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The 6 Most Common Causes of Roof Leaks

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Do you have dark stains on your ceiling? Are your walls starting to look a little more bowed than usual? These are all telltale signs you might be dealing with a roof leak. 

Finding a leak can lead to more questions than answers. How did this start? How long has this been happening? Can the leak be repaired? If so, how much will it cost? Before you let the unknowns overwhelm you, take a deep breath. We’re here to help. 

Let’s look at six of the most common culprits causing your roof to leak and what you can – and should – do to fix them (other than using your trusty bucket.)

 

1. Clogged Gutters

What Does it look like?

A good indication of clogged gutters is pine straw, leaves, or broken branches sticking out of the system.

Gutter clogged with dry leaves

Does it seem like something is just off with your gutters after a rainstorm? Check to see if water is trickling through the downspout. If it isn’t, your gutters are probably clogged.

Why Does it Happen?

Gutters are designed to collect water from your roof and then direct it through the downspout, away from your home. If they’re clogged, they won’t be able to effectively do this. The primary problem with clogged gutters is water backing up onto your roof and finding its way under the shingles.

 

2. Missing or Damaged Shingles

What Does it look like?

Shingles protect the roofing underlayment, roof deck, and of course, the interior of your home. But sometimes, they get damaged or become worn out, which leads to leaking.

Shingles damaged by the wind

Since they act as the exterior layer of your roof, broken shingles should be easy to spot. The most common sign of missing shingles is different-colored patches on your roof. Strong winds or heavy storms can also damage shingles and detach them from your home. If this is the case, you’ll probably find them scattered across your yard, though. 

We recommend looking from all angles at your home. Do you see any patches where the shingles are misaligned or discolored? This can be a sign of shingle damage from wear or a storm.

Why Does it Happen?

Shingles are the first and strongest line of defense against rainwater, sunlight, and other elements. Without their protection, water can get in underneath the shingles and do damage over time.

 

3. Pipe Boot Failure

What Does it look like?

Have you ever wondered what those small pipes sticking out of your roof are? What do they do? They’re plumbing vents sometimes referred to as vent stacks.  They’re used to allow air pressure in your plumbing system and sewer gases to safely exhaust outdoors. 

A cracked pipe boot

Roof boots wrap around the base of these vents to create an airtight seal that stops water from following the pipe down through your roof and into your home.

Why Does it Happen?

Pipe boots are exposed to the harsh elements year-round and need to be flexible to expand and contract with the changing temperatures. The most common reason for failure is cracking due to exposure to the elements for years. In some cases, the pipe boot is damaged by an animal or it might have been installed incorrectly.

 

4. Compromised Valleys

What Does it look like?

A valley is an area where two different roof slopes come together. This creates a “V” shape that allows rainwater to flow freely down your roof and into your gutter system.

A valley on the roof that is not covered properly

Valleys are the most vulnerable area on a roof because they see the highest amount of water flow. When you think about the large volume of rain that’s channeled through them, it’s easy to see how all that wear and tear can lead to damage. When leaks pop up around valleys, the problem is often with the underlayment.

Why Does it Happen?

The way the valley is constructed in a shingle roof installation is critical. When improperly installed and flashed, they pose a major risk for serious leaking problems.

The leak is usually caused by flashing at the valley area being poorly installed or nonexistent altogether.

Valley flashing is simply metal that is installed prior to the final roofing material. It takes the exact shape of the valley and runs its entire length. This gives storm water a definitive path to travel down your roof and into the gutter system.

 

5. Skylight Leaks

What Does it look like?

Skylights are meant to let in extra light, not water! 

Leaking skylight

These leaks are pretty easy to spot: if you find yourself having to put a bucket under your skylight to catch dripping water, it’s probably the source of the leak.

Why Does it Happen?

Your skylight may start to leak if it is installed with the wrong flashing kit. This is used to secure joints and direct water down the roof. Without flashing, water can work its way through the joints around the skylight and cause a leak.

Another reason it could leak is because of damaged or worn weather seals. This is designed to create an airtight, waterproof seal between your skylight and the wall that surrounds it.

Over time, the weather seal will age with exposure to sunlight and other harsh elements. When this happens, that seal will begin to loosen, leaving room for water to infiltrate your home.

Besides worn weather seals, the second most common cause of a leaking skylight is damage to the metal flashing installed around the skylight where it meets the roof.

 

6. Chimney Wear & Tear

What Does it look like?

If you experience a leak in the walls surrounding your brick chimney, you should have the mortar joints and flashing examined.

Deteriorating Brick Chimney

Mortar is basically just a mixture of water, sand, and cement, meaning it will break down over time. Exposure to the elements will cause your brick-and-mortar chimney to age even faster.

Why Does it Happen?

If the mortar has crumbled away near the base of your chimney, there is basically nothing left to prevent a leak.

Another reason it could leak is because of damage to the chimney cap. The primary function of the cap is to channel water away from the entrance to your chimney.

If the cap is cracked, rusted, or just plain old, water can easily make its way inside and leak into your home.

 

Need Help Fixing a Leaky Roof?

The best defense against roof leaks, alongside regular maintenance, is to get them fixed as soon as possible.

If you are confident you know where the leak is coming from and can safely get to the source, cover the exterior surface with a large tarp. If you can’t reach it or feel unsafe doing so, it would be best to immediately contact a roofing professional.

They will diagnose the issue, walk you through the process of needed repairs, and then use professional-grade equipment to put an end to the leak. 

If you live in the Raleigh area, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with us today to get that leak fixed. 

If you aren’t local to Raleigh but are still trying to find the best contractor for your project, check out this article on how to know if you should repair or replace your roof.

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