Your roof is one of the most important components in your house. It is the barrier that shields you from the elements; it keeps you warm during the winter frost, dry from the rain and hail, and protected from summer’s searing rays. Unfortunately, due to various elements such as the passage of time, a wide range of weather conditions, wind and mechanical damage, your roof’s integrity may become compromised, and leaks can develop.
When we think of a leaking roof, most of us envision a steady dripping, and pots and buckets on the floor to catch the water. But a roof can be leaking for years without forming a puddle. Sometimes, the leak can well up inside the walls, or be held suspended in the insulation. It may not call attention to itself the way an unsightly stain on the ceiling tiles or constant dripping will, but the damage can be just as severe and expensive. Regular inspections are the way to discover leaks, or potential leaks, before any serious damage occurs.
We have prepared a checklist to help you track down existing leaks, and spot potential problems.
1. Start in the Attic
If the roof barrier has been compromised, and there’s an ingress of water, the first wet place will usually be the attic. If there’s a general dampness up there, you may have a venting problem, and will want to check that all vents are clear of blockages and that attic fans are working. Systematically work your way across the attic, checking the insulation and rafters. If you find any mould, wet lumber or insulation, you’ll want to dig deeper. Inspect the decking above and ceiling below the wet area.
Pay particular attention to the place where the walls and roof meet. If water is running into the walls, a leak can go undetected for some time, and the resulting damage can require extensive repairs down the road. If the attic is used for storage, check the flooring and contents for puddles or water stains.
During the daylight hours, turn off any attic lights and, with only the aid of a flashlight you turn off when in position, check for any light leaks. Work your way across the entire attic. If light is leaking in, chances are, so is water. If it’s winter, be sensitive to any cold drafts that seem to come from somewhere other than the vents. They could indicate a leak.
If you discover any wet areas, make note of them. If you feel comfortable on a roof, you might try locating those spots on the outside, to see if there’s an obvious explanation, or consider calling a roofing professional right away.
2. Missing and Broken Singles or Tiles
Shingles or tiles are your roof’s outer protective layer. Their job is to keep the water out and let it flow freely into the gutter system, where it can drain away from the home’s foundation. Shingles can curl, blister, buckle, tear or even blow away. Tiles can break, come loose and also go missing. Obvious damage is usually quite easy to spot, and you can conduct a preliminary inspection from the ground with a pair of binoculars. If you see some damage, even if the attic was dry, you have a potential leak area that needs to be professionally repaired.
3. Damaged Flashings
Roof flashings are thin impervious sheets, designed to prevent water penetration and to direct the flow of water. You’ll typically find them in the roof’s valleys, hips and joints, and used as details between the roofing material and masonry, skylights and vent stacks, and along edges. Over time, normal expansion and contraction can create cracks in the material, or cause it to come loose. Fasteners can pop out, loosening the material. Corrosion can create holes in metal flashings. Caulking can become brittle with years of exposure to the elements, resulting in voids, and edges can curl up, letting water in.
Compromised flashings are usually fairly easy to spot. Bent and perforated flashings are usually just replaced, rather than attempting a repair on the damaged materials. If the fasteners have come up, your roofing professional will also examine the cause. If the decking below has rotted out, the repair may require more than a new piece of sheet metal.
4. Water Appearing After a Storm
Often, a roof will only let water in during a storm. Normally, the rain comes down more or less horizontally, but high winds may drive water vertically, under shingles, tiles or flashings. Or a missing or loose siding board on a dormer may be letting the water in. Heavy rains and gusty winds are a good time to reinspect the attic
5. Stains on the Interior Ceilings and Swollen Paint
As water permeates through the openings in your roof, it will slowly make its way down through your attic, to gently rest on the upper surface of the ceiling. While one drop by itself will seldom do any harm, with time the liquid will begin to well up on your ceiling, often producing unsightly yellow and brown stains in the places where it ponds.
Water might also travel through your walls, and rest inside them, causing stains to appear. The excess moisture may also cause certain types of paint to swell, blister or wrinkle. If you take a vertical path upward, you may be able to determine where it’s seeping in. A roofing professional’s infrared camera can also prove invaluable in locating the source.
Once the leak problem has been repaired, use a water/bleach solution (10% bleach) to remove the stains from the ceiling or wall. If it’s an old stain, the addition of a mould or mildew remover can help. Protect your nose and eyes before applying the solution.
6. Vent And Skylight Seal Failure
Whether your building has a sloped shingle or tile roof, or a flat torch on roof, odds are you have a couple of vents protruding from it. Attic vents help remove moisture and stale air, while plumbing stack vents, also known as stink pipes, prevent sewer gases from leaking into the house. A special type of flashing, known as a vent pipe boot, keeps water out around each stack. Long term exposure to the sun’s UV rays, harsh weather conditions, and the expansion/contraction cycles between heat and cold, can result in holes or tears appearing in rubber boots, or corrosion perforating a metal one. Caulking may have been used in the installation, and may have gone brittle over time, creating voids.
Skylights are another common source of roof leaks. Your skylights also use flashings to direct water away from the base and avoid leaks. Similar to gutters, leaves and debris are prone to building up around the base of the skylight. This can cause water to dam up on it. The excess liquid can eventually overflow and spill over the skylight’s lip. The flashings may also have been damaged, so you’ll want to check them as well.
7. Darkened And Soft Patches On The Roof
A properly installed roof should be able to support the weight of a normal adult, although extra care must be exercised with tile roofs. If you find areas on the roof that are darkened, and the roof feels soft when you step on it, you have probably discovered a leak. A damaged flashing, broken or missing tiles or shingles, may be allowing water to seep under the roofing material, and the battons or decking below have begun to decay.
8. Clogged Gutters and Downspouts
Your gutters are designed to carry excess water, leaves, small branches, and other types of refuse from the roof, and away through the downspouts. However, when there is simply too much debris your gutters are can become clogged. This is normal, and in most cases all that’s required is a gutter cleaning. If this problem is not addressed promptly, water may begin to dam, resulting in spillage over the sides of the gutters, and onto your exterior walls.
Compromised gutters can cause several issues, including the promotion of algae, moss, and other undesirable growths on your walls and roof due to the pooled water and excess dampness. Water that doesn’t drain away can also find its way under the bottom row of tiles or shingles. It’s a good idea to clean your gutters twice a year. The easiest way to prevent this issue is to acquire a ladder, carefully climb up to the gutters, and scoop them out by hand, followed by a garden hose.
9. Winter Ice Dams
As snow falls upon your neighbourhood during the winter months, your roof might gather a significant amount of snow on its surface. Your attic insulation should keep the heat in, but if enough escapes, some of the snow can melt. The water will then begin to flow towards the gutters. As the water and snow in the gutters freezes during the night time, it allows water to pool up near the edge, where it also freezes, forming a dam. The water that backs up behind the dam can leak into the home, causing damage to insulation, walls, ceilings, and other areas.
Preventing ice dams is simple in principle. The entire roof must be kept the same temperature as the eaves. Adding more insulation, increasing ventilation, and sealing off every possible air leak that might warm the underside of the roof are good places to start. If ice damming is a problem, your roofing professional will be able tor make more suggestions, after inspecting your home.
10. Higher Energy Bills
Insulation relies on dead air space between the fibres. Wet or damp insulation loses much of it’s insulating properties. That means in winter, more heat will escape, causing the heating system to work harder. In summer, the air conditioner will have to work harder. Higher energy bills can be one indicator that water is leaking into the insulation in your attic and/or walls. A roofing professional with a thermal camera can check for heat leaks.