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roof leak signs on roof and gutters during rainfall
roof leak signs on roof and gutters during rainfall

How To Spot a Roof Leak (2023 Guide)

Rainy summer days can be some of the best days. If you have the chance to stay at home, you can:

  • Make a cup of tea.
  • Bundle up in a cozy sweater.
  • Watch the raindrops roll down the window panes.
  • Curl up with a good novel.

With so much relaxing to do, no one wants to be disturbed by the threat that their roof might be leaking! How can you tell what to look for as evidence of a leaking roof?

Commit the following signs of a roof leak to memory so that you know what to look for the next time adverse weather rolls into town.

1. Missing and Damaged Shingles

This is one of the most common signs that you might have a roof leak on your hands. After all, your shingles provide cover for your roof decking and underlayment. If your shingles are missing, it stands to reason that the underlayers of your roof no longer have the protection that they need.

closeup of signs of a roof leak: missing roof shingles

Asphalt shingles can go missing for a variety of reasons:

  • Impact damage (like hail)
  • High winds
  • Became loose over time and fell off
  • Hit by a fallen tree branch
  • Poor installation

Damaged shingles are just as much of a concern as missing shingles. Even if the shingle is still technically in its place, if it starts to curl or buckle, it’s no longer protecting your roof as well as it should. Bad ventilation and old age are both common causes of shingle curling.

Finally, exposed holes in our shingles will definitely let moisture through to your attic. Whether the hole is a result of an accident (like hail damage) or intentional action (like drilling a hole to screw a satellite into the roof), the shingle needs to be replaced, or the hole needs to be covered with flashing.

2. Water Stains Inside

Yellow or brown stains on your ceilings and/or walls definitely indicate that you have a damaged roof on your hands. The presence of these water stains throughout your home means that the water damage has progressed to a point where you might have rotted framing and foundation damage on your hands.

Often, a ceiling stain will appear in the center of a room before it does near the edge of the ceiling and wall. That’s because the water is following gravity and collecting near the ceiling light fixtures in the center of your rooms.

If you notice signs of roof leaks near any light fixtures in your home, do not turn the light fixture on. Wait for guidance from your roofing contractor on how to dry out the fixtures and eliminate your risk of electrical shock or starting a fire.

3. Damaged Flashing

Flashing is the metal that lines the edges of your roof where it meets your walls, gutters, and the other edges of your roof. These metal pieces sit under the edges of your shingles and create a watertight seal to prevent moisture buildup within the layers of your roof.

closeup of metal roof flashing near brick chimney signs of a roof leak

The health and security of your roof flashing is just one of many things you should check during each annual inspection of your roof. If your flashing is loose, missing, or has rusty spots, these are all key signs that you have a leaky roof. Since the roof flashing covers seams and holes in your roofing materials, if the flashing is gone or incapacitated, there’s nothing to keep the water from running directly into your attic.

4. Rusted Gutters

Just like rusty flashing, rusted gutters mean that water is not flowing where it should be and is, therefore, probably flowing where it shouldn’t be. During your annual roof inspections, use a scouring pad to remove any rust spots on the gutters around your roof. If you’re unable to completely remove the rust using this method, consider replacing the affected section of your gutter system.

Even if your gutters don’t have visible rust, persistent clogging can also be a precursor to a leaky roof. When your gutters become clogged with debris, the debris keeps the water from being able to run through the gutters. Instead, the water is forced to sit on your roof’s surface for an indefinite length of time.

Since water is a heavy substance, its weight puts pressure on your roofing materials, causing them to weaken over time. These developing weak spots soon become the sites for roof leaks.

5. Saturated Roof Decking

Your roof is much more than just your shingles, metal panels, or whatever roofing material makes up the outer layer of your roof. There are several layers of materials under the top-most, visible layer, such as:

  • The underlayment
  • Water and ice shields
  • Flashing and vents

One of these layers is called your roof decking. This wooden decking provides support for the rest of the layers of your roof and acts as your roof’s framing.

When you have a leaky roof, your roof decking is very vulnerable to damage. The water flows from your shingles down through the layers directly to the wood of the roof decking. This moisture soaks into the wood, and since the decking is sandwiched between the upper layers of your roof and the insulation of the attic below, this moisture often has nowhere to go.

Once your decking becomes saturated, there’s not much you can do besides committing to a full roof replacement. In order to access your roof decking, your contracting team will need to remove all your roofing material before they can even access the decking. While this type of repair is costly, it’s necessary for removing all roof damage from your home.

6. Mold Growth

Mold growth in the home is not an uncommon symptom of roof leaks, but it can have serious health consequences if left unchecked:

  • Respiratory irritation
  • Exasperation of allergy symptoms
  • Mild to severe headaches
  • Shortness of breath and coughs
  • In rare cases, infection and severe illness.
closeup of signs of a roof leak such as mold gathering on windows

Mold will often grow on exterior walls. Measure how far the mold growth is from a window, door, or other identifying marker, then use that measurement from the outside of the house to see where the leak might be coming in through the exterior wall. Once you have identified and eliminated the source of the moisture, you can remove and clean any lingering signs of mold growth.

If you see mold or mildew growth around the edges of your windows, this is much more likely to be a window insulation problem than a roof leak problem. You should also be able to clean this mildew growth with soap and water. If the mildew growth persists, look into improving the insulation around your windows.

7. Ice Dams

Ice dams occur when a roof is not properly vented or insulated for winter. When you have ridge vents at the top of your roof, all the hot air that collects in your attic can escape through the vent, leaving the snow unbothered on top of your roof. Without these vents, though, the air in the attic heats the very top of your roof, melting the snow and causing it to run down the edges of your roof as water.

Once the dripping water reaches the lower half of your roof, though, the surface temperature of your roof lowers, and the water refreezes into ice. This ice builds up over time, keeping other water from flowing down your roof and away through the gutters. Instead, this water sits on top of the ice dam, where it finds weak points in your roof and flows through directly into your attic.

Ideally, your roof vents will keep an ice dam from ever developing. But if you do notice these ice shelves on your roof, get in touch with a contractor right away so that they can help you fix the ventilation situation on your roof.

8. Attic Water Stains

Mold thrives in dark, warm, moist air, and unfortunately, your attic has an abundance of this type of air. Even if you don’t have water stains throughout your house yet, water stains in the attic are a sure sign that the water damage has already begun. Look around for signs of mold growth, and follow the procedure listed above for cleaning and sanitizing the mold.

9. Dripping Sound

While it may seem like one of the more obvious signs on this list, it’s worth saying that if you hear a dripping noise anywhere in your house, you probably have a leak to find. Sometimes people will write off the sounds they hear if they don’t see visible signs of damage, but you should take any dripping sound seriously by trying to locate its source.

Look for These Signs of a Roof Leak

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the signs of a roof leak, but it is a great place to start. If you notice any of these things happening in your home, do your best to locate the source of the leak, stop the water, and close up the site of the leak. Early detection will save you from expensive repairs down the road.

Despite your best efforts, you’ll sometimes end up with a roof leak that you can’t handle on your own, and that’s where Melo Roofing comes in. When you call us with your concern, we’ll spring into action to perform an inspection, provide our expert recommendation, and complete the necessary work.

Ready to get started? Give us a call today!

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