FINDING AND FIXING ROOF LEAKS
A leaky roof can be a nightmare for homeowners — it destroys valuable belongings, rots wood and causes mold growth. Water can enter a home in many places, finding the source of the leak can also be challenging — and repairing it is often complicated.
Whether you’re currently experiencing roof leaks or just want to prevent them, check out our helpful guide to learn about their causes, the damage they can do and how to find and fix them.
Common Causes of Roof Leaks
The following areas of your roof can be a source of leaks:
1. Old Shingles
Like many other parts of a house, shingles start to show their age after a while. Temperature fluctuations can cause them to expand and contract, which eventually leads to cracking, and sunlight can melt the tar that holds composition shingles together. Both of these damaging effects allow water to enter more easily.
Although chimneys appear to be solid and impenetrable, the mortar between the bricks crumbles over time, allowing water in. If you notice a leak coming from your chimney, first inspect the mud cap or the joints where the chimney meets the roof — sometimes these areas are the source of the leak and can be easily fixed with patches.
Flashing refers to the metal strips installed in the joints, edges and other areas of your roof that are particularly susceptible to leaking. They can also be found around chimneys, where they attach to both the chimney and the roof and must be well sealed. If it cracks or rusts, it will probably have to be replaced, however caulking and roof cement can provide a temporary fix.
4. Missing Shingles
If you’ve noticed that one of your shingles has disappeared, you will most likely experience a leak in your house during the next rainfall. Luckily, this is something you can easily do yourself. To replace a shingle, you just need to remove the nails from the row above and then insert the new shingle. Nail the new shingle so that it’s secure, then re-nail the shingles around it. Your roof has most likely weathered so getting a perfect color match will be difficult.
5. Vent Boot
The vent boot waterproofs the junction where the roof vent pipes meet the roof. They can be made of rubber, plastic, metal or a combination of any of the three. If the old gasket fails, you can remove the old boot with a knife and insert a new one. Like with shingles, this is also something you can easily DIY.
Holes in your roof can be caused by a variety of things — including storms, animals and misplaced nails. They can also exist where an antenna or other rooftop installation used to be.
This problem can be fixed by simply inserting a piece of flashing under the shingle. Although this is something you can easily do yourself, it may still be best to have your roof inspected by a professional roofer afterward.
7. Complex Roofs
While a complex roof looks impressive, it can be a real nuisance for homeowners if it’s not well sealed. Properly installing a leak barrier for this type of roof is complicated and is best left to professional roofers.
Even when properly maintained, complex roofs can still cause problems. If you live in a snowy climate, the layout of a complex roof may not allow for snow to slide off easily. If too much snow accumulates, it can lead to ice dams, which will put unwanted extra weight on your roof and expose it to water for long periods of time, which will increase the chances of leaking.
If it is difficult to remove the snow buildup on your roof by raking it or using an ice melting product, you can alternatively use roof edge heating cables — or install a metal roof.
8. Clogged Gutters
If you do not regularly clean out your gutters, debris will accumulate and impede water from traveling away from your roof. You can also hire a professional gutter cleaner for the job, which can range in cost from $100 to $300. One way to reduce the accumulation of debris in your gutter is to trim the trees around your roof.
9. Too Much Moisture
When gutters on an upper roof empty onto a roof below, the lower roof can become excessively saturated, which could lead to leaks. You can avoid this by extending the downspout to the gutter below or directly to the ground.
While skylights can brighten up and transform a room, they must be installed and fitted correctly, or they will likely cause leaks. Leaks can also occur if the flashing is cracked or if the surrounding shingles are damaged. In this case, you will need to hire a professional to fix or replace the skylight and then install new flashing and shingles around it.
11. Misplaced Nails
When roofers nail shingles, they intend for them to go into the rafters below, but sometimes they miss their target and the nails stick out of the attic ceiling. These misplaced nails are another potential source of water damage: on cold nights, they can accumulate frost — and when it warms up the next day, the frost melts and water starts to drip. Over a long period of time, this can cause significant water damage.
12. Shallow Slope
If the pitch of your roof is too shallow, wind can more easily lift up your shingles and rain can enter underneath. Roof slope is defined as how many inches a roof rises for every 12 inches of horizontal distance. When installing asphalt shingles, the International Building Code requires the pitch to be a minimum of 2:12. Make sure that the materials you use are suitable for the slope of your roof.
The Damage That Roof Leaks Can Cause
Water entering your house can wreak havoc on your property in many ways. Here are a few examples:
A leak over time can cause your rafters, beams, walls and ceilings to be discolored. As water travels past a leaking area, it brings with it tannins and other residues that turn the wood a darker color.
2. Mold and Mildew
If water is confined to a small space — such as underneath floors or inside walls — and the moisture cannot escape, this may cause the growth of mold or mildew, which can cause your framework to weaken. If you notice dark spots that look like a stain, this is a sign of mold or mildew and you should investigate the cause immediately.
Mold and mildew don’t just damage your framework — they can cause serious health problems, especially for people suffering from conditions like rhinitis, nasal congestion and asthma.
3. Drywall Deterioration
Drywall is a type of board made from a plaster-like material and is used to finish the walls of houses. When drywall comes in contact with water, it absorbs the moisture at first, but once the drywall becomes saturated, it begins to expand and deteriorate. When used to make a wall, it can break apart into pieces — and when used to form ceilings, it can collapse completely.
4. Rotting Structural Wood
Over time, water leaks can cause serious damage to a home’s wooden structure. When exposed constantly to water, beams, joists and other components will start to rot. The only solution to this problem is to stop the leak and fix the structural damage.
Water intrusion can cause electrical problems as well. Sometimes this leak will damage the wiring itself and other times the circuit box. The copper wires will deteriorate and eventually short out or break, and electrical boxes in contact with water can also short out. Water leaking on a breaker box is a serious issue and must be fixed right away or it could lead to more damage or hazardous conditions.
6. Fire Hazard
If your attic has electrical wiring, and a leak causes them to short out, this could cause a fire. If you discover a leak near wiring, you should cut off electricity in that area and get an electrician to inspect it.
7. Slipping and Falling
If water is dripping in your house, this can cause puddles to form on the floor. This may seem like a minor risk, but a fall can be a serious accident, especially for children or the elderly.
8. Wasted Energy
A leaking roof can also cause your energy bills to go up because it tends to damage the insulation in your attic. When your attic insulation becomes saturated, it takes a long time to dry out. If you wait to repair a roof leak, this constant water intrusion will cause the insulation to deteriorate and you’ll end up spending more on heating and cooling.
How to Find a Roof Leak
Follow these steps to help pinpoint the source of a leak:
1. Look for Early Signs
Some early signs of roof leaks — such as the sight and sound of dripping water — are obvious. However, there are many other clues, including:
- A musty smell coming from some rooms
- Water stains on the ceiling
- Spots on outside walls
- Patches on inside walls
- Misshapen or missing shingles
While these things do often indicate a leak, they give little indication as to where the leak is. So more investigation needs to be done.
Before proceeding any further, confirm that leaking water is the result of a roof leak and not from somewhere else in the house. Other common sources of leaks in the house are plumbing, HVAC and condensation. If none of these is the source of your leak, it’s time to check the attic.
2. Inspect Your Attic
Walk through your attic and keep an eye out for water stains, black marks or mold. Sometimes smaller stains can be caused by protruding nails, which should be clipped off with pliers.
Inspect the insulation as well. If one section of the insulation appears damaged, a leak could be close by, and removing the insulation can reveal the source of the leak. When handling insulation, make sure you are wearing the necessary protective gear.
3. Soak the Roof
If you can’t find the leak in the attic, then it’s time to simulate rain. This step requires another person, who will remain in the house near where you first spotted the leak. Then, you will take a water hose and wet the rooftop, one area at a time. As you’re soaking the roof, the other person will shout out when he or she sees the water dripping again. You should move slowly with the water hose, spending several minutes on each section. This will help to more accurately locate where the water is entering.
If you’ve identified the general area where the water is entering but not the exact spot, you can start removing shingles in the area. Once the shingles are gone, you’ll be able to spot water stains and other telltale signs of a leak.
If You Don’t Have an Attic
If you don’t have an attic, go directly to your roof and look for signs of a leak. If you live in a unit of a condominium, get in touch with your property manager or landlord. They will get a professional to come and repair the leak.
While repairing or fixing the roof is the ideal solution, sometimes we have no choice but to make a short-term repair. The reasons for this decision vary — a long-term fix may not be in your budget, harsh weather may limit the work that can be done or perhaps you just need time to think of a better long-term solution. Whatever your reason may be, here are some materials you can use to provide short-term fixes:
- Sheets of heavy plastic. You can fasten these sheets with roofing nails or weigh them down with something heavy like bricks.
- Heavy waterproof tarps. If the area of roof damage is larger, heavy waterproof tarps are better. You can fasten or hold them in place the same way as the plastic covers.
- Tar paper or roofing felt. You can apply tar paper to the roof with plastic cement and spread it with a trowel. It is a good idea to apply multiple layers of this, alternating the plastic cement and tar paper.
- Plugging the leak. This works best as a temporary repair for a flat roof. To plug a leak, you mix a cement-like powder with water and pour it into the opening in the roof. The mixture will then solidify and plug the leak. As this solution is only effective for a limited time, you may need to repeat the procedure every few months.
- Adhesive patches. These patches are made to stick to small, wet surfaces. It is not recommended to apply them at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
When to Call an Expert
If your leak cannot be easily fixed or is a result of widespread structural damage, it’s recommended that you put the repair in the hands of a professional. If you live in the Lancaster, Pa., region and need your roof fixed or replaced, contact The Exterior Company today at 855-766-3264 or via our online contact form. Our representatives will gladly answer your questions and provide a free quote. If your roof was damaged by a storm, we can also assist with the insurance.