Each contractor that came along tried to do different things to deal with the problem that the homeowner was encountering.

While putting away Christmas decorations a few years ago, the homeowners noticed ice forming in her attic.  Originally, they thought it was from a roof leak so they replaced the roof.  However, the next winter the ice returned. The roof leak wasn’t the cause. It was insufficient attic ventilation. The house had a great deal of moisture build up in the attic space which was causing ice to form in the winter on the underside of the roof. 

The second contractor tried to add roof ventilation but did it in a way that didn’t help the situation.  He installed a power vent up high on the roof next to the ridge vent.  They put a humidistat on the power vent to activate the vent when the humidity rose in the attic.  The problem was that when the power vent kicked on, because of its position next to the ridge vent, it was pulling air in through the ridge vent and right out through the power vent which did not correct the humidity in the attic or solve the ventilation issue.

I met with them to discuss what was happening to the roof, make recommendations and work with the roofer to correct the ventilation issue. The roofer is going to optimize the power venting and eliminate the ridge vent. This was chosen because there is a concern that with the shape of the roof, you may never get sufficient soffit intake for the ridge vent alone to be sufficient.

As a result of the moisture in the attic, mold was developing on the roof decking.  While there are many ways to remediate mold, the homeowners wanted to take the most certain route which is to remove the contaminated wood. Of course, that adds cost to the project but is the best method of remediation.

Even though the knowledge base on ventilating residential roofs has expanded tremendously over the past 50 years,  professionals can sometimes have a difficult time properly ventilating a unique or challenging roof.  The homeowners were frustrated because they received different information from each contractor.  That can happen.

It is always a good idea to research the issues and ask questions.  In buildings where the attic ventilation requirements are not straight-forward the professional needs to look at the situation  from many angles to come to the right conclusion that solves the problem.   

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation