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What to Do When You Have a Roof Leak

A leaking roof can be a very stressful situation for any homeowner, no matter what the size, extent, or location of the leak. Knowing how to react to a roof leak, however, including what steps to take to repair the damage, can help you correct the problem and be confident in the strength and durability of your home’s roof.

Noticing Roof Leaks

Roof leaks might be noticed in several ways. While in extreme cases, actual dripping water could be seen from visible holes, cracks, or breaches in the roof or ceiling, other, more subtle indications can point to smaller roof leaks. Sagging or cracking paint, musty odors, mold growth, or stains on the ceiling or walls can all indicate a roof leak.

As soon as even the smallest sign of a leak is noticed, it is important to deal with the issue right away. Small leaks can quickly develop into larger, more persistent problems, causing greater damage and eventually compromising the structure of the house if not repaired.

What Steps to Take When You Have a Roof Leak

Regardless of how large or small a roof leak may be or where the water is flowing, certain steps can help minimize damage and make it easier to repair the roof properly.

Finding the Leak and Minimizing Damage

First, the origin of the leak must be pinpointed. Because water can flow or seep in unexpected directions, it may be difficult to find the exact origin of a roof leak, but diligent inspection can help isolate where it may have originated. Different sources of roof leaks might include:

  • Broken or misaligned vent boots
  • Overflowing or clogged gutters and roof vents
  • Old caulk or seals around chimneys, skylights, or wall joints
  • Small holes from rusted or missing nails or screws
  • Curling, cracked, or missing shingles
  • Storm damage from fallen limbs or excessive wind

Even while you look for the leak source, it is important to simultaneously take quick steps to minimize damage resulting from the leak. This may include mopping up accumulated water, putting out buckets or pans to catch drips and protect flooring, spreading tarps to divert water from entering a compromised roof, and improving ventilation and airflow to dry surfaces quickly. While these steps will not stop the leak, they can help minimize damage and make it easier to clean up after the leak is repaired.

Contacting Insurance Companies

Depending on the source of the leak and the condition of the roof, the home insurance company may cover some repair costs. Because many insurance companies require specific documentation of leaks and damage, however, as well as have a list of preferred contractors, it is best to contact the insurance company right away for guidance on how to proceed with a roof leak repair.

If it isn’t possible to wait for action from the insurance company, take plenty of photos or video of the roof and have all documentation available if possible, including when any previous repairs may have been made or when the roof was last replaced. If the roof is fairly new, it may still be under warranty from the roofing company and it is a good idea to contact the roofer about repair and possible compensation options, if applicable.

Fixing the Leak

If you are certain of the cause of the leak and have appropriate home repair experience, you may be able to repair small leaks yourself, such as replacing a vent boot or a missing shingle, or cleaning out gutters and downspouts to eliminate dams that cause water backups. If repairs are more extensive, however, or if the leak’s cause is not clear, it is best to contact a professional roofing company for expert service and thorough repair.

At the same time the leak is being repaired, consider repairing or upgrading similar materials to prevent other imminent problems. If just one or two shingles were missing and caused the leak, for example, it is wise to check for other loose shingles and resecure or replace them as well. Similarly, inspect all caulking and seals around skylights, vents, chimneys, and other areas that may be showing degradation, and do such preemptive repairs as necessary.

In the case of very severe damage or an older roof that is showing significant weaknesses, a full re-roof may be the best course of action to prevent additional leaks in the near future and to put the roof back under a protective warranty.

Inspecting the Roof

After the repairs are finished, the roof should be thoroughly inspected to be sure there are no other causes for concern. This may include looking for mold or other evidence of past issues, as well as inspecting adjacent beams, insulation, and other materials to ensure they are not damaged.

Submitting a report from a certified roof inspector may be necessary for an insurance company to approve reimbursement for repairs, or to keep insurance rates as low and affordable as possible after a leak.

Repairing the Aesthetics

Repairing damaged paint, drywall, and water spots should be the last step after repairing a roof leak. This will return the home to its previous condition and remove reminders of the leak. Depending on the materials used, it may be necessary to repair larger portions of walls, ceilings, or floors to ensure materials match – repainting a whole wall instead of just patching a spot with paint that will not be faded with time, for example.

After the repairs are finished, file away all contracts, permits, and receipts in case they are needed for the insurance company or for future work that may now be under warranty. While repairing a leak can be a time-consuming and potentially expensive process, depending on the severity of the leak, a job well done can repair the home and mitigate further damage and future problems.


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