How to Locate Roof Leaks

Keeping the roof in good shape is a cost-effective way to increase its lifespan and avoid other ways water damage can impact your home. Since even the smallest roof leak might cause extensive damage if left undiscovered, it’s important, when doing home maintenance, to inspect the roof periodically, particularly after a storm.

Start with the Usual Suspects

While some signs of a leaking roof can be subtle, there are still telltale indicators that your roof might be leaking. These include but are not limited to:

  • Musty or damp smell only in certain rooms or areas of the home (interior)
  • Water stains on the ceiling (interior)
  • Damp roof shingles that never seem to dry off (exterior)
  • Bulging drywall (interior)
  • Damp and/or soft spots on siding (exterior)

Check the Attic

So that you don’t miss anything, use a flashlight. Check your attic for water stains, a stream of water actively running down a wall, pooled water, and mold on the walls or black streaks on the rafters. Wet insulation must be replaced – it will no longer be able to effectively keep out the cold air or prevent warm air from escaping.

Check the Roof

If your home does not have an attic, check the roof for obvious signs of damage. When renting or owning a unit in a residential complex, report any roof leaks to the property manager or landlord.

Inspect Components of the Roof

A leaking roof can be the result of components of the roof failing or being damaged by the elements. Inspect individual components of the roof as a possible source for the roof leak.

Missing roof shingles: Missing roof shingles can allow water to get in behind the other shingles in the nearby rows and eventually seep into the underlayment of the roof structure and into your home. After a storm, look on the ground for roofing tiles that have been blown off.

Damaged roof tiles: Roof tiles that have been damaged by the elements also allow water to get in. When the water doesn’t dry up, it collects or pools, causing more damage and leaks. Look in the gutters for asphalt shingle granules – when an asphalt roof looses a significant amount of granules, a roof can be susceptible to UV damage, where cracked shingles can let in water.

Flashings: Plumbing vents, brick chimneys, dormer windows, sun roofs, and other types of roof installations require quality flashings to prevent water infiltration. Especially if you aren’t aware of how old dormer windows and sun roofs are or you’re not sure when the roof was last inspected by a roofing contractor, check flashings for loose hardware, cracked caulking, and rust.

Tracking down the Leaks

If after an inspection of the attic or the roof doesn’t readily reveal where the leak is coming from, you’ll have to do some more investigating.

When a roof leaks, water often collects on your ceiling. If you notice any brown or yellow stains on your ceiling, you most likely have a roof leak. Because water travels easily, the leak directly above the stain on a ceiling isn’t necessarily the source of the leak on the roof.

To locate the source of the leak, get someone to assist you. Have the helper stand inside the house near the suspected leak. Outside, from a ladder, take a garden hose and thoroughly spray the area above where the person is standing. If the helper doesn’t see any drips, soak the next section of the roof. Keep spraying one section at a time until your assistant tells you that a drip has appeared.

After tracking down the source of roof leaks, whether you DIY or hire a roofing contractor, making repairs as soon as possible is a priority.