Four Leaky Customer Service Stories

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See that intense blog on the radar? Blue is misty. Green is showery. Yellow is rainy. Red is oh deary, dear. My house and its somewhat aged roof is under a bit of that yellow and in the path of far more rain than I am comfortable with. Hence, an apology to friends at a Christmas lunch as I dashed off to run around the Web and local hardware stores. Thanks to some friendly people, I think the leak is sealed, at least for now.

I had work to do, real estate stuff; but sometimes homeownership issues get personal. My roof had a leak, and I hoped I patched it in time.

taken on a much sunnier day

Ten years ago, I balked at getting a new roof for the house. I had the money, but the money manager in me know that spending 3% of my net worth to protect my house could be expensive if it meant selling stocks that would appreciate far more. I was right, for a while. Within a few years, my portfolio doubled, and looked like it was ready to double again. Then, the Triple Whammy hit. My net worth dropped 80% in a few months, then was spent down as I paid bills without finding a regular job. My portfolio shrank, but a particular crack in the torch down fabric of my roof didn’t.

There was evidence that it had been a much bigger leak before. The roof was patched with tar that was getting brittle. The ceiling beneath it had a nice patch, too; so nice that it isn’t obvious to most people. Brittle materials can crunch and blow away. I saw a crack forming. Without knowing how long it had been there, and even whether rain could get through, I decided to act.

Torch down roofs are out of style. As I understand it, lay down some material, seal the seams, and melt it all into place with a large torch. It’s the large torch part that raises warnings about homeowners trying to do professional repairs. It’s too easy to fix the roof but burn down the house because the wood under the material ignited. Being out of style also means professionals would prefer to do complete re-roofing projects using new materials rather than hold onto obsolete equipment and stuff.

That’s why I used tape. It wasn’t my idea. I asked the folks at a local hardware store, found one employee who understood frugality, pragmatism, and the reality of the situation. I left with some pretty tough tape, Gorilla Tape, which seemed to work fine.

It worked so fine that I used several layers; adding a layer as I saw buckling after a storm season. Earlier this year the multiple layers from several seasos were lifted by the wind as a single, heavy sheet that slapped against the roof throughout a night – and pulled up the old brittle tar. Instead of a crack, I could now see into the attic. Maybe tape wasn’t good enough.

Luckily, I have frugal and pragmatic neighbors. One suggested an expanding foam sealant that is As Seen On TV. They watch TV. I don’t. I don’t care. It seemed like it worked. And yet.

A better repair using material, not goo, would make me feel more comfortable. I checked around the web and found a nice blending of the two: rolls of tape impregnated with waterproof sealant. I thought about buying online, but decided to shop local.

Here’s where the four stories start.

Business number 1

“You don’t want to use that.” said in a condescending voice. The place’s emphasis on contractors over homeowners has been reinforced several times, but shopping local encourages repeated attempts. Maybe something will change. Maybe some day I’d win their favors. Maybe I shouldn’t walk in there in sandals. Their advice was tough to take because I didn’t know if it was meant to fix my roof or quickly usher me out the door. I ushered myself out without buying anything.

Business number 2

“Oh man, that’s tough. Are you sure you can’t just re-roof? No? No surprise. Here. Take a tube of this, spread it down the seam, then take this tape and lay it on and across the crack. It will even work wet.” Wow. Sympathetic, understood my situation, and suggested a solution that would work, then, in those situations, without overselling it. Not only didn’t they oversell it, they gave me some extra material for free because fixing a leaky roof in a rainstorm is the worst and best time to do it – except for doing it months or years earlier. I left with everything I needed, but an uncertainty it would work because of the specifics of the damage. (Too many details to get into here.)

Business number 3

“Uh, I don’t think we have anything like that. Let me check. Nope. Sorry.” And they meant it. But sometimes I just don’t explain things well enough, especially to someone younger than the roof. So, I wandered around the store and stumbled across items similar to what was in the other store, possibly with an improvement or two. There are tapes that are meant to be outside, exposed, that seal various roofing elements like windows and chimneys. Maybe that would suffice. Besides, an all-in-one solution is a lot easier to haul up a ladder. Less than $20? Sure, I’ll take that. Two solutions for less than the price of a meal. Double the chance at comfort.

Business number 4

“Well, you know, I didn’t know we had that.” An affable helper steered me to the right shelf, but in a large hardware store it’s hard to know every item. They led me to the roofing section, then I pointed out their products to them, and I led them in a short lesson that I’d received from research and the previous three stores. The fourth didn’t have anything new, but they had a nice attitude. I made sure I bought something, even if it wasn’t for the roof.

Four businesses, four attitudes, two or three sales. Within the few hours after leaving the last store I’ve already told some of the stories, had others similarly echo my experience with theirs. They also confirmed that until I sell a few more houses, er, several more houses, patches will be my defense.

Normally at this point in the story, I’d like to give a shout-out to the best stores, but in today’s litigious world, I won’t. The people that helped me the most were the ones who understood what it’s like to own an old house, and who know how impractical it is to always follow all of the rules. They even showed compassion in providing part of the solution for free. It’s easy to imagine some corporate official hearing the story and making sure no good deed goes unpunished. Even shops that look local can have corporate partnerships. They make saying thank you more difficult. Fortunately, I can say so in person the next time I’m in their shop.

With a bit of good luck, my foamy patch is working fine. I’ll back it up, because engineers like having backup options, with some combination of the tapes and sealants; though I may wait until there’s a dry (ha!) day to give them the best chance of working. One motivation for the simpler approach is simple. The cost of applying a patch: ~ $20. The cost of getting a professional to repair it: ~$1,000, which is a guess because evidently they won’t even quote such jobs, which also makes it moot. The cost of re-roofing the house: ~$10,000. I think I’ll try the patch first.



About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: and at my amazon author page:
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2 Responses to Four Leaky Customer Service Stories

  1. Pattie Beaven says:

    Landlord redid the roof to her entire place, including our apartment. It was a stress I still wonder was absolutely necessary. Maybe if you’re selling…You’re not selling, are you?

  2. Tom Trimbath says:

    A lot of renovations happen to get the house ready to sell. Then, the house looks so good they decide to stay. Or, realize they can ask for more. Fascinating creatures these humans are.

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