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How Do You Find a Roof Leak?

March 3rd, 2023 | 6 min. read

How Do You Find a Roof Leak?

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Finding water stains on your ceiling is shocking. Not only do you have water damage, but you also have an active leak that needs attention. 

We’re a roofing company, so of course, I recommend contacting a local roofer once you notice the leak (more on why in a second). But that doesn’t mean you can’t find it yourself. 

You just need to know where and what to look for when tracking a roof leak. This article helps you do just that. 

For over 30 years, the team at Bill Ragan Roofing has helped homeowners in Nashville and surrounding Middle Tennessee areas with their roof leak issues. But I believe in offering transparent information, even on DIY roofing projects. 

I start this article by explaining why I recommend calling a roofer to find your roof leak instead of trying to do it yourself. After that, you'll learn how to find a roof leak on your own. 

Should you try to find a roof leak on your own? 

Before getting to how to find a roof leak, there’s something you need to keep in mind before trying to do it yourself. This is whether or not you should try to find the leak on your own. 

As I said, I recommend calling in a roofing contractor to find your roof leak. But at the end of the day, it’s completely up to you. 

However, you need to consider your safety and comfort on a ladder. If you’re not used to working on a ladder or walking on a roof, you shouldn’t set foot up there. 

Even roofing contractors with safety training and knowledge in minimizing risks while on a roof experience accidents from time to time. But it’s not just about feeling safe; it’s also about having the things to keep you safe. 

A roofing contractor carries the right equipment to work on a roof safely, like ropes and harnesses to tie off on steep roof pitches. Saving money isn’t worth the risk if you’re not 100% confident with a ladder or walking on a roof. 

How do you find a roof leak?

With that out of the way, you’re ready to learn how to find a roof leak. While finding a roof leak takes some detective work, it is possible to do it yourself. 

You just need to notice the situation when it leaks, where it is in your home, and how to track it. Now let’s find your roof leak.  

Determine if the roof leak happens during heavy rain or every time it rains

Different types of roof leaks show up in different ways, and understanding this makes it easier to find. That’s why the first thing you need to do is figure out if the roof leak happens during heavy rain or every time it rains. 

If the leak only shows up when it's raining really hard, it's because there's just so much water hitting a specific area. This diverts the water to places it wouldn't go during a light or normal rain leading to a leak. 

On the other hand, a roof leak during light or normal rain means that water is catching a hole or something else as it goes down your roof. It’ll find the path of least resistance, and once one drop goes in, it starts pulling more in behind it. 

Take note of where the roof leak is letting water into your home

After determining when your roof leaks, you need to recognize where it’s coming into your home. This helps you find the area where the leak is coming in through your roof and gives you an idea of what’s causing it. 

cracked pipe boot and backed up roofing nail(Left: cracked pipe boot; Right: backed out nail)

This is especially true for two of the most common roof leaks I see, nail pops and pipe boot failure. 

If the roof leak makes a water stain in the middle of a bedroom or living room, it's likely caused by a backed-out nail. Once the nail backs out through the shingle, water catches the nail and follows it into your home. 

roof leak around bathroom vent(Leak above bathroom vent)

If the leak is in a bathroom, a closet backed up to a bathroom, or around a kitchen sink, it’s most likely caused by pipe boot failure. Pipe boots aren’t meant to last forever and deteriorate as your roof ages. 

water running down plumbing pipe into home(Water running down pipe)

Once the pipe boot cracks, water follows the pipe down into the room below. This leak is especially common for roofs that are around 15 years old.

While you may not be able to diagnose these problems, taking note of where the leak shows up in your home helps you determine where to actually start looking. 

Find the source of what’s causing the roof leak

After finding the area in your home where the roof leak shows up, it’s time to find the point of access for the water. After you pinpoint the roof leak on the inside, you’ll find that exact same point on your roof. 

90% of the time, what’s causing the roof leak will be within a foot to the right or left of where the water is coming in. Just know that it’s important to stay within the rafters where the leak is because roof leaks rarely jump rafters. 

After finding the access point on your roof, you’ll go within a foot to the right or left while going up toward the roof’s ridge. You’ll do this until you find the source of what’s causing the leak. 

Should you repair your roof leak or call a professional?

Now you know how to find and track a roof leak. But even with this advice, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll find the leak and what’s causing it. 

This is also under the assumption that the leak isn’t caused by anything too complicated, like when water hits a wall and runs down into your home. On the other hand, it’s possible to find your own roof leak if it’s caused by something simpler, like a nail pop or a cracked pipe boot. 

But finding a roof leak and actually doing the repair are two different things. While it is possible to do it yourself, it’s important to understand what you’re about to get into and the caveats that come with it. 

That’s why I wrote another article breaking down what you need to know before doing a DIY roof repair. 

Whether you’re local to our area or not, check out DIY Roof Repair: Should I Hire a Roofer Instead of Doing It Myself to learn what you need to know before diving into a do-it-yourself roof repair.

repair or replacement quiz

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