Leaky Roof Overview
A leaky roof is likely to be the cause of water stains on ceilings and walls. The hard part is finding the leak; the repair of roof leaks is usually fairly easy. Here are some easy tricks to repair and find leaky roofs. If you live in the Snow Belt, and you only have leaks on sunny or warm days in winter, then you may have ice dams. This story won’t cover leaky home repair. This article has more information on how to prevent ice dams. Even if you don’t care about it or your roof is getting replaced next year, you should fix a leaky roofing system immediately. Small leaks, even if they are not noticed for a long time, can cause big problems. These include mold, rotted framing, sheathing and insulation, and damaged ceilings. Ceiling stains revealed the flashing leak which led to an expensive repair bill for more than two years. The damage and subsequent repair costs would have been minimal if the homeowner had addressed the leak immediately.

Roof Leaks: How to find them
Start by examining the roof that is uphill of the stain. Look for any roof penetrations. Leaks are most often caused by items that penetrate the roof. Even on older roofs, leaks are rare in areas with uninterrupted shingles. The roof can be penetrated by vents and plumbing, chimneys, or dormers. The leak can be a few feet above or to the left or right. The easiest way to find a leak in your attic is to use a flashlight to search for evidence. You will see water stains, mold or black marks. If access is an issue or you have vaulted ceilings, you will have to climb up on the roof to examine the suspect.

Find difficult leaks with this trick
If you can’t find the leak, ask a friend to help and climb up onto the roof. Use a garden hose. Start low and soak the area directly above the spot where the leak is visible in the home. When you run the hose, isolate areas. You can soak the bottom of the chimney first and then both sides. Your helper should stay in the house and wait for the drip. Allow the hose to run in one place for several minutes before moving it a little higher on the roof. Tell your assistant to shout when the drip is visible. The leak will be nearby. Be patient. This can take a long time. Buy your helper dinner. Don’t be afraid if running water does not reveal the exact leak location. Remove shingles from the suspected area. Once the shingles are removed, you will have evidence of the leak. You can then track the source. A leaky roof will show discolored felt or wood that is stained or rotted.

A solution for a small leak
Some roof leaks can be difficult to find. Water can appear in a spot on the ceiling far from the source of the leak. Look for flow stains if your ceiling has a plastic barrier between the drywall insulation and the attic insulation. Water can often run into the openings of the vapor barriers, like at ceiling light fixtures.

Look for “shiners” on the underside of your roof if you don’t see any flow marks and the stain appears to be small. Shiners are nails that were not nailed to the framing members, as in this case the roof sheathing was not nailed to the rafters. The moisture that escapes from the rooms below and condenses onto the nails can be seen in the attic. You can sometimes see this when you climb into your attic during a cold evening. They will appear white as they are frosted. The frost will melt and drip when the attic gets warm during the day. At night, it will frost again. To fix this, simply cut the nail using a side-cutting pair of pliers.

Repair Plumbing Vent Boots
The base of the vent boot can be made from plastic or metal. Metal bases and plastic bases should be checked for cracked seams. Examine the rubber boot that surrounds the pipe. This can be torn or rotted, allowing the water to enter the house through the pipe. If you have any of these issues, it is best to buy a replacement vent boot. If the boots are in good condition and the nails have been pulled out or the base is missing, you can replace the screws with rubber-washered screws that are used on metal roofing systems. They can be found at any home center along with the other screws. It’s necessary to remove shingles on both sides. When removing shingles to reuse, be cautious if you do not have any extras. Separate the sealant layers using a flat bar. You can then drive the flat bar underneath the nail heads and pop them out.

How to Repair Roof Vents
Look for broken seams or cracked housings in metal roof vents. Caulk is a temporary solution. The only way to fix the problem is by replacing damaged vents. Look for missing or pulled nails along the bottom edge of the base. Replace them with rubber-washered screws. In most cases, you can remove nails under the shingles on both sides of the vent to pull it free. There will be nails across the top of the vent too. Usually you can also work those loose without removing shingles. Screw the bottom in place with rubber-washered screws. Squeeze out a bead of caulk beneath the shingles on both sides of the vent to hold the shingles down and to add a water barrier. That’s much easier than renailing the shingles.

Fix Walls and Dormers
Water doesn’t always come in at the shingled surface. Often, wind-driven rain comes in from above the roof, especially around windows, between corner boards and siding, and through cracks and knotholes in siding. Dormer walls provide lots of spots where water can dribble down and enter the roof. Caulk can be old, cracked or even missing between the corner boards and between window edges and siding. Water penetrates these cracks and works its way behind the flashing and into the house. Even caulk that looks intact may not be sealing against the adjoining surfaces. Dig around with a putty knife to see if the area is sealed. Dig out any suspect caulk and replace it with a high-quality caulk. Also check the siding above the step flashing. Replace any cracked, rotted or missing siding, making sure the new piece overlaps the step flashing by at least 2 in. If you still have a leak, pull the corner boards free and check the overlapping flashing at the corner. Often, there’s old, hardened caulk where the two pieces overlap at the inside corner.

Complex Roof Problem
This roof leaks during the snowy part of winter and during storms in the summer, certainly due to poor flashing. The soffit that meets the roof is one of the toughest areas to waterproof. In the photo, you can still see signs of an ice dam. An ice dam occurs when snow melts and the water freezes when it hits the colder edges of your roof. Eventually, water pools behind the dam and works its way back up under the shingles and under the soffit until it finds an opening through the roof. The solution begins with good flashing since this should stop leaks from rainfall and might stop the leaks from ice dams as well. Begin by removing the shingles down to the wood sheathing and slip a strip of adhesive ice-and-water barrier (available where roofing repair products are sold) under the soffit/main roof joint. Depending on how the roofs join, you may have to cut a slot to work it in far enough. It should overlap another piece of ice-and-water barrier laid below, all the way down to the roof edge. This should cover the most leak-prone areas. Then reshingle, sliding metal step flashing behind the fascia board (the trim behind the gutter). The valley flashing, laid over the joint where the two roofs meet, should overlap the step flashing at least 2 in. If leaks continue to occur from ice dams, consider installing roof edge heating cables. (Find them locally at hardware stores or home centers.) Improved attic insulation and ventilation are usually the best ways to prevent ice dams, but they might not be effective in this complicated leaky roof situation.

Fix Step Flashing
Step flashing is used along walls that intersect the roof. Each short section of flashing channels water over the shingle downhill from it. But if the flashing rusts through, or a piece comes loose, water will run right behind it, and into the house it goes. Rusted flashing needs to be replaced. That means removing shingles, prying siding loose, and then removing and replacing the step flashing. It’s that simple. But occasionally a roofer forgets to nail one in place and it eventually slips down to expose the wall. Check out this article for more on installing your own step flashing.

Don’t Count on Caulk!
Rarely will caulk or roof cement cure a leaky roof –at least for very long. You should always attempt a “mechanical” leaky roof fix whenever possible. That means replacing or repairing existing flashing instead of using any type of sealant as a leak stopper. Only use caulk for very small holes and when flashing isn’t an option as a leak stopper.

Fix Small Holes
Tiny holes in shingles are sneaky because they can cause rot, a leaky roof and other damage for years before you notice the obvious signs of a leak. You might find holes left over from a satellite dish or antenna mounting brackets or just about anything. And exposed, misplaced roofing repair nails should be pulled and the holes patched. Small holes are simple to fix, but the fix isn’t to inject caulk in the hole. You’ll fix this leaky roof problem with flashing.

Leaks Around Brick Chimneys
All kinds of bad things can happen around brick chimneys. In fact, there are far too many to cover in this story. Flashing around chimneys can rust through if it’s galvanized steel, especially at the 90-degree bend at the bottom. A quick but fairly long-term fix is to simply slip new flashing under the old rusted stuff. That way any water that seeps through will be diverted. The best fix, though, is to cut a saw kerf into the mortar and install new flashing. Get complete instructions on how to install chimney flashing.


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