The 10 Most Common Causes Of Leaking Roofs And What To Do

Learn The Most Common Causes Of Roof Leaks And How to Fix Them Before They’re Too Late.

Family with leaking kitchen roof

What Do You Do When Your Roof Is Leaking?

When it rains, it pours. When you have a leaking roof, we know these are some of the most dreaded words a homeowner can hear.

If you own a home, you know that a leaky roof can cause a lot of damage which could lead to you needing some roof repairs or even a full roof replacement. It could be the result of many different causes. Some of these causes are obvious, while others may be less so.

The water can get inside the walls, and it can also seep into the interior of the home, which can cause severe damage to the furniture, carpets, and other items inside. When your roof leaks, you should immediately call an experienced roofing company to have it fixed as soon as possible.

This article will discuss the most common causes of leaking roofs and what you should do about them.


The Most Common Issues That Make Roofs Leak


There isn't much you can do about the age of your roof. All roofs have an expiry date. Asphalt shingle roofs, one of the most popular roofing systems on the market because of their affordable cost, have one of the shortest lifespans. They're also more prone to leaks as harsh weather and fluctuating temperatures can damage and ruin the shingles, leading to leaks.

Depending on how old the roof is and how much damage there is, you might be able to get away with repairing the leaking area. But eventually, you will need a new roof replacement, unfortunately.

Ice Dams

Ice dam on roof causing icicles

What is an ice dam?

Ice dams are a problem that many people encounter when it comes to their roof during the winter months. The issue with ice dams is that they can cause water damage to your home and your roof.

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow (water) from draining off the roof. The water that backs up behind the dam can leak into a home and cause damage to walls, ceilings, insulation and other areas.

How do ice dams form on a roof?

During the winter months, when it has been snowing, piles of snow usually build up and stick around on your roof while it's still below freezing outside. However, heat from inside your house can often escape upwards, melting some layers of the snow closest to the roof. It can also happen when outdoor temperatures rise above freezing, and the sun helps melt the snow. The constant back and forth of melting and freezing causes ice to build up and trapping water leading to leaks.

The other reason ice dams can form is that the roof is not properly pitched. Pitching is the angle at which the roof is sloped. The higher the pitch, the steeper the roof slope. A roof with a low pitch will not shed snow as well as a roof with a higher pitch. 

So what causes your roof to have different temperatures on the surface?

As we mentioned above, it's mainly from heat escaping from inside your house. Most ice dams form at the edge of your roof. Heat moves through your home up through the ceiling and insulation, so it's essential to ensure proper insulation is installed to help prevent this.

Other common ways heat escapes is from air leakage from light fixtures and attic space, exhaust systems like the ones you have in your kitchen or bathroom, and finally through your chimney.


What To Do About Ice Dams?

If you need some quick short-term solutions, a few things can help you out in a pinch.

  1. Remove The Snow Yourself / Use A Roof Rake

    Roof rake to remove snow on roofYour short term solutions are to remove snow build up on your roof yourself by either going up on the roof or using a roof rake to sweep away as much as possible. It goes without saying, to be very careful with this option and a better option would be to hire professionals like us to handle it for you.
  2. Aim Cold Air From The Inside The House Towards The Underside Of Your Roof

    If you can get a box fan and have easy access to your attic, blowing cold air up towards your roof where water is running will freeze the water and stop it from running pretty quickly. You'll need a powerful enough fan and cold enough air for this.
  3. De-ice The Biggest Problem Areas

    Use an environmentally-friendly ice melter product. Grab a pair of pantyhose, fill it up with the ice melter and lay it on top of the ice/snow on your roof. You might be able to toss it up on the area and position it with a long rake if you don't feel comfortable climbing up onto your roof yourself.
  4. Make Channels Through The Ice Dam

    If there is a lot of flowing water, you can try to make channels through the ice dam to redirect the water to drain off the roof if it is blocked and backed up. Use warm tap water to melt channels on a warmer and sunny day. This is only a temporary fix and won't last long. It's more for emergency situations.

The longer-term, more permanent solution would be to tackle the warm air escaping from your house. The main goal is to keep the roof the same temperature consistently across the whole roof. Avoid warm spots coming from inside your home that causes the snow to melt in cold conditions.

 Below is an excellent checklist to see which applies to your situation and how it could help prevent ice dams.

The below is a good checklist to go through to see which applies to your situation and how it could help prevent ice dams.

  1. Seal Any Air Leaks In The Attic Space
    The best and easiest solution to preventing air dams is to get control over warm air from inside your house and stop it from escaping. This has the most significant impact. So start with your attic to check for any air leaks and drafts you can find. Sealing, caulking, weatherstripping can be your new best friends.
  2. Have Sufficient Insulation In The Attic
    Following up on your attic, making sure you have enough insulation is critical. A lot of older homes aren't adequately insulated. If needed, be sure to install additional attic floor insulation pads.
  3. Weatherstrip Your Attic Hatch
    Every attic hatch should have weatherstripping to prevent the warm air in your house from getting into your attic to begin with. This is a massive leak area if not properly sealed.
  4. Make Sure Your Attic Is Properly Ventilated
    Once all the insulation is complete, make sure all the vents are correctly working, that you have enough, and they are carrying the air away from the proper locations.
  5. Ensure All Duct Exhausts Are Properly Vented
    Check all the ducts you have that are connected to your bathrooms, kitchen and dryer vents. You never want them exiting your house through the soffit. Roof or walls only.
  6. Check For Poor Flashing Around Your Chimney
    This one should be obvious as a lot of heat comes out of this area. Use steel flashing around the chimney and your house framing to secure the area from warm air leakage.
  7. Install A Drip Edge This handy piece of material can help flow the water away from your fascia and keep it from backlogging and turning into an ice dam. As the name implies, it's installed at the edge of your roof.

Clogged Gutters

Removing leaves from a clogged gutter

It is one of the easier fixes on our list and one that most homeowners hate doing because of how messy and annoying it can be. If your gutters and eavestroughs are too junked up with debris, it can cause water to back up and not drain away from your roof and foundation.

The whole point of gutters is to flow water away from your roof/house. If the water is unable to do this, it can lead to rust damage on the rough, leading to leakage problems. And if the water is building up on your roof, this can lead to rot on the shingles, plywood and other materials used to build your house, leading to leaks.

There are really only 2 options here and that's either you

  1. Decide to tackle the cleaning process yourself by grabbing a ladder, some gloves, and getting dirty or
  2. Hire a professional company to come out and take care of the gutter cleaning for you.

Missing or Damaged Roof Shingles

Missing asphalt shingles on a roof

Another widespread problem for older shingle based roofs is the dreaded missing shingles. After storms with high winds, you'll often find shingles in your garden or on your lawn and property. With missing shingles, this exposes your roof to elements, including water that will leak over time after wearing out the other materials.

To replace a missing shingle, remove any of the nails in the area first. Slide into place the new shingle, nail it down and the ones beside it that touch.

The colour most likely won't match if your roof is older and has faded over time. If you see any cracked or damaged shingles, the process is the same. Just remove the damaged shingle and throw it out.


Poorly Installed Skylights

Skylight on roof

While skylights can beautifully transform the room beneath it and provide it a new lighting source, leaks can form very easily if it wasn't fitted properly and sealed thoroughly.

Most skylights leak due to poor sealant around the edges of the opening. The sealant is designed to prevent moisture from entering the roof structure. However, it may not be installed correctly, or the adhesive will be cracked or broken down due to ageing.

Another source of leaking from skylights is flashing issues around the installation. The flashing may crack and expose areas for water to trickle in.

A do it yourself fix would be to replace any very damaged flashing you see and use caulking to reseal the area. But you might be better off looking at professional advice on this one.



Hole in asphalt shingle roof water leaking

If your roof has any holes, that's an obvious source that will cause leaks. You could have large visible holes caused by animals such as raccoons and squirrels, which are known to walk around your roof and possibly chew things up. Those will be easy to spot once up on your roof.

But some holes aren't as visible and are only discovered after a roof inspection. One widespread type of tiny hole in your roof is from poorly placed roofing nails that cause a puncture.

Installing flashing slightly bigger than the hole is a relatively easy fix. Take thin metal flashing and some caulking to stick and hold it into place over the hole. You'll want to position the flashing underneath the other in-tact shingles, so it is in place and secure.


Raised Roofing Nails

Roof Nail Pop

These are also known as nail pops or backed-out nails in the roofing industry. They're found in asphalt and shingle type roofs where the nails used to secure the shingles in place have 'backed out' or 'popped' back out a bit and are no longer flush to the shingle and roof. This usually happens due to humidity and temperature changes. Your wood sheathing (plywood or wood plank) will swell up with a rise in humidity and temperature and expand. Then it will contract once the temperature cools down again. This naturally repeating process will take a toll on the sheathing and can cause damage and loosen the nail. Eventually, over time the nail will 'pop' up and out.

Popped nails can also result from improper installation by whichever roofer installed the roof.

And the last common issue that causes backed-out nails is on roofs that have had another layer of shingles nailed over an existing old roof shingle. The nails used are too short to go through both layers of shingles and into the sheathing securely and deep enough.

Nail pops will cause your shingles to raise and expose the sheathing underneath, setting it up to get soaked in the next rainy day. This will eventually lead to a roof leak.

You'll have to use the claw end of a hammer to remove the popped nails and nail in all-new nails where you find them. You may also want to use some asphalt cement to seal in the old hole and new nail.

Cracked Chimneys Or Wear And Tear

Chimney Repair

We touched on this with the ice dams above, but it also deserves its own section. Even if you don't have ice dams, you could have cracks or holes in your chimney, causing water to get in and leak. Be sure to inspect the flashing which bridges and seals the chimney structure itself to the roof of your house. Also, check to waterproof the brick and mortar joints in the chimney.

Most of these chimney issues are pretty easy to fix, assuming the damage isn't extensive

Damaged Flashing, Caulking and Sealant

Roof flashing

Flashing isn't just found around your chimney. Flashing is the thin strips of metal that are installed around any high-risk area of leaks on your roof.

Because flashing tends to be used in areas with heavy water flow, leaking flashing can funnel streams of water into a house. Even worse, it can open up holes in walls and ceilings that water can penetrate.

The two most significant failings of flashing are when the seal around it has eroded and has cracks in it. This allows water to seep in and cause damage.

The other issue is rusted and cracked metal of the flashing itself. Father time will catch up to all metal and eventually need to be replaced.

Your Valleys Are Not Properly Sealed

Roof valley

You may not have heard what a roof valley is, but it's the area on some roofs with two slopes that connect. It forms a download slope to carry water off your roof. It's a high risk for roof leaks if they aren't installed properly or have become damaged and deteriorated.

There are 3 main types of valleys:

  1. Open Valleys

    This approach gets its name because it uses metal flashing down the valley line instead of the roofing material used like asphalt shingles. This tends to be one of the preferred methods and most reliable protection against roof leaks. It uses the strongest material to glide the water and ice away from your roof.
  2. Closed Valleys

    This valley style uses roofing material like asphalt shingles that are cut, trimmed and fit to match on both sides of the valley sloop.
  3. Woven Valleys

    This is also a closed valley style but the shingles are overlapping on both sides of the valley to create a woven pattern and lock in.

While open valleys offer the strongest protection against leaks, if they become loose from poor installation or another defect, it can causes leaks through your roof.

The issue with closed valleys is that they don't offer much protection, and water and ice can remain lodged in the area. Always a bad idea for avoiding water damage and leaks.

If this is the damaged area of your roof, we highly suggest hiring a roofing professional to handle this repair for you.


Common Questions About Leaking Roofs

Can A Leaking Roof Cause Mold?

Roof water leak causing mold

Yes, a leaking roof can cause mould growth in the attic of a home.

Mould can grow in humid or damp environments, but the perfect conditions for mould growth usually include higher temperatures, humidity, and a lack of airflow. A leaking roof will often create these conditions, inevitably leading to mould growth.

Leaking roofs can pose a significant problem for your home and its inhabitants. Mould spores are found in the air around the house, so when your roof starts leaking, those spores will be forced into your home and accumulate. If the mould is allowed to grow unchecked, it can cause allergic reactions and respiratory issues for the people inside of the house.

So what do you do if you see your ceiling leaking? What's the best fix for a leaking roof from the inside?

  1. Clear The Area Underneath And Around Where The Roof Is Leaking
    Remove all your things, especially the furniture, away from the water leaking into the room. If you cannot move all of it, the next best thing is to cover the items in a plastic tarp.
  2. Put a bucket under the leaking roof area to catch the water dripping down
    Next, put a tarp down on your floor to protect it after you've moved and tarped things up as best as possible. Use as many buckets as you need to position them under the drip to catch all the water. You'll want to cut a hole in your ceiling where the drip is so all the water that is built up will release into the buckets. Your ceiling is already damaged and will most likely need fixing/replaced anyway. This will prevent further water damage as it will stop the spread of water across more areas of your ceiling.

  3. Find The Cause Of The Roof Leak
    The last step is to try and find the source of the leak. Start with the attic if you have access to it and can go in and search. If you can't go in, try using a flashlight to shine in and check the decking and rafters to see if you can spot the leak.

Once you locate the area of the roof where the leak is occurring, it's time to deal with the problem. You'll need a piece of plywood, some nails, roofing cement and a putty knife.

The plywood needs to be at least 2-3 inches bigger on all sides compared to the leak. Spread roofing cement all around the leak. Align the plywood to cover the area and push it down, securing the leaking spot. Once you are happy with the location, nail the plywood board into place. Finish it by spreading a bit more roofing cement all around the edges and covering the nails.

You can also remove and dispose of any soggy and wet insulation. Even after drying, it will not be reusable.

Is A Leaking Roof Covered By Homeowners Insurance?

Leaking roofs are typical for older roofs and homes, and many property owners don't realize that it can actually be protected under their homeowners' insurance policy.

If you have a leaking roof, your homeowners' insurance might provide some coverage, but it's important to read your policy to make sure that you are covered for the problem. For example, if the leak was caused by storm damage or an unexpected happening, the policy will most likely cover it. However, if the old age of the roof mainly causes the leak, your claim will most likely be denied and considered neglect by the homeowner for not staying on top of repairs before it was too late.

If the leak was caused by negligence or poor workmanship, the insurance company might not cover the claim. In that case, you may need to take your insurance claim directly to the contractor who built the roof.

The best thing to do if you want to make sure your roof is covered under your insurance policy is to ask your insurance agent to show you the policy and make sure that you understand it thoroughly.

We're Your Go To Roofing Company For Fixing Any Leaking Roof Problems

So if you're stuck with a leaking roof and wonder, "Who can help fix my leaking roof?" other than doing some quick patchwork yourself, call a reputable roofing contractor.

Even better, give us a call or email today! We're experts in this area and can take all the stress and worry away from you having to deal with it yourself. We offer free roof inspections so we can examine the damage and walk you through your best options.