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How to Locate a Roof Leak Before It Makes a Mess

Man and Woman Work on Leaking Roof
By:Kevin Rossignol| Last Updated:04/05/2024
Time to Read: 4 min

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How to Locate a Roof Leak

Even the smallest roof leak can damage your home. And if it goes unfixed for too long it can lead to mold growth, which is not only gross but also potentially dangerous to your health. That’s why locating the source of your roof leak and getting it fixed ASAP should be your top priority.

Follow these five steps to find your leak fast and get it repaired quickly.


1. Look for the First Signs of a Roof Leak

Usually the first signs of a roof leak are the sight and sound of dripping water. However, there are other telltale signs you’re likely to discover, regardless of whether it’s raining or not. These include:

  • Musty odors in certain rooms.
  • Water stains on your ceiling.
  • Spots on your exterior walls.
  • Bulging patches on your interior walls.
  • Missing or warped shingles.

Any of these signs may point to a potential leak somewhere in your roof. Unfortunately, the first place you notice it might not actually tell you where the leak is. For that, you have to do a little more investigation.

Round Water Stain on White Ceiling

2. Check Your Attic

The next step to finding your roof leak is to grab a flashlight and climb up into your attic. Watch where you step to avoid putting a hole through your ceiling. You should be looking for water stains, mold or black marks along the rafters and roof sheathing.

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How to Find a Roof Leak With No Attic
If you live in a townhome or other dwelling without an attic space, and you own the property, check your roof first for signs of damage. If you rent or own a unit as part of a condominium, contact your landlord or property manager instead. They will hire a contractor to find and fix your roof leak.

In some cases, small water stains may be caused by exposed nails. When moisture from the floors below meets the cold air in the attic, it condenses on the nail at night and then melts during the day when it warms up. You can easily fix this by clipping the nail below the head with a pair of pliers.

3. Make It Rain

If you can’t find your roof leak with a quick inspection, then it’s time to perform a rain dance. Enlist a helper to stay inside the house near the spot where you first noticed the leak. Then, go up on your roof with a garden hose and soak your roof one section at a time. Have your helper shout once they see a drip.

Ladder Near Loose Shingles Hanging From a Roof

Move slowly from one section to the other, spending several minutes in each area. This will help narrow down the source of your roof leak. If your helper sees a drip, but can’t find the exact spot where it’s coming from, start tearing up shingles in the suspected area. You’ll quickly find evidence in the form of water stains, or even rotting wood.

Need to Fix a Few Things After That Last Storm?
Check out The Essential Guide to Planning for Severe Weather for more tips on repairing your home.

4. Make Repairs Where You Can

Depending on the location of your leak, there are many potential fixes you can do yourself if you have the tools and know-how. Here are a few common ways to stop a roof leak:

  • Replace Damaged Shingles: If the leak is coming from a damaged shingle, remove the nail holding it in place and scrape up any remaining roofing cement. Take a new shingle, lay down fresh cement and then nail the replacement shingle over the exposed area.
  • Reapply Caulk Around Chimneys, Vents and Window Edges: If you find a leak around any of these elements, try replacing the caulk around the flashing. This will fill in any gaps that may have opened up since the roof was last replaced.
  • Fix Plumbing Vent Boots: Damaged vent boots can let water in where it shouldn’t be. You can find replacements at any hardware store. Though if the existing boot is in good shape, you may just need to replace the screws with rubber-washered ones. These will keep water from seeping in through the screw holes.

Don't Know What to do With Old Shingles? Get Our Shingle Disposal Guide

5. Call a Professional Roofer for More Complex Leaks

If the problem is beyond a simple DIY fix or involves extensive structural damage to your roof, call a professional as soon as possible. They will be able to identify the extent of your roof leak and provide repair estimates. Solutions to more complex problems may include:

  • Replacing roof flashing.
  • Installing heat cables.
  • Total roof replacements.
Man Repairing a Leaky Roof

If you do need to replace your roof, an easy shingle disposal solution is a dumpster rental. You’ll be able to keep your yard clear of roofing materials and have it all removed in a matter of minutes. After all the hard work is done, take a few minutes to enjoy your cozy, dry home.

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