Why Roofs Leak and How to Fix Them

Rainwater is Mother Nature’s signature calling card for wreaking havoc on your home. No other element works harder to penetrate the most vulnerable defenses protecting your home, taking no prisoners along its destructive path. Even the minor inconvenience of a small drip can compromise the integrity of your roof.

A leaking roof can ruin insulation, damage interior ceilings and walls, rot wooden framing, and grow dangerous mold. Once inside your home, water can spread far from the point of its initial attack, making it harder for you to trace the source.

Knowing why roofs leak—and how to fix them—puts you back in a position of power over the most common culprits. King Quality is here to guide you through the process.

Your roof is too old.

Years of wear and tear leave roofing materials—especially asphalt shingles—old and tired. Roofs aged beyond their life expectancy can break down and leak water into your home.

Hot and cold temperatures that expand and contract shingles can eventually crack the roof protection (or turn it brittle). Decades of strong rays from direct sunlight shining down on your roof can also melt the tar holding the shingles together.

An aged roof with its best days behind it can cause major damage to your home. The only surefire way to fix an over the hill roof on its last legs is to hire a roofing contractor and budget for a new one.

Your chimney is cracked.

Brick chimneys may seem indestructible—it’s the mortar binding the bricks together that makes them vulnerable. Made from just a thick mixture of water, sand, and cement, mortar can erode and crumble when exposed to harsh weather.

Your chimney can leak water into your home at three main penetration points:

  • wear and tear along the mud cap or mortared area around the top of the chimney
  • mortared joints where the chimney enters the roof
  • loose flashing and shingles surrounding the chimney

Patching the mortar—given you know the source of the leak—is something you can do on your own. However, fixing a more serious problem such as a crack in the chimney is a job for a professional.

Your flashing is cracked.

Thin pieces of metal installed under the shingles, on the roof joints, and between the chimney and roof, flashing creates a water-resistant barrier for your home. Flashing can crack when harsh weather and other wear and tear take their toll.

There are more threats to your flashing than high winds, rain, and other elements. For example, the tar used to seal flashing together can corrode over time. Nails worked loose can also create penetration points for water to leak down into your home.

The cost for a roofer to replace cracked or damaged flashing depends on the job size and material. However, savvy homeowners with enough confidence to climb up on a ladder can handle the job with a hammer, a few nails, and some roofing sealant.

Here’s how to replace cracked or damaged flashing:

  • Locate the source of the leak.
  • Pry up the nails securing the flashing, lift the shingles out of the way, and remove the cracked pieces.
  • Gently install the new flashing, fastening with nails in the same pattern as old flashing.
  • Coat the nail heads with roofing sealant.

Your shingles are worn, broken, or missing.

The signs of this roofing problem are often easy to spot. For example, you might notice different colored patches on your roof or shingles laying on the ground after a heavy storm. Inexperienced roofers, faulty materials, and the wrath of Mother Nature herself top the list of culprits responsible for shingles that wear out, break, or go missing.

Here’s how to reverse the damage:

  • Slide a pry bar underneath the row of nails connecting the damaged shingle to the shingle below it.
  • Lift until the nail pops, pressing down on the shingle while removing the nail.
  • Repeat the process for the remaining nails, pulling out all the broken shingles.
  • Replace the broken or missing shingles with new ones.
  • Secure the new shingles with four new nails, re-nailing the neighboring shingles.

Finding a perfect color match is difficult without leftover shingles from your existing roof. Depending on the roof pitch, replacing the shingles could be a do-it-yourself job for a homeowner on a Sunday afternoon or a quick and easy two-hour fix for a roofing contractor.

Your roof vent booting is cracked.

Built to expel excess moisture from inside the house, roof vent boots are the close cousin of flashing. Fabricated from rubber, plastic, metal, or any combination, vent boots slide over the plastic vent pipes sticking out of the top of the roof, working together with the flashing to waterproof the junction of the roof and pipe. Similar to flashing, roof vent boots can crack and leak water into your home.

Here’s how to replace an old boot:

  • Remove the rubber around the vent boot with a knife.
  • Break the seal on connecting shingles with a pry bar.
  • Slide the new rubber boot under the shingle and over the vent.
  • Secure the new boot with roofing nails on either side.
  • Caulk under the shingles to seal them to the new flashing.

Your roof edge has an ice dam.

Ridges of ice that form at the edge of a roof, ice dams prevent melting snow (water) from draining. Heat from your attic and home melts the snow on the roof, water runs down the slope, and snow refreezes into ice at the exterior edge. The combined weight of the ice itself, plus the water sitting on the surface, puts your roof at risk of damage.

Here’s how to get rid of an ice dam:

  • Buy a roof rake—which looks like a sideways shovel with a long handle.
  • Reach up onto the roof and remove the lower four feet of snow from the roof edge.
  • Stay proactive about ice dams: if you see one forming, treat it right away with an ice melt product.

Your attic has poor ventilation.

Without proper ventilation, built up moisture from attics—plus bathrooms, kitchens, sunrooms, and other high moisture rooms—can damage your roof and home.

An attic that can “breathe”—letting cool air in at the bottom and hot air out at the top—can solve up to 90% of the most common roofing problems at the source.

Hiring a professional to fix your attic’s ventilation system can improve the overall comfort and energy efficiency of your home as well as the overall performance and longevity of your roof.

Your roof valleys are punctured (or improperly sealed).

The (usually sloped) area where two roof planes come together, roof valleys can run rainwater down your roof and into your home when improperly sealed, stepped on, or exposed to excess rain and ice.

Similar to other roof problems, roof valleys can also erode over time. However, unlike other roof problems, punctured roof valleys are complex and demand a professional who can lay a new roof leak barrier along the valley and over the shingles.

Your roof has holes.

Just about anything can puncture a hole in your roof from storm damage and hail, to squirrels and raccoons, to falling limbs, trees, and other objects. This common roofing problem is usually an easy DIY fix: just cover the hole with a small piece of flashing underneath the shingle.

Aside from creating holes, debris can also block water from flowing down the slope of your roof. Water can pool on the surface and seep into your home. Clean and clear gutters are your best defense against debris-related roof leaks.

Your skylights were improperly installed.

Another easy-to-spot problem, improperly installed skylights often create wet spots and leaks sprouting down the sides.

With a drip bucket placed around the sides of the skylight, check for cracked or missing shingles and flashing along the top and sides of the skylight. Also, check for decayed insulation along the edges as well as any dried out or worn rubber seals around the glass.

Here’s how to patch the problem:

  • Clear debris from the skylight.
  • Check for cracks in the window.
  • Seal any cracks with clear silicone along the length of the window.
  • Check (and replace) surrounding flashing.

Patching a leaking skylight is normally a DIY project with one exception: when the source of the leak is a dried out rubber seal surrounding the skylight. For this more serious problem, hire a professional to replace the skylight.

Your gutters are clogged.

Clogs prevent gutters from doing their one and only job: helping water travel away from your roof and foundation. (Leaves sticking out of your gutters and a lack of water trickling out of a downspout during a rainstorm both signal a clogged gutter). Rainwater can pool rainwater in one area of the roof and seep through the cracks.

There’s no easy fix for clogged gutters. Either put on some latex gloves, climb a ladder, and remove the clog with your hands—or hire a roofer to do the job for you.

Your roof gets too much foot traffic.

Roofing material is fragile—and venturing out onto the roof too often makes you more likely to accidentally step on a crucial element or crack an already precarious seal.

Stay proactive about keeping foot traffic to a minimum (forget about that Frisbee the kids threw onto the roof). Also, hire professional to repair roof problems rather than take them into your own hands.

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