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Tips to Find and Fix a Roof Leak

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What damage can a leaky roof cause?

A small roof leak can lead to big problems down the line if not attended to quickly. It is never good news to see signs of a leak in your ceiling or walls, but it is important to attend to it as quickly as possible to control any possible water damage, mold, or worse. Unattended leaks can lead to rot within your roof or eaves, mold in your attic, walls, and even in your HVAC and left for long enough can even lead to roof collapse or other structural rot. 

Do not avoid a leak in your roof. It will only get worse! You should inspect your roof a couple of times per year and look for sagging and dark spots inside, rot, peeling, or buckling shingles, clogged gutters, or loose materials around vents and chimneys on the outside.

Can leaky roof cause mold?

Yes, a leaky roof can cause mold in as little as 24-48 hours. It does not take long for mold spores to find moisture and settle in. Black mold is the most common result of long term water damage. It can attach to the wood structure, ceiling tiles, walls, and floors. If the mold growth is significant enough it may require mold remediation of the entire area. 

Can a roof leak cause electrical problems or fire?

Yes, if you have electrical wiring in your attic or crawl space, a leak in your roof could pose the threat of fire from shorted wires. Water combined with electricity can always pose a fire risk. Even a small leak can seep over to ceiling light fixtures or another wiring. You should turn off all power to the affected area in order to inspect it.

What causes a leaky roof?

Roof leaks can be caused by high winds, heavy rains, a dropped tree, winter storms, hurricanes or other extreme weather. It can also occur from tree damage or natural aging of your roof or other elements on it, clogged gutters, leaking skylights, broken or missing shingles, ice dams, or condensation in the attic. You may have flashing that has rusted out over time, check for cracked caulking that is leaking, rotted siding or eaves, leaks around plumbing vents, chimneys, or other things that are meant to penetrate your roof. 

The first steps are to locate the leak, contain the water, remove any water, and then fix the roof.

How to find a roof leak.

Don’t go on the roof in bad weather, when it is windy, icy or slick or even if your roof is steeply pitched. Call a roofing contractor.

If you have storm damage it will often be obvious. NEVER inspect the damage during a storm, slick conditions, or high winds or on a roof with a high pitch. Call a pro! Many roofing contractors will offer emergency tarping services. 

Roof leaks often appear around items that go through your roofs, such as vents, dormers, and chimneys. Sometimes the actual leak can be a few feet away from the opening so it can be tough to find the actual leak. Start in the areas of these items that penetrate your roof. Look for cracks in the rubber flashing or broken seams in the vent flashing and chimney flashing. Dormers also provide places for water to leak in so carefully check the corner boards, windows, and siding. Recaulk any areas that require it and replace rotting siding. 

Check-in your attic or crawl space with a good flashlight looking for water stains, and then try to trace them back to their source. Remember what roofers say: “Think  like water.” Look for any standing water on the floor or subfloor. Be patient, but if you are not finding anything, enlist a friend to help. Take a garden hose on the roof and run it strong enough to mimic a storm, while your helper is inside watching for signs of water. Start low, close to the eaves, and let it run for a couple of minutes. Move slowly along the roofline. Continue working up the roof until you reach the eaves and back down. When you find the leak be sure to mark it with chalk, a marker, or a nail. 

If you see obvious evidence of a leak such as a bulge in the ceiling or other dripping take action. Place a bucket under the leak to contain it to one floor. If you see a bulge in the ceiling you may want to carefully puncture it in the center with a screwdriver. This will relieve the pressure and keep the water flowing down, not sideways through your ceiling and walls.

roof leak

How to fix a leaky roof.

Fixing your roof can be very dangerous. Unless the weather is clear and your roof is fairly flat, and you are experienced, this should be left to a professional roofer. The actual repair will depend upon the type of roof you have. There are many types of roofs and the actual repair will depend upon which it is. Asphalt roofing, flat roofing, metal roofing, tile, and masonry, or wooden shingle roofs all require different repair techniques. It is always best to call a pro for your own safety and for the protection of your home. Research your particular roof to find some simple fixes and to find the appropriate pro to fix it.

Repair starts with finding the leak. That will tell you the extent of the leak if it is not already apparent. Watch for any signs of dripping water, stains in your ceiling, or even bulging in your ceiling. If you are experienced and have the proper tools you may be able to repair some damages yourself. This would include caulking leaky areas, replacing one or two shingles, sealing flashing, or other small fixes. Replace the plumbing vent boots if you feel this is something you are capable of. Patch any small old nail holes that are left with caulk or roof cement. Replace any damaged flashing around your chimney. Always think about safety and long term protection of your home. Call a professional roofer when in doubt. 

Here are some tips for hiring the right professional:

  • Get several quotes
  • Work only with licensed and insured contracts
  • Be clear on who is pulling the permits.
  • Understand the scope of work, ie will they locate and repair all wood damage before doing the roof.
  • Understand the guarantee and expected life of the new roof.

How to cover a roof leak until someone can repair it

If conditions allow it to be safely done, tarping the roof will help prevent additional water damage. Or you can create your own protection using plastic sheeting and 2”X4”s. 

If you see a small hole, you can temporarily fix it with a small 12”X12” of flashing slid under the damaged shingles.

How to prevent roof leaks

Falling or windblown branches can cause severe roof damage. Be sure to keep any low limbs, or loose or rotting limbs trimmed. Clogged gutters are another major source of roof leaks. They fill with leaves and other small debris clogging the gutters and downspouts causing water to accumulate. Clean out your gutter with a garden hose or with a stick frequently.

Roof leaks often are caused by cracked or missing flashing around your vents, pipes, or chimney. This is a good reason to inspect your roof every fall and every winter.

Is a roof leak covered by homeowners insurance?

If you suspect your roof has been damaged call your insurance agent right away. Homeowners insurance may cover a roof leak if it is caused by a covered peril or certain other causes. They then may cover some of the costs of your repair. Covered perils are normally fire, wind, and hail. Usually, homeowners insurance will not cover damage caused by lack of maintenance or normal wear and tear. That is another good reason to have regular roof inspections. Every policy is different and has special limits and exceptions. Talk to your agent to see what is covered.

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