You likely do not spend much time thinking about the roof of your home, but keeping it in good shape is absolutely pivotal in maintaining your home. A small roof leak could go undetected for years, and then suddenly become a major issue. Luckily, it’s easy to check the condition of your roof and its features to make sure they are up to the job. And if you have signs of a leak, we will give you a few tips to track down the source and get it fixed.
You may be able to locate the source of your leak by looking in your attic. Look for signs of staining or mould coming from the roof. Additionally, look on your attic floor (the top side of your ceiling) for signs of where the water could be flowing from. It’s common to see water damage begin around light fixtures or corners of rooms. If you still haven’t found signs of your leak’s origins, search the underside of your roof for nails that missed the rafters when the roof was being installed. These nails experience large changes in temperature and create frost which then melts and drips. This problem is easily fixed by cutting off the protruding end of the nail with cutting pliers.
If you can’t locate the leak through your attic, you’ll likely find the source by tracking it uphill from the interior stains on the exterior of your roof. It’s rare for leaks to start in areas with uninterrupted shingles, so look around any nearby roof penetrations. This includes roof vents, plumbing vents, dormers, chimneys or anywhere else that shingles meet a fixture, edge or wall. The source of your leak can be several feet above the staining. Water travels down from either direction, so consider all nearby penetrations.
Plastic roof vents may crack over time and metal roof vents have seams that may split. This will allow water to drip in through the vent. The best way to correct this issue is to replace the vent entirely. It may be tempting to simply caulk the crack or broken seam, but this solution will only be temporary. If the vent itself is not broken, look for lifted or missing nails along the bottom and top edges. These nails can be replaced with screws and rubber washers to keep the problem from recurring. It’s likely that you can work the nails loose without removing your shingles entirely, but you will need to remove the nails from the surrounding shingles so they give you some flexibility to work. When done, you can secure these shingles back in place and create a water barrier with caulking.
Metal flashing is used to prevent leaks where shingles end and reach other surfaces like chimneys. However, some roofers may opt for using other fillers like roof cement rather than flashing. This cement will hold out water temporarily but will crack and leak over time. If you find your roof has lots of tar or cement around your chimney or at a wall, it’s best to install proper flashing, even if it hasn’t begun to leak.
Alternatively, if your flashing is present but does not create a tight seal with your shingles, this needs to be repaired and replaced before it becomes an issue. Chimney flashing should include sections that run up the sides of the chimney, called step flashing. It should also include counterflashing, which covers the step flashing. These types of flashing are essential to making sure water isn’t running down the sides of your chimney and into your home. If you think your flashing might be improperly installed, check in your attic for signs of water after a heavy rain.
Beyond chimney flashing, your roof also needs kick-out flashing. This is where your roof meets a wall. Kick-out flashing stops the water from running from the roof, down along the wall and seeping between the siding. The problem is often worse when the water runs down the wall and meets with a door or window and is trapped behind a frame. Kick-out flashing can be easily installed onto your existing roof.
Finally, you have the flashing that is required around plumbing pipes and vents that penetrate the roof. This can be in the form of either rubber seals that sit tight around the vent, called boot flashing, or an all-metal flashing that is bent into and over the pipe.
The base of your chimney offers the perfect resting spot for debris to build up and catch water increasing the chances of rust and leaks at your chimney flashing. For wider chimneys - anything over 2.5 feet - this can be a serious issue and a chimney cricket is recommended to keep debris moving. A chimney cricket is basically a small tent that directs water down and around the chimney towards your gutters. A cricket should be installed along with new roofing.
Gutter aprons are installed along the edge of the roof to help direct the running water off and into the gutter. Otherwise, the water may “stick” to the surface of the roof and flow down the underside of the roof and toward the fascia. Over time, this will cause the soffits, fascia and sheathing to rot. If you see water stains below your gutter, on the fascia, this is a good indicator that you need to install a gutter apron. If needed, you can install the apron without installing a new roof, but this will require you to remove your gutter fasteners to get in to work and resecure them when you’re done. You will also have to glue down the shingles after you’ve installed your apron.
A roof leak can cause serious damage to your home and even the smallest leak left undetected can cost you big in the long run. Make it a habit to check these important features of your roof regularly and to keep an eye out for signs of water inside your home.