Roof Leak Repair DIY Guide: Top 10 Causes of Roof Leaks

Top 10 Causes of Roof Leaks: How to Fix any Leak DIY Style, Plus the Anticipated Cost of Repairs

They are the two most dreaded words in a homeowner’s vocabulary: a leaky roof. Water is the most insidious foe, eager to penetrate your home covering’s most vulnerable defenses. And once inside, the damage and destruction may be taking place far from the point of the initial attack, making the initial source of a roof leak difficult to identify.

handywoman on the roof The best homeowner defense is vigilance and fast action. Maybe a new roof is in the near future and it seems like folly to bother with a leak. But even a small, out-of-the-way drip in a house that seems like nothing more than an inconvenience is a major repair bill waiting to happen!

Did you know? Roof leaks can ruin insulation, become a breeding ground for black mold, damage interior ceilings and walls, and rot the wooden framing.

So let’s look at ten of the most common culprits in causing your roof to leak and what you can – and should – do about them (other than recruit a bucket brigade):

1. Villain: Age

an-old-asphalt-roof Source: Accent Roofing

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Roofing materials, especially asphalt shingles, get old and tired. Expansion and contraction with the change in temperatures cause aging roof protection to turn brittle and eventually crack. Years of harsh rays from direct sunlight can melt the tar that holds composition shingles together. Father Time has not lost a battle yet and when roofing materials run up against their life expectancy, it will be time to budget for a new roof at the first sign of a leak.

2. Villain: Brick Chimneys

leaking-chimney Source: Roof.net

Have you ever seen house ruins from 200 years ago? The chimney is often the only thing standing. While brick chimneys may seem indestructible, the mortar that binds the bricks together is nothing more than a hard-working mixture of water, sand and cement. Exposed to the weather elements, it can erode and crumble over time. Check the mud cap on top of the chimney for deterioration and inspect the mortared joints where the chimney enters the roof. If patches are required, it is a cheap and quick fix.

3. Villain: Flashing

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chimney-flashing Source: Runyon and Sons Roofing

Speaking of chimneys, compromised flashing is a common problem on a roof. Flashing are thin strips of metal installed at danger points for leaks around a roof. For a chimney, they are bent at a 90-degree angle to attach to both the roofing material and the brick chimney. Flashing needs to be properly sealed to protect against water intrusion. It also needs to remain nailed in place and even if that is all squared away the metal can rust or crack. Expect the cost of replacing old flashing to run a few hundred dollars, depending on job size and desired material. Although it may be tempting to marshall the forces of caulking and roof cement in the battle against faulty flashing, this is only a temporary solution best reserved if you know the roof will soon be replaced.


4. Villain: Missing Shingles

missing-shingles Source: Master’s Construction

If you find a shingle lying in your garden, chances are the next rainstorm will be sending water into your house. Replacing a shingle is a matter of prying off the nails from the course below and sliding the new shingle into place. Nail the newcomer down securely and then re-nail its neighbors. Do not expect to achieve a perfect color match unless you have some leftover shingles from you existing roof that have been left out to weather as well. This procedure applies for cracked shingles as well, although you may not discover the offending shingle until a leak has already sprouted. Depending on the pitch of the roof, this can be a DIY job or require an hour or two of a contractor’s time.

5. Villain: Vent Boot

The vent boot is a close relative of flashing. Fabricated from rubber, it slides over the plastic vent pipes that protrude from a roof to work with flashing to waterproof the junction of roof and pipe. Vent boots can be plastic, metal, rubber or any combination. When the gasket stops working the old boot must be pulled off, usually with the aid of a knife, and a new one installed. Like shingle work, this is a job that can be handled without a call to a contractor.

6. Villain: Holes

A hole can result in a roof from storm damage, which is obvious, or they can be more sneaky, living for years until an inspection uncovers them. These devious tiny holes can result from misplaced roofing nails. Or they can be left over from a former antenna mounting bracket. Again, the best fix is with a small piece of flashing under the shingle and not just a dab of caulk. This is another easy job for the homeowner or can be combined with a thorough inspection from a professional roofer.

7. Villain: Complex Roof Architecture

complex-roof-photo-render Source: 24h Plans

Your dynamic roofline may be an architect’s pride and joy and a real showstopper from the street, but all those valleys and slopes can be an invitation to disaster, if they are not properly sealed. Installing a leak barrier that keeps water flowing off the roof and still looks attractive, is a job for professionals and expect to pay according to the complexity of your roofline.

snow-rakes-ice-dams-removal

Complex roofs can be problematic even when maintained in tip-top shape. In snowy areas a roof’s configuration may not work in helping snow slide off the top of your house. If the snow piles up, an ice dam can potentially form from a combination of melting from your attic’s heat and refreezing on the colder edges at the bottom of a slope. Ice dams not only put unwelcome weight stress on a roof, but also keep corrosive water in contact with the roof surface for long periods of time, encouraging seepage under the shingles. If you cannot keep the edges of your roof clear with a roof rake or ice melting product, an alternative would be roof edge heating cables. — These can cost anywhere from fifty to a couple of hundred dollars, not including the bump in your winter electric bill.

copper-ice-belt Source: Melanson

Metal roofing, or metal ice belts (a partial metal roof usually aluminum, zinc, or copper) can also be a great option to help prevent many issues associated with the snow build-up.

8: Villain: Clogged Gutters

cleaning-clogged-gutters Source: 9: Villain: Skylights

leaky-skylight-replacement Source: Kuhl’s Contracting

Who doesn’t love a skylight? They can instantly transform any room or interior space! Hopefully yours was fitted and installed properly. Leaks can sprout down the sides of poorly fitted skylights and rubber seal around the glass can dry out and wear out as well, ruining the water barrier. Check for cracks in the flashing along the top and the sides of the skylight, as well as any missing or cracked shingles around it. Also, ensure the skylight was installed with proper pitch. Most skylight leaks occur due to flashing issues or improper installation, not the failure of the glazing that comes with the skylight.

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If you discover cracks in the flashing around the skylight, or any missing or cracked shingles, then the skylight will need to be professionally repaired or replaced, with new flashing and shingles applied. If the rubber seal surrounding the skylight has dried out, then the skylight will need to be professionally replaced. A temporary repair will involve applying high quality caulk such as Vulkem or Lexel. — The cost of a temporary repair will be anywhere from $50 to $300. To professionally re-shingle and re-flash a leaky skylight will cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000 depending on the ease of access (number of storeys and roof slope) and the amount of labor required. Replacing a leaky skylight altogether will cost anywhere from $1,250 to $2,500 for most roofs.

10: Villain: Shiners

Not every roofing nail finds its mark. If one has missed the rafters and protrudes into the attic it is a candidate for water damage. On cold nights in an unheated attic the exposed metal nail can frost up (hence, the “shiner”). When the weather warms during the day the frost will melt away and begin dripping. It may not seem like much until it happens day after day after day and you suddenly have a brown spot in your bedroom ceiling. Your only short-term cost for this fix will be the purchase of side-splitting pliers and a bit of your time. However, having moisture that causes shiners in your attic space, indicates that your attic space in not insulated nor ventilated properly. This will need to be corrected if you want to prolong the longevity of your roof deck, as well as help minimize the chance of ice dams forming on your roof. Correcting any issues with your attic insulation and ventilation will also help improve your home’s overall comfort, energy efficiency, as well as help improve the overall performance and longevity of your roof.

attic-insulation-and-ventilation Source: Sunshine Contracting


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One thought on “Roof Leak Repair DIY Guide: Top 10 Causes of Roof Leaks

  1. Frank Oliver

    I had no idea that something like a complex roof could be such a problem to deal with when it comes to repairs. My father was a roofer, so he tried to teach me some ways to help prevent leaks, but he never really said anything about complicated roof patterns. His biggest concern was ventilation, which is something you brought up too.

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