Exterior Beam Maintenance
How To Avoid Needing A Roof Beam Specialist
We’re all familiar with the old adage "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." In the case of exterior beam dry rot prevention, it'll save you a ton of expensive cure.
Your home is probably your most valuable asset, as well as your sanctuary. But like anything of value, it requires regular time and attention. Your roof beams, like most roof beams, are probably holding up your roof. Kinda important, right? So let's be very clear; exterior beam maintenance isn't about looking pretty. Although that's an added benefit, maintenance needs to be focused on preventing dry rot fungi from setting up camp and using your roof beam as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Regularly getting up close and personal with your exterior beams leads to early detection and remediation if prevention fails.
You don't have to be a DIY expert here, just diligent and thorough with an appropriate amount of caution using a ladder. (Some of you shouldn't be up on ladders. If you don't know if that's you, ask your spouse or your physician. You'll get the answer!)
The basics include giving your roof beams a yearly once-over, especially ones with a southern exposure. You're looking for what needs painting and/or sealing. In my world, there's no such thing as "It's just a little crack, so I can ignore it for another year." If you see it, deal with it.
If your roof beams are already in good shape, you'll probably only need surface touch-ups and regular painting.
If you find your exterior beams are in need of more than just a surface touch-up, you'll need a few more skills and to put in more work. But it can still be a DIY project.
This roof beam is primarily afflicted with cracks, heavy weathering, and a minor amount of dry rot. Note: It's always best to do the following work during warm, dry weather.
First, a small amount is cut off the end to expose a sound wood surface to work with. (Paints, primers and sealants bond best to unweathered wood.) Each surface is then meticulously sanded (36 grit followed by 80 grit) until smooth. Compressed air is used throughout as needed to remove sanding dust buildup from cracks and surfaces. On the above beam, sanding and all subsequent work extends back to about 12 inches in from the roof edge framing.
An initial application of paintable elastomeric sealant (high-performance latex caulk with elastic properties) is applied to every crack that is wide enough to receive it. Sealant instructions are followed to the letter.
After the first application of sealant has cured, a coat of high-quality exterior latex primer is applied to the entire work area. Successive applications of sealant are then applied to the deeper cracks to fill them in (as sealant cures, it can shrink; this often leaves a depression deep enough to fill again). Each application is allowed to cure before the next one is applied.
You may have noticed that every application of sealant (after the first) is applied after the primer. This is done because sealants typically bond to a primed surface better than they do to raw wood.
To the best of your ability, force sealant deep into the open cracks before repainting; this will help to lock the sealant in place. (A putty knife or a finger are the applicators of choice here.) Roof beams (and their cracks) tend to expand and contract as ambient conditions change. Over time, this movement can actually squeeze sealants right out of these openings. Regular inspections will let you know if reapplication is necessary.
Once the sealant work is done and cured, a second coat of primer is applied to the work area. Lastly, all of this prep work is followed up with two coats of a high-quality color coat (exterior latex paint) to match the existing.
When I do this type of work for a client, I always install a custom beam cap.
This one's good to go. The beam cap is tacked in place and a liberal amount of sealant encircles it at the roof edge. With the last coat of paint having cured, this roof beam is ready for all that the weather has to throw at it.
Now here come all those caveats: Most roof beams aren't so new that they're pristine and super easy to maintain. So for most, weathering has already happened. Many homeowners will need to have their painters come in and do the work required initially. Some may even need to deal with their roofers. I know it all sounds like a hassle, and yes, some expense. But trust me, it's easier and cheaper than dealing with dry rotted roof beams. But, if you think you're already dealing with rotten beams, get in contact with me and I'll set up a free inspection and estimate.
If you end up bringing in professionals such as painters or roofers, make sure they are doing the things I recommend in those pages. Then, if you do your part to stay on top of the roof beam maintenance, you should be able to avoid needing my services.
One last piece of prevention advice: seriously consider a properly designed beam cap to shed water away from the tops and ends of your exposed roof beams. Water is life to the wood-rotting fungi out there. But, water is the nemesis of your roof beams. You don't need me to fabricate and install custom beam caps for you, though I'm ready to do so; your qualified contractor can work with any good local sheet metal shop to get this done. (Remember, simply capping an already rotted roof beam doesn't solve the problem -- but I can make it worse!)
If you ever need a roof beam specialist, I'm happy to help. But, and I mean this in the nicest way, I hope we never have to meet in a professional capacity.
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* parts of the above are excerpted from a roof beam dry rot repair book I'm currently writing