A roof leak can be complicated to find, difficult to fix, and even scary for homeowners and property owners since the physical condition can put livability of your property at risk.
So accordingly, you need to find the leak and fix it fast before even more damage to your property has occurred.
And if the damage is significant or you can’t fix it yourself, you can always consult a roofing contractor, as well as your public adjuster if you are concerned about insurance covering the costs.
It is possible to fix more minor or smaller leaks yourself, and here’s how to tell if you have a leak in your roof and the various ways to fix it before things get worse.
- What Are the Signs of a Leaking Roof?
- Some Common Signs of Roof Leaks
- 20 Common Signs That You May Have A Roof Leak(s)
- Interior Signs That You May Have A Roof Leak
- Exterior Signs That You May Have A Roof Leak
- How Can You Find Roof Leaks?
- Discovering the Source of Your Roof Leaks
- Using a Drone to Assess Your Roof for Leaks
- How to Test for Water Leaks on Your Roof?
- The Garden Hose Method for Finding Roof Leaks
- What Are the Different Types of Roof Leaks and Where Are They Located?
- How to Fix Roof Leaks?
- How to Craft a Temporary Patch for a Roof Leak on the Outside of the Roof
- How to Fix a Leaking Roof from the Inside?
- Roof Leak Repairs That You Can Do Yourself
- Roof Leak Repairs That Require Professional Expertise
- When to Call in a Professional Contractor for Your Leaking Roof?
- How a Public Adjuster Can Help If You Have a Roof Leak
What Are the Signs of a Leaking Roof?
If your roof is leaking, chances are you have noticed water stains on your ceilings or running down your walls.
Before you panic or get too concerned, know that repairing a minor roof leak can be quite simple and you may even be able to do it yourself – tracking down the leak is the hard part, but the repair itself can be pretty easy.
Before you get started looking for leaks, remember that it’s especially important to examine your roof for signs of leaks if you’ve recently experienced a major weather event or natural disaster like a hailstorm, tornado, thunderstorm, or even a hurricane.
This is true even if you were lucky enough to escape with your property relatively unscathed, since minor roof leaks can be tricky to spot, even for the experts.
Some Common Signs of Roof Leaks
In the case of a major catastrophe, you probably already know that you need to get your roof looked at by the experts.
However, if you’ve noticed some of the more minor signs that we’ve listed below, then you need to examine things further and determine the next steps regarding your potential roof leak and repairs.
20 Common Signs That You May Have A Roof Leak(s)
If you think there may be a leak in your roof, check the interior and exterior of your property for these 20 signs and ask yourself these questions about the interior and exterior state of your roof.
Interior Signs That You May Have A Roof Leak
- Have you noticed water stains on your ceiling, particularly new ones that have appeared after a significant rainfall or storm? Even very small water spots can be early signs of leaks.
- Are there any damp spots on the ceiling, around interior air vents, and fireplaces?
- Does the paint or drywall around or light fixtures or electrical outlets look moist or damp?
- Do you hear any unexplained dripping sounds inside your home?
- Do you notice drips or moisture on the walls, especially after a major thaw? (Be aware that freezing temperatures can create an “ice dam” that appears to stop the leak, but the issues will come back once the weather warms up).
- Is there a noticeable musty smell in your house, especially in the attic or upper floors?
- Do you see the interior paint bubbling, peeling, or otherwise being oddly affected during hard rains?
- Are there water stains on the rafters or the roof sheathing in your attic or on the top floors?
Exterior Signs That You May Have A Roof Leak
- Have you seen loose shingles laying in your yard or around your property?
- Is there buckling or curling on your shingles?
- Have you spotted roof rot, or extremely degraded or discolored shingles?
- Has the color or appearance of your roof changed in any particular spot?
- Do you see exposed nails on your roof, or nails that look loose?
- Is there any cracked or damaged flashing around your roof vents?
- How about your chimney? Any cracked sealants or damaged flashing?
- Have you seen any debris piles in the valleys or lower spots of your roof, or around your chimney?
- Do you have clogged or loose gutters or downspouts?
- Any peeling paint or rotting areas under the eaves of your roof?
- Have you noticed any shingle granules or other debris in your gutters?
- If you have moss or mold on your exterior walls (especially if it appears to be growing)
Ready to go on an adventure and check your roof for a leak?
Download or print the 20 point checklist below
How Can You Find Roof Leaks?
If you suspect there’s a leak in your roof, you should begin your search by looking at the parts of the roof that are higher or uphill from the stains from both the interior and exterior of your home.
Start by looking for any penetrations, holes, or other visible damage to the roof from the outside if you can, since these issues are the most common causes of leaks.
Roof penetrations and other problems that can cause leaks usually occur around the plumbing, roof vents, chimneys, dormers, and any other construction that projects through the roof. Note that leaks can occur several feet away from the aforementioned constructions, so make sure you examine the entire roof, not just the area around the projections.
It’s highly unlikely for leaks to occur in roofs with uninterrupted surfaces or shingles, even older roofs, so looking for any holes, disruptions in the surface of the roof, or other damage is the first step in the process. A leak in a flat roof can be particularly complicated.
The next step is accessing the attic if you can. Go up there with a flashlight and a smartphone or camera to look for evidence of a roof leak like water stains, mold, black or dark marks, or any other inconsistencies that could potentially be a problem.
Look during the day when things are likely to be brighter and use a bright flashlight to travel upward from the source of the leak, looking for dampness along the framing and underside of your roof, as well as discolorations or marks that could have been made by moisture (this is especially important if the weather in your area has been dry for a while).
If you switch off outside sources of light, you may be able to see the sources of leaks by pinpointing spots where the outside daylight is entering your roof.
Be sure to stay on secure framing and never stand on the insulation or the topside of the ceiling while you’re examining your roof from the inside.
Discovering the Source of Your Roof Leaks
It can be difficult to discover the source of most roof leaks because the spots where you can see the leak (water spots or stains) are often not particularly close to the leak itself.
After all, water travels downhill from the spot where it enters your roof, so the actual hole or leak could be much higher on the plane of the roof.
For example, roof leaks often travel downline from rafters, sheathing, or the top of the ceiling until there’s a spot where the water can drip down – and by the time you notice it, it might be a pretty significant leaking roof.
Roofing experts will advise you to “think like water” when you search for the source of a roof leak – know that water typically comes in through broken or overly shingles, missing shingles, poorly sealed or corroded flashing around chimneys, skylights, vents, or along the intersection of different planes, or spots where nails are loose or missing.
If you don’t have attic access or have a vaulted ceiling, you may need to go up on the roof or find another way to examine things.
Keep in mind that this can be tricky and you may want to hire professionals for this part if you’re unsure of your capabilities.
Using a Drone to Assess Your Roof for Leaks
If you can or want to get high tech with things – particularly if you already have a drone, or a friend or family member who has one and is somewhat experienced at flying it – you can use a drone to assess the damage to your roof.
You can take pictures and videos of any angles you can’t necessarily discover on your own without climbing around on your roof, which definitely can be dangerous especially if you don’t have construction or building experience.
How to Test for Water Leaks on Your Roof?
There are many ways to test for water leaks on your roof, depending on the type of roof that you have, the resources that you have access to, and the amount of experience you have doing home repairs.
The Garden Hose Method for Finding Roof Leaks
One way to test for leaks is to run your garden hose over the roof and see if or where drips come in on the inside.
Get someone to help you by going outside and running the hose over the roof while you are inside around the area(s) you suspect the roof leak is coming from.
Start with the areas just above the potential leak, and isolate small areas one at a time so you can pinpoint the leak.
For instance, soak one side of the chimney or skylight first, then do the other sides and the top so you can get the most accurate idea of where the leaks are happening.
Spend at least a few minutes on each side and note that the entire process may take at least an hour, so you should be ready to settle until you see a drip.
When you or your assistant see a drip or leak inside, then find a way to mark the spot and bring the hose upstream from the leak and see if it continues, and don’t be afraid to change directions if you can’t source it immediately.
You (or your helper) should stay inside the house near where you suspect the leaks may be occurring and look for drips or moisture to appear, and inform the person wielding the hose to move the stream in various directions upwards of the leak until you find a source.
If you or your assistant(s) can access the roof, don’t be shy about removing shingles in the area that you’ve deemed to be problematic in order to pinpoint the source of the leak and discover the exact spots you need to fix.
You’ll likely see water-stained or even rotten wood or at least discolored felt paper located directly around the rook leak.
This is perhaps one of the easiest methods for finding a leak, but the exact methods you use can be determined by the type of roof and access to the roof that you have along with your own home repair skills and access to qualified helpers.
One thing to remember is that that once you find the leak and are getting ready and gathering supplies to repair it, make sure you mark where it is located and use a measuring tape to determine the amount of area you need to cover (this is particularly helpful if you are using the plastic sheeting method described in one of the sections below).
You can use those measurements to determine the area that you need to cover on the outside of your roof with the plastic sheeting, or on the inside with plywood or shingles.
What Are the Different Types of Roof Leaks and Where Are They Located?
There nearly as many types of roof leaks as there are types of roofs and the associated natural disasters or accidents that can cause them, but some of the more common ones are located in the natural weak spots.
These include the vent pipe, the air vents, the chimney, the roof valleys, around the nails, around the skylights, around the dormers, and other structural issues; damaged shingles, loose or missing nails, and ice damming can also cause roof leaks.
Note that ice damming can be one of the trickiest types of roof leaks to diagnose, since you’ll only notice the leaks when the temperature is warm enough for the ice to melt and the water to come through.
If you’ve noticed a leak in your roof and are trying to uncover the source, checking these standard weak spots is a good place to begin.
How to Fix Roof Leaks?
First of all, know that no matter where your roof leak is located, you shouldn’t try to fix it while it is raining or if you’re experiencing other inclement weather.
Place a bucket under any drips and come back to things when the weather is clear.
You can patch your roof leak when the weather is drier and your fixes won’t be compromised by additional water and moisture.
If the weather is clear and you feel comfortable and confident that you can fix the leak in your roof yourself, at least temporarily until you can get a roof repair leak contractor to look at it, assess the damage, and determine potential next steps.
There are a variety of ways to fix roof leaks depending on the size and type of leak, the location of the roof leak, and the type of roof you’re needing to fix.
How to Craft a Temporary Patch for a Roof Leak on the Outside of the Roof
You should be comfortable working at some height if you’re going to repair a roof leak on your own, even if its temporary. If you have questions or don’t want to climb up on your roof – which is definitely understandable – work with a roof contractor.
- If you’re ready to go and cover or patch your roof, then you’ll need a couple of two by fours and some heavy plastic polyethylene sheeting that’s large enough to cover the leaking section of the roof from the eaves (the bottom) to the peak (to the top) with a couple extra feet in case you need to wrap it around spots in order to tape it in place.
- Wrap one end around a two by four that’s longer than the width of the two by four and staple it place, and then add a second two by four next to it – like a sandwich – and staple the pair of boards together with 3” or 4” nails.
- Do the same thing with the other end and another set of two by fours.
- Place the pair of two by fours along the eaves (the bottom) of your roof, and stretch the plastic to the ridge or the peak (the top) and down the other side for a few feet to make sure you have enough coverage.
- Then use other pair of “sandwiched” two by fours to weigh down the poly sheeting on the other side, but don’t attach or nail any part of this temporary cover to the roof.
This type of repair is meant to keep moisture, water, and any other debris out of your property until the roof can be properly repaired; this is the kind of repair you should perform after you’ve noticed a leak and need to mitigate damage until you can get estimates and a review from a contractor for more permanent repairs.
Depending on your homeowners insurance policy, you may be obligated to perform temporary repairs like this one to show that you’ve made an effort to prevent further issues until the costs of long-term repairs or replacement are covered.
As always, if you have any questions you should check with your public adjuster.
How to Fix a Leaking Roof from the Inside?
If you don’t have access or the equipment to fix the outside of the roof, there are ways to fix things from the inside.
Once you’ve discovered the source of the leak in your roof, the easiest route to patching it is to craft a temporary patch using plywood, extra shingles, and some roofing tar.
If you’re inexperienced with home repairs, your local home improvement or hardware store can help you find the right materials for the job including roof leak repair sealant.
If you’ve located the leak and you have some roofing tar, plywood, or spare shingles, you can make a temporary patch.
Use a putty knife or similar tool to spread the roofing tar around the leak from the inside, and then place the plywood or shingle on the tar and spread more around the edges of the patch to keep it in place.
Be sure to monitor the leaks that you’ve repaired and the patches you’ve installed to ensure that they are holding up, and call a contractor who has experience repairing roofs when you are able.
The roof over your head isn’t something you want to take lightly, and your insurance may cover a more permanent fix.
Roof Leak Repairs That You Can Do Yourself
DIY roof leak repairs might sound intimidating, but mending or patching smaller roof leaks can be something that you can do yourself – all it takes a little knowledge, some basic tools and materials, and some confidence!
That said, if you are not comfortable working with your DIY knowledge or working at heights (especially on top of your roof) then there’s no shame in leaving things to the experts.
Sometimes small leaks can be the result of “shiners” or nails that missed the framing and are located in between the plastic insulation and the top of the roof – you’ll recognize them as being white or “frosted” when its cold out; the frost melts and drips into the ceilings or the underside of the roof when it warms up.
Fixing these is as simple as clipping those nails – the shiners – so that they can’t collect more moisture.
Leaks around the plumbing vent boots – or the plastic or metal bases that cover the plumbing lines and pipes on the roof – can be as simple as replacing the boots themselves.
Unless you have a very unusual roof design, you can find replacement vent boots at your local home improvement store. If it simply looks like the nails or screws are stripped, you can replace those as well.
Step flashing – or the reinforcement that seals the joints around your roof such as the ones around vents and chimneys – can be fairly easy to replace on your own as well.
If it’s rusted through or not nailed in place properly, you can pry shingles and the nails holding them in place loose, and apply galvanized metal flashing underneath.
It’s fairly simply if you’re handy with a hammer and nails, and you can buy the supplies at your local home improvement store.
Another common problem is leaks in the walls and dormers, which is often the result of old or damaged caulk – and that’s easy to replace yourself!
Dig around near the damaged area with a putty knife, and when you find spots that look rotten or corroded, add more caulk to seal the area until you can have an expert check it out.
Extensive damage to the walls or dormers should be looked at by a contractor.
One key thing to remember if you are fixing your roof leak on your own – caulk is not a long-term solution for significant leaks.
It can be helpful for small holes and to shore up more extensive repairs, but merely caulking up the problem isn’t a good idea in the long term.
Some things require experts – and your insurance policy may cover their services.
Roof Leak Repairs That Require Professional Expertise
Roof vents can be more complicated to fix. Know that if there is a leak around the roof vents you’ll likely need to replace the damaged vents.
You can add some caulk around the edges of the shingles near the vent and replace damaged or missing nails with rubber-washed screws, but there’s really not a proper substitute in the long term.
Check your insurance policy and get a quote from a contractor (and talk to your public adjuster) if you have damage around your roof vents, chimney, or other constructions and spots that you think will require more extensive work than what you can do yourself.
When to Call in a Professional Contractor for Your Leaking Roof?
If you can’t find the source of the leak but still see evidence of a roof leak and water coming in or if you don’t feel comfortable sourcing or fixing the leak yourself, that’s when it’s time to call in a professional contractor.
You may also want to look over your roof warranty and also consider your insurance coverage and how the policy is worded regarding fixes that you may perform yourself versus repairs done by a professional.
A professional roofing contractor should have their own liability insurance in case anything goes wrong as well.
And of course, if you have any questions, you should call your public adjuster – they are your best advocate and can help you navigate the tricky areas of not only dealing with a leak in your roof, but making sure that the repair or replacement and any associated damage is covered by insurance if and when applicable.
How a Public Adjuster Can Help If You Have a Roof Leak
If you’re dealing with a leak in your roof, then one of the first things that you should do is look for the source of the leak and repair yourself if you can.
However, if you can’t find the source or are otherwise not comfortable with clamoring around on your rooftop or in your attic, then you can call in roof leak repair contractors.
Concerned about paying for the repairs or how to bill your homeowners insurance company or contractors? That’s when you should call your public adjuster.
They are there to be your advocate and they are always on your side, as opposed to the insurance company which is seeking to pay out the least amount possible.