Leaky Roof? 12 Tips To Help You Locate And Repair It


If you notice water stains across your ceiling or that run down the wall, then the culprit is likely a leak in the roof. The hard part, though, is tracking down that leak; the easy part is repairing the leak. We will provide you with some easy tricks that will help you locate and repair some of the most familiar types of roof-related leaks. However, if you reside within the Snow Belt area and have leaks during the winter on sunny or warm days only, then you likely have ice dams. Of course, that’s another story.

If you are dealing with a leaky roof, it is imperative that you repair it without delay—even if it isn’t causing too many problems or you are scheduled for a roof replacement in the next year. Over a short period of time, leaks have the ability to result in big issues like deteriorating sheathing and framing, mold, damaged insulation, and destroyed ceilings.

How to Locate Roof Leaks

When you are attempting to track a roof leak, you need to first begin by examining the roof ascending from the water stains. Your first step is to look for any signs of penetrations of the roof. More often than not, the cause of roof leaks is penetration. In fact, it is very rare for roof leaks to begin and grow in areas where shingles have not been bothered. Penetrations may include anything like plumbing, chimneys, roof vents, dormers, and other objects that project through your roof, and it can be quite a few feet from the leak—to the right, to the left, or above the leak.

If you have access to the attic, this will be simplest way to find the leak. Grab a flashlight and go into the attic to look for the confirmation you need. You will find signs of black marks, water stains, or mold. However, if you can’t get access because of a vaulted ceiling or another reason, then you will need to get onto the roof itself and examine culprits.

Potential Trick to Detect Hard-to-Find Leaks

If you find it difficult to locate a leak, get a family member or friend to get on the roof with a water hose. Have them start low and saturate the area right above where the leak shows up in the house. Make sure to isolate areas as you are running the hose. For instance, saturate the downhill region of the chimney, then each side, and finish with the top of the sides. While they are doing that, you should be inside the home watching for water drips. Allow the water hose to run for a few minutes in each area prior to moving to the next area. If you see a drip, yell to your friend up on the roof since this will be vicinity that the leak is in. Keep in mind that this process can take some time—maybe even over an hour—so it is imperative that both of you are incredibly patient and avoid moving the water hose too soon. If this process does not reveal the leak’s exact location, begin removing shingles in the area that you suspect the leak is in. Once the shingles are removed, you should notice evidence of a leak, allowing you to track the leak to its source. You may see discolored felt paper, water-stained/rotted wood, etc.

A Solution for Small Leaks

Some leaks are difficult to find. In some cases, the water will appear on the ceiling distant from the actual leak. If there is a plastic vapor barrier between the insulation in the attic and the drywall, then you push back the insulation and look for signs of flow stains on the plastic. Frequently, water will run to openings within the barrier like at light fixtures.

If you’re unable to see any obvious signs of flow marks and because the stains is relatively small, take a look at the roof’s underside of “shiners,” which are nails that didn’t make it into the framing member. Moisture that ends up escaping into the attic from below rooms tends to condense on the cold nails. You can generally see this if you can get into the attic on a chilly night. Because the nails are frosted, the nails will appear white in color. Due to the fact that the attic space will heat up throughout the day, the frost will melt away and drip, then the nails will frost at night, and the process continues back and forth. The solution for this is to cut the nail with a pair of side-cutting pliers.

Repair Plumbing Vent Boots

These boots can be plastic and metal, all plastic, or metal units comprised of two pieces. You should inspect metal bases for any busted seams and inspect the plastic bases for any signs of cracks. Don’t forget to inspect the rubber boot that surrounds the plumbing pipe, which can be torn or deteriorated and allowing water to seep into the house. Any of the aforementioned issues warrant the purchase of a brand-new vent boot. Now, in the event the nails at the base of the plumbing vent are pulled free or missing but the boots are in good condition, they should be replaced with rubber-washered screws that are used for metal roofs. These can be located at your local home center in the screw department. Neighboring shingles will need to be worked free, and if you do not have additional shingles to replace them with, you will need to be extra careful as you remove them since they will need to be reused. A flat bar can be used to break up the sealant between the layers, and then the flat bar can also be used to drive underneath the nail heads and pop them out.

Repair Roof Vents

Inspect for broken seams on metal roof vents and cracked housings on any plastic ones. Caulking is often a solution that homeowners attempt, but it is a short-lived one. The only real fix for the problem is to replace damaged vents. In addition, you should look for missing or pulled nails at the bottom edge of the base and replace them with rubber-washered screws. More often than not, nails can be removed from under the shingles on each side of the vent in order to pull it free. Nails will also be across the top of the vent, which can often be worked loose without having to remove the shingles. The bottom should be screwed in place with the screws, and then a bead of caulk should be squeezed out beneath the shingles on each side of the vent in order to hold down the shingles and to form a water barrier. This process is far easier than having to renail them.

Repair Walls and Dormers

Water does not always seep in at the surface of the shingles. In many cases, rain that is drive by wind comes from above the roof, particularly around windows, between siding and corner boards, and through knotholes and cracks in siding. Dormer walls create a number of areas where water can trickle down and seep into the roof. Caulking can be old and worn out, cracked, or missing between window edges, corner boards, and siding. Water may penetrate these cracks and work its way around the flashing and into the home. Caulking that looks like it is in good shape and intact may not be properly sealing the bordering surfaces. To make sure that the area is properly sealed, use a putty knife to dig around the area. Only remove any caulking that you suspect is damaged and replace it with a quality caulking. Also, make sure to inspect the siding just above the step flashing and replace any that is cracked, missing, or rotted. Ensure that any new siding extends beyond the step flashing a minimum of two inches. If a leak is still present, pull out the corner boards and inspect the overlapping flashing. Sometimes, there is old and hardened caulking at the inside corner where the two pieces of flashing overlap.

Complex Roof Issue

When a roof has poor flashing, it will leak during storms in the summertime and when it snows in the wintertime. Where the soffit meets the roof is a difficult area to form a waterproof barrier. Ice dams are something that you must worry about, and these form when snow melts and water freezes as it hits the edges of the roof that are colder. Over time, the water will pool behind the dam and work its way up underneath the shingles as well as underneath the soffit until an opening is found through the roof.

The solution here starts with good flashing as this should essentially halt leaks from rainfall and may even stop leaks from ice dams, too. Start by removing the shingles off the roof all the way down to the sheathing, and then add a strip of adhesive water-and-ice barrier beneath the main roof joint. Dependent on the joint, it may be necessary cut a slot to get the barrier worked in far enough. Ultimately, it should extend beyond an additional piece of the barrier that is laid below—down to the edge off the roof, which should cover most of the leak-prone areas. Now it is time to reshingle the area, making sure to slide metal step flashing behind the trim that is behind the gutter (also known as fascia board). The valley flashing, which is placed over the joint where both roofs meet, needs to overlap the step flashing a minimum of two inches.

If you continue to notice leaks from ice dams, you may want to consider the installation of heating cables along the edge of the roof. However, the best way to thwart ice dams is with improved ventilation and attic insulation. Of course, in some cases, these may not be effective.

Repair Step Flashing

Step flashing is placed along the walls that cross the roof. Each piece of flashing—short sections—channels water downhill over the shingle away from it. However, in the event that the flashing rusts all the way through or if a piece becomes loose, the water runs behind it instead and seeps into the home. Flashing that has rusted must be replaced as soon as possible, which requires the removal of shingles, forcing siding loose, and then removing the step flashing and replacing it with new flashing. It is as simple as that. In some cases, though, a roofing contractor may forget to nail a piece in place, eventually resulting in the piece slipping down and exposing the wall.

Caulking Can’t Be Counted On

The last thing that you should ever expect to repair a leaking roof is roof cement or caulking—unless it is a temporary fix that you are after. Whenever possible, you should opt for a “mechanical” fix for leaking roofs, which means that you need to repair or replace existing flashing rather than using some form of sealant as a roof leak stopper. Caulking should only be used for tiny holes and when flashing cannot be used to stop leaks.

Repair Small Holes

Small holes in shingles can be particularly tricky since they can result in rot, a leaking roof, and other significant damage for multiple years before someone even noticing a problem. You may locate holes that were left behind from mounting brackets for an antenna or satellite dish or something else entirely. If there are any misplaced or exposed roofing nails, they need to be pulled and the left behind holes should be patched. Small holes like these are easy to fix, but caulking isn’t the fix. The fix, instead, is flashing.

Brick Chimney Leaks

When it comes to brick chimneys, you never know what you may find. If the flashing around the chimney is galvanized steel, it may rust all the way through, particularly the 90-degree bend found at the bottom of the chimney. A quick and relatively long-term repair for this is to cut a new piece of flashing and slip it beneath the old rusted flashing. This ensures that water that may seep through the old flashing will be diverted because of the new flashing that was placed. The most appropriate repair, however, is to cut a saw kerf directly into the mortar so that new flashing can be installed.

If you would like to learn more about locating and repairing a roof leak, contact the professionals at Chadwick Roofing.