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'People think that it's the roof leaking': Experts voice concerns over growing reports of attic rain

Cody Sager, a roofing technician with Calgary Elite Roofing, says his team has answered more than 30 distress calls over the past week from Calgary residents worried about attic rain. (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)
Cody Sager, a roofing technician with Calgary Elite Roofing, says his team has answered more than 30 distress calls over the past week from Calgary residents worried about attic rain. (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)

Cody Sager and his colleagues have answered more than 30 distress calls over the past week from concerned Calgary residents.

The roofing technician, who works with Calgary Elite Roofing, says his team has been repeatedly dealing with complaints over what appears to be attic rain, a phenomenon that is often observed when the weather gets warmer after a cold spell.

"When it goes from –30 [or] –40 to plus five [degrees] in two days, that's when the issue presents itself and it will start by a small drip or some staining," Sager said.

"It could [even] be pouring water into the basement through the walls."

The issue can show up in several areas of the house, including ceilings, light fixtures and walls.

The culprit? Excess humidity.

"People think that it's the roof leaking. They don't understand that it's a condensation issue," Sager said before adding, "anytime it goes below –15 and stays there for a period of time, let's say for a week or so, and everybody's in the house boiling food and the kids are running around and playing … you got this extra humidity inside the home and it needs to go somewhere."

Excess humidity in the attic tends to freeze before eventually melting and leaking, causing condensation and issues that are hard to ignore.

Attic rain happens when moisture builds up in the attic, freezes as it has in this picture, and then melts in warmer weather.
Attic rain happens when moisture builds up in the attic, freezes as it has in this picture, and then melts in warmer weather.

Attic rain tends to happen when moisture builds up in the attic, freezes as it has in this picture, and then melts in warmer weather. (Debby Montagni)

Sager believes that it's important to be mindful of the temperatures outside and adjust humidity levels inside homes if needed to mitigate the problem.

"Sometimes you have to have a window or the curtains open to allow the moisture to burn off with the sun or have the bathroom door open while you're showering," Sager said.

Attic rain, according to the roofing technician, is often seen in newer homes that have been constructed over the last 20 years.

"I spoke with an engineer and asked him what his opinion was … he says the homes that we grew up in leak air from every corner of the building. So they don't have the condensation or the tight wrap that we have with newer homes today," Sager said.

Preventative measures are important

Jaclyn St. Louis, a lead home inspector with Twenty20 Master Home Inspections, says the key is to prevent excessive humidity in the home. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Is it possible to stay on top of things and take preventative measures early on? It is doable, says Jaclyn St. Louis, a lead home inspector with Twenty20 Master Home Inspections.

"When it is getting extremely cold … that's the time that you really want to make sure your humidifier is down," St. Louis said.

She added that it's best to turn a humidifier down to 10 per cent or even shut it off. The key is to prevent excessive humidity from building up.

"We already have more humidity in the homes during that time because, you know, you're not opening doors as much or leaving them open," she said.

If you're unsure whether the humidity levels in your home are higher than normal, check your windows for condensation and take precautions by turning off the humidifier and running ventilation fans.

Ask for help

What if you choose to ignore the issue and hope that it goes away on its own, though? That's probably not a great idea, according to St. Louis.

"It's going to simulate roof leaks and cause issues and can cause damage inside the home if you're not on it," she said.

When in doubt, it's probably best to ask for expert advice.

"If you notice that you have these situations, at some point you want to get a good attic or roof inspection to check the ventilation in your attic space, checking for those weak points in [the] vapour barrier and in the insulation, and checking your ducting and also making sure that your humidity levels are adequate for the temperatures outside."