Roof leaks present multiple challenges for homeowners. They never occur at a time which is convenient and they can lead to significant damage to the interior of your home. Their effects can linger long after the repair has been made in the form of mold growth on the interior surfaces of your home.
In order to trace a leak back to its original source it helps to visually see the active leak instead of depending on the remnants of the leak such as staining on the ceiling. Stains can be used to locate roof leaks, but they may not reveal the entire story behind the roof leak.
A small leak can cause the roof sheathing and rafters of this home to rot. Mold grew in the insulation as well.
If you have water stains that extend across ceilings or run down walls, the cause is probably a roof leak. Tracking down the leak is the hard part; the fixes are usually pretty easy. We’ll show you some simple tricks for finding and repairing most of the common types of roof leaks. But if you live in the Snow Belt and in the winter you have leaks only on warm or sunny days, you probably have ice dams.
Minor leaks can cause major damage
If you have a roof leak, you’d better fix it immediately, even if it doesn’t bother you much or you’re getting a new roof next year. Even over a short time, small leaks can lead to big problems, such as mold, rotted framing and sheathing, destroyed insulation and damaged ceilings. The flashing leak that caused an expensive repair bill (Photo) was obvious from the ceiling stains for over two years. If the homeowner had dealt with it right away, the damage and subsequent repairs would have been minimal.
How to find roof leaks
When you’re trying to track down a leak, start by looking at the roof uphill from the stains. The first thing to look for is any roof penetrations. Items that penetrate the roof are by far the most common source of leaks. In fact, it’s rare for leaks to develop in open areas of uninterrupted shingles, even on older roofs. Penetrations can include plumbing and roof vents, chimneys, dormers or anything else that projects through the roof. They can be several feet above the leak or to the right or left of it.
If you have attic access, the easiest way to track down a leak is to go up there with a flashlight and look for the evidence. There will be water stains, black marks or mold. But if access is a problem or you have a vaulted ceiling, you’ll have to go up onto the roof and examine the suspect(s).
If the problem still isn’t obvious, enlist a helper and go up on the roof with a garden hose. Start low, soaking the area just above where the leak appears in the house. Isolate areas when you run the hose. For example, soak the downhill side of a chimney first, then each side, then the top on both sides. Have your helper stay inside the house waiting for the drip to appear. Let the hose run for several minutes in one area before moving it up the roof a little farther. Tell your helper to yell when a drip becomes visible. You’ll be in the neighborhood of the leak. This process can take well over an hour, so be patient and don’t move the hose too soon.
Solution for a Small Leak
Some roof leaks are tough to locate. Sometimes the water shows up at a ceiling spot distant from the leak. If your ceiling has a plastic vapor barrier between the drywall and the attic insulation, push the insulation aside and look for flow stains on the plastic. Often water runs to openings in the vapor barrier, such as at ceiling light fixtures.