How to Repair Rotted Roof Trusses on a Fix & Flip

When real estate investors look for profitable deals, they often need to accept a certain level of required maintenance in a target property. Occasionally, roof trusses rot and lose their integrity, making this a periodic repair in investment properties. As such, real estate investors have asked me: how to repair rotted roof trusses?

Repairing the rotted roof can be challenging, posing a major problem to a property. If you see signs of potential rotting in a property, I suggest hiring a structural engineer to inspect the damage. The engineer can then provide a contractor a specific plan to repair this damage.

In this article, I’ll expand on the above and cover the following topics related to repairing rotted roof trusses:

  • What Are Roof Trusses?
  • How Roof Trusses Rot
  • What To Do If You Suspect Rotting in a Roof Truss
  • My Roof Truss Repair Rule of Thumb
  • Final Thoughts on Rotted Roof Trusses

What Are Roof Trusses?

Prior to talking about repairing rotted roof trusses, I want to take a moment to actually define trusses. While contractors throw the term around frequently, most investors haven’t had the in-depth building experience to understand the structural role a truss actually plays in a home. And, failing to understand their importance could lead to a financially catastrophic decision to buy a home with severely damaged roof trusses.

In a nutshell, a roof truss is a prefabricated wooden structure that provides support to the roof above while concurrently tying the home’s outside walls together. In layman’s terms, if the roof trusses go, the roof goes with them. As a result, investors absolutely need to confirm the structural integrity of a property’s roof trusses prior to purchase.

Are trusses the same as rafters?

No, trusses are not the same as rafters, though you may (incorrectly) hear the terms used interchangeably. To arm you with key background knowledge, I want to briefly touch on rafters here, as well.

Trusses are prefabricated and, therefore, have factory-grade precision and uniformity. On the other hand, rafters serve as the traditional means of framing a roof. Home builders need to craft rafters on-site with dimensional lumber, making this a very labor-intensive process.

For these reasons, contractors use trusses far more frequently than rafters. They simply cost less while providing the same or greater roof strength as rafters. However, in older or more custom-built homes, you may still see rafters in lieu of trusses.

How Roof Trusses Rot

After providing the above background about the importance of trusses, investors need to understand how roof trusses can rot, causing potentially catastrophic structural damage. As with all rot, a primary culprit exists:

Water.

If water leaks through a roof—either a slow, extended drip or a quick, heavy barrage—it can cause any wood it interacts with to rot, including the roof trusses. While no one wants to sprout a roof leak, the silver lining of a major leak is that you’ll likely notice it and take immediate action.

On the other hand, a slow, minor leak can potentially go undiscovered for years. Frequently, these sorts of leaks do not result in noticeable damage to tenants. As a result, severe rot and decay of wooden roof trusses can gradually occur. When this occurs, major problems can quickly compound. In colder climates, homes with rotted roof trusses can face catastrophic roof collapses when heavy snow build-up is followed by a warm-up and associated melting.

The potential for such catastrophic roof failure makes truss rotting one of the most important things to look for prior to purchasing an investment property (or your home, for that matter!).

What To Do If You Suspect Rotting in a Roof Truss

If you suspect rotting roof trusses, what should you do? Unfortunately, as I’ve stated above, current residents of a home may not see any indicators of rot, making this a challenge.

However, I’m speaking primarily to investors here, that is, people looking to buy a new investment property. For these individuals, you absolutely need to get a home inspection as part of your due diligence process prior to purchasing a property. During these inspections, home inspectors will crawl through a home’s attic (something you probably don’t want to do yourself) and document any signs of rotted roof trusses.

If no indications of rot exist, great! However, if the inspector decides that roof truss rot may exist, you should absolutely hire a structural engineer to complete an in-depth structural inspection. Insane issues may be found during the home inspection. These engineers will provide you the critical information you need to decide whether or not to move forward with a deal.  Specifically, an engineer’s report will tell you:

  • If too much load exists on the roof trusses given their current levels of rot.
  • How much wood has actually rotted away in the roof trusses.
  • Following mathematical calculations, what work needs to be completed to repair the trusses.
  • A specific plan for a contractor to fix the identified roof truss damage.

While hiring a structural engineer certainly costs money, you’ll pay far more in repairs if you end up purchasing a home with unidentified truss rot, making hiring an engineer a sound investment.

My Roof Truss Repair Tips

There’s a saying that’s particularly relevant to real estate investors: good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. In other words, as investors, we learn many of our most important lessons from the painful mistakes we make. As such, I have tried to turn all this experience into some simple rules of thumb in the hope that I can help new investors avoid similar mistakes.

I have one such rule of thumb for rotted roof trusses. If following a structural engineer’s inspection I am told that truss repairs will cost less than $5,000, I’ll move forward with the deal. On the other hand, if told that the repairs will cost more than $5,000, I cut my losses and stop pursuing the deal.

Here’s my rationale. First, as thorough as structural engineers are, they still may not see everything. Consequently, if a report outlines significant damage, I like to take the worst-case-scenario outlook that even more damage likely exists, and I certainly don’t want to discover that damage after I’ve already purchased a house.

Next, I look at the time element of repairing rotted roof trusses. Repairing these items requires major work, and that work takes time. The longer I hold a property during the rehab process, the more holding costs (e.g. property taxes, insurance, loan interest, etc) I need to pay. So if I can pick between target properties with and without rotted roof trusses, I’m absolutely going to pick the one without, as I’ll be able to complete the rehab faster.

Final Thoughts on Rotted Roof Trusses

For new investors, I cannot emphasize this point enough: get a home inspection! These inspections will help you uncover potentially catastrophic problems—like major truss rotting—in time to back out of a potential deal.

For experienced investors with established contractor relationships, make sure that in a property walk, your contractor goes into the attic to look for indications of rotting. If visible issues exist, hire a structural engineer to review them. If not, continue with the deal.

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