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How To Find and Fix a Roof Leak (2024 Guide)

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Default Author Icon Written by Angela Bunt Updated 06/19/2024

A leaky roof requires immediate attention if you want to avoid hefty roof replacement expenses. Before you start the repair process, you must find the source of the leak. This can be difficult if you have a flat roof or a roof with a low pitch. Below, we’ll guide you through how to find a roof leak and when to hire a contractor to make roof repairs. 

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Roof shingles with garret house on top of the house among a lot of trees. dark asphalt tiles on the roof background
Asphalt Shingle Roofing

The cost of asphalt shingle roof installation can range from $5,994–$9,791.

Man working on a flat roof
Roof Repair

Typically, the average cost of roof repair ranges between $379 and $1,755

House With a Metal Roof
Metal Roofing

A new metal roof costs an average of $9,150–$16,743.


Identifying Leak Locations

The first interior sign of a roof leak is typically a water stain on the ceiling. You should also keep an eye out for peeling paint, blistering drywall, or even small puddles of water in your attic. You might notice a dripping sound, musty odors in the house, or mold on exterior walls

Once you’ve spotted one of the telltale signs of a leak, grab a flashlight and head to the attic to get a better look at the underside of the roof. Look for water stains, dark spots, mold growth, or trails of moisture along the rafters and roof sheathing. Remember, the leak likely originates higher up, so follow any signs of water uphill to pinpoint the source. Leaks can be more apparent after heavy rains or snow.

Use a headlamp for better visibility in the attic, and always step on secure structural beams. If the roof feels unstable, call a professional roofer for a safety inspection. Water can damage your belongings, cause mold and mildew growth, and even weaken the structural integrity of your home over time, so take action quickly.

Entry Points

Finding the point at which water enters your home from the roof can help you narrow down the exact location of the leak. Inspect these areas for signs of obvious damage:

Roof valleys
Walls and dormers

Look for any missing, cracked, or curled shingles, especially if the leak appeared after a storm. Note that older roofs may leak due to general deterioration rather than sudden damage, making it more difficult to pinpoint the source.

For an example of what to look for, check out the video below. General contractor Tom Silva inspects a rooftop vent pipe, explains what caused it to leak, and demonstrates how to fix it:

Signs of a Leak in the Attic and Interior

Your attic is often the first place you’ll notice signs of a roof leak. Check for moisture at every rafter, especially at any point where two planes meet. Inspect the flooring and the bottom of the rafters for water stains, peeling paint, patches of mold, damp insulation, or damp drywall.

Remember that not all water damage in the attic comes from a roof leak. Condensation also causes damp walls, foggy windows, buckled ceiling materials, high humidity, and musty odors. Broken pipes or HVAC leaks are other possible causes.

Exterior Inspection

Once you locate evidence of a roof leak in the attic or interior of your home, it’s time to inspect the exterior of the roof thoroughly. Use a ladder to reach eye-level with the roof. Look for signs of damage, such as missing or damaged shingles or damage to common entry points. 

Moss is another sign of moisture buildup. If you have a flat roof and notice pooling water, look inside your home near the location of the puddle. 

Ladder Safety

Always use a sturdy ladder in good condition, placed on stable, level ground. Extend the ladder at least 3 feet above the roofline for secure access. Maintain three points of contact (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) when climbing.

Before climbing up, use binoculars to scan for obvious signs of damage from ground level. If the roof is steep or you’re not comfortable with ladders, consider calling a professional.

Removing Shingles

If necessary, remove shingles around the suspected problem area, then inspect the roof deck beneath to locate the source of the leak. Look for discolored paper, water stains, or rotted wood around the roof decking.

Once you locate the leak, make repairs as soon as possible. For complex jobs, we recommend calling a local roofing company. It is possible that the expense of replacing a shingle roof will become necessary.

Water Spray Test

If you can’t find the source of the roof leak, recruit a helper and try the water spray test. Grab your garden hose and start soaking the suspected problem areas. Start on the lower part of the roof and work your way up.

Your helper should be inside the house, watching for new wet spots and drips. Have them keep an ear out for dripping sounds, too. Spend several minutes at each location before moving on to the next. This process can take some time, so be patient at each spot.

You can take a DIY approach to address minor repairs, such as sealing flashing or replacing a few shingles. More complex work should be left to the professionals. The dropdown sections below provide steps to complete minor repairs on your own. 

How To Fix Damaged Shingles

Begin the process of fixing damaged shingles by making sure you have enough new shingles and that they match your existing set. You can purchase new shingles and other necessary toolssuch as a hammer, a flat pry bar, a utility knife, roofing cement, and roofing nails—from the hardware store.

Remove old roofing nails with a pry bar under the damaged shingles. Work row by row. After you remove the nails, pull out the damaged shingles and scrape off any old sealant. Take each replacement shingle and move it into position. Apply roofing cement under the new shingle’s tabs and nail each new shingle into place.

How To Fix Gaps Around Chimneys, Vents, or Windows

Water can enter the home through gaps around chimneys, vents, or window edges, especially if these gaps have widened over time. To fill in these gaps, replace the caulk around the flashing.

How To Fix Plumbing Vent Boots

Damaged plumbing vent boots can lead to water damage in your home. If the existing one is in mostly good condition, replace the screws with washer-head roofing screws to secure the base to the roof. If your vent boot is beyond repair, you can pick a new one up at your local hardware store.

How To Fix Nail or Screw Holes

Water can enter your home through small nail holes for years before you notice. Fix these holes by placing a piece of roof flashing underneath any compromised shingles and adding a bead of caulk or roofing cement to the top and bottom edge of the flashing.

How To Fix Damaged Flashing

Step flashing redirects water away from the walls and toward the gutters, but if it loosens or rusts, then water can seep underneath and into the house. Replace damaged flashing by loosening the shingles and siding near it and securing the new flashing with roofing cement. Don’t underestimate the importance of roof flashing.

When To Call a Roofer

Not all homeowners can handle DIY roof repair, and there are several good reasons to call a pro. For instance:

  • Safety: We recommend calling a roofing professional if your roof is steep, has multiple stories, or is otherwise difficult to access. They have the appropriate safety equipment and the experience to work in those conditions, minimizing the risk of accidents.
  • Complexity: If you can’t find the source of the leak or if there’s widespread damage, attempting a DIY repair may not be wise. Professional roofers can accurately diagnose the problem and make repairs that prevent further issues.
  • Warranty: Many roofs come with a manufacturer’s warranty that covers defects and sometimes certain types of storm damage. Attempting your own repairs could void this warranty. Professional roofers often work with manufacturers and can handle any repairs in a way that maintains your roof’s coverage.

The cost of repairing a roof is around $1,100 on average, with most leaks costing $30 to $1,550 to repair. The exact cost depends on the cause and severity of the leak, the resulting damage, and the materials involved. Get estimates from multiple companies before moving forward, and check your homeowners insurance to see if any roof damage is covered. Some home warranties also include roof leak coverage. If the damage is extensive or the repairs are expensive, you may need to explore the cost of a new roof. Investing in a brand-new roof may be particularly wise if you have an older roof or plan to install solar panels in the future.

*Cost data sources from contractor estimates used by Angi.

Our Conclusion

All roofs can experience leaking, from shingle roofs to metal roofs. The longer you avoid repairing a roof leak, the worse the leak will get, so inspect your home inside and outside as soon as you notice a potential issue. Make repairs once you find the roof leak. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the work yourself or if there’s significant damage, call a professional roofing contractor to schedule roof leak repair. 

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FAQ About How To Find a Roof Leak

How do I find the source of a leak in my ceiling?

To find the source of a leak in your ceiling, start by locating water stains, peeling paint, or mold on your ceiling. Then head to the attic and inspect rafters, roof sheathing, and insulation directly above the damaged area for water stains, wet spots, or trails of moisture. Follow these signs uphill to pinpoint the source of the leak on the roof.

What is the most likely place for a roof to leak?

The most likely places for a roof leak are around penetrations or areas where different parts of the roof come together. This includes chimneys, flashing (especially step flashing), vents, skylights, and roof valleys. Leaks can also develop due to damaged or missing shingles.

What causes a roof to start leaking?

Roofs start leaking for a variety of reasons, including poor workmanship, ice dams, storm damage, clogged gutters, and normal wear and tear as your roof ages. Even small gaps or holes can let significant amounts of water into your home over time. Homeowners should perform preventative maintenance to avoid potential issues and extend the roof’s lifespan.

How much does it cost to fix a roof leak?

A roof leak can cost between $360 and $1,550 to fix. Some roofs may require a full replacement, which costs between $5,800 and $13,100.

How long can you go without fixing a roof leak?

There’s no way to tell how long you can go without fixing a leaky roof before you see damage. Even a small leak can quickly cause mold growth and damage to insulation and structural elements, leading to expensive repairs. We recommend finding and fixing the roof leak as soon as possible.

How do I find a leak in my roof without an attic?

If you don’t have an attic, look for interior water damage on your top floor. Then carefully examine the roof’s exterior for missing shingles, damaged flashing, or other signs of a leak, if possible.

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