How to Fix a Leaky Roof: Hire a Roofer or DIY
That first drop of water on your shoulder on your favorite reading spot in the living room can be a heart-sinking moment. A million thoughts race through your head after the first initial "wait why is it raining indoors" question flashes in your mind.
How bad is the leak? Where is it? Can I fix it? How much will it cost? Oh god, how much will it cost? Who should I call?
And there's good reason to worry.
Depending on the kind of material your roof is made of, a repair could cost you anywhere from $120 to $1,600 per square foot. Roof damages can be one of the hardest and most costly projects for homeowners to tackle.
Hiring roofing specialists is always advised but they can be costly. Some minor damages can be a fairly simple fix while others should be left to the professionals. The first step in deciding who to let handle the problem is to first, establish the problem.
How to Find a Roof Leak
While it can be easy to spot a water stain or mold growth on your ceiling, it can be difficult to spot where exactly the water is coming from. A house's roof can be a maze of diverting rafters, pathways, and planes. Water has an annoying knack for taking circuitous and difficult to locate routes through a roof.
The first step is to adopt one of the ancient roofing specialists adages: "think like the water." Essentially, trace the leak by thinking about where the water would be prone to flow. This could be worn or missing shingles with loose nails or corroded sealing around skylights, chimneys or vents. These should be the first places you look. After that, it's time to make the journey to the attic.
How to Perform a Light Test
Bring a flashlight into the attic on a bright day when the weather has been dry for awhile. Using the flashlight looks for discolorations, stains or water marks in the wood. If you see any of these signs, try and trace the stains back the source. Remember, "think like the water."
Once you've arrived at the general vicinity where you feel like the leak is originating, turn off the flashlight. Look for places where daylight is showing through the roof. If you can see daylight, water can get through.
Not all leaks will be this easy to find and not all attics can be easily navigated without the expertise of roofing specialists. If you can't locate the leak visually, you may need to revert to the water test.
For the water test, you need to enlist the help of a friendly neighbor or, more likely, an angsty son. Next, you're going to need a gardening hose with enough hose to reach the roof.
Have one person soak a specific part of the roof while the other is monitoring that same location in the attic equipped with a bucket and flashlight.
Wait a few minutes after soaking the roof and watch to see if any drip from the rafters can be seen. The water may not reveal the exact location of the leak. Like we've discussed, water has a habit of seeming to come from all over. Don't be distressed, however, because you've now narrowed the leak's location to that specific area of the roof that you've been soaking.
Start removing the shingles in that area and eventually you should find the origin of the leak.
Emergency Roof Solutions
Some leaks will need more immediate attention than others. The occasional water mark on your ceiling can wait for an appointment with roofing specialists but if your guest bedroom is starting to look like a flooded bathtub, it's time to take immediate action.
If you're unable to locate the leak or you really don't have the time, covering the roof with the proper material should be the immediate goal. Blue roof tarp is a cost effective material that will do well to plug a leak temporarily until the problem can be addressed further.
The tarp should cover the area of the roof where the leak is coming from and depending on the leak you may need more or less tarp. If it's a truly huge leak and the majority of the roof needs to be covered, use the holes at the corners of the tarp to loop ropes through. Make sure to attach the ropes to something stable, like a neighboring tree.
If you can zero in a smaller area where the leak is originating, you can purchase a smaller tarp with roofing adhesive that will attach directly to your roof.
If you know exactly where the leak is coming from and you need to plug up the hole as soon as possible you can use patching solutions to seal the roof.
Remember though, these are only temporary solutions. The next step should be to get in contact with professionals who can help you get quality help for a competitive price.
Identify the leak
Hopefully, the leak won't need this emergency attention. Roof repair should not be rushed and the technique required to patch the hole can change depending on the type of leak.
If the leak is occurring anywhere close to the chimney, that should be the first place you look. While a brick chimney can be one of the sturdiest components of your home.
However, the mortar which holds the bricks together can fall victim to the pressures of time. Check for deterioration in the mortar where water might be able to get through. If this is actually the culprit, you might be in luck. Patching up mortar is fairly cheap and not too difficult to handle on your own.
The material that protects the roof from leaks in the area where your chimney meets the shingling, called flashing, might also prove to be the problem.
Flashing is usually made out of metal which can rust or crack. If it's not properly sealed and stapled into place, leaks may also occur.
This problem should not run more than a couple hundred dollars to fix, however, as its a more delicate job, it should be reserved for the roofing specialists.
The good news about missing shingles is they're pretty easy to locate. One trip on the roof and you should be able to spot the problem.
For an easy fix, pry the nails loose from wood below and prep the area to slide the new shingle into place. Nail the new shingle into place and don't forget to re-nail the shingles around it to make sure it's firmly secured.
As long as you know your way around a roof, and doing a bit of hammering on a slanted surface does not phase you, this can be a job you can handle yourself.
Skylights are a lot like boats. You always appreciate their beauty more before you own one, and become familiar with their maintenance. Aside from having to regularly clean them, from the inside and out, you need to make sure its flashing is up to snuff.
If the flashing is cracked, then new flashing and surrounding shingles will need to be installed professionally. If the rubber seal around the glass is dried out then the entire skylight will need to be replaced.
Unlike chimneys, which are much more sturdy, repairing the flashing around skylights can be a bit more costly and might run you anywhere from $1,250 to $2,500.
Leaks located in the bathroom, kitchen or bedroom usually has to do with leaks in the plumbing. The flashing surrounding the pipe tends to be the culprit for these kinds of leaks, the deterioration of this flashing can cause the pipes to leak water from the roof into the house.
The fix can vary from easy to better call a professional, depending on the extent of the damage and the size of the leak.
The wood paneling located underneath the shingles can be very susceptible to damage, especially if it's getting up there in years. No matter how new or well installed your shingles may be if the decking underneath is rotting or damaged, your roof is going to be in trouble.
The problem with replacing the decking is that it's underneath all the shingles and often requires an entire overhaul of the roof. If your decking is in bad shape, you may have to prepare to purchase an entire new roof.
If a roofing nail has missed its mark in the decking, it may be exposed and protruding in your attic. If you live somewhere where it is prone to freeze in the winter and your attic is not well-heated, that nail can freeze over.
In warmer weather, that freeze can melt and start on an internal leak in your attic. It may not seem like much, but enough of these exposed nails can cause severe water damage to your attic.
The presence of this moisture in your attic also indicates that it might not be insulated properly. The freezing nails can be fixed pretty quickly once you have identified them as the problem. However, the ventilation of your attic may require more professional help, although it could improve the overall efficiency of your house in the long run.
Call for Help
Now that we've covered where to look for leaks, how to identify them, and what to do based on what's wrong it's now time to tell you when you need help.
It is always a tough thing to admit. We all know that wanna-be handyman who appreciates your help and advice but they will be just fine on their own, thank you very much.
A lot of people will also avoid calling roofing specialists at all costs, terrified of what the price tag might be. But this kind of thinking can compound the problems. A botched fix can make the problem worse, and even a successful fix can only be temporary.
There are a number of benefits for calling in the professionals, even when the fix seems minor.
- Cost efficiency: Paying however much it takes to professionally repair your roof up front is a tough pill to swallow. But if you just repair the leaks as they occur here and there, you risk sacrificing the integrity of your roof as a whole. And compared to the price of replacing your entire roof, you might now look at this initial repair job as that expensive.
- High-quality materials: Even the handiest of handyman's don't have a toolbox as attuned to this job as a roofer's. Blue tarp and wet patch solution can be useful in a pinch but they are not good long-term solutions. Even if you are prepared to spend liberally at your local hardware store for roof repair supplies, you will still be hard pressed to find the tools that professionals will bring with them.
- Increase property value: If your roof is more than 15 to 20 years old, reselling your house at its highest value without a new or repaired roof is going to be a tall task. Hiring professional roofing specialists is a good investment not just in solving your immediate problems but in the future property value of your house.
Sometimes it is wisest to bite the bullet initially and reap the benefits in the long run.
But next comes perhaps the most daunting step of all: choosing a repairman. There is rabid competition for your dollar in the roofing industry, which can be a good thing when it comes to getting a good price but overwhelming when it comes to actually booking a company.
Lucky for you there are companies who specialize in setting you up with the best roofing specialists for your specific project in your specific price range.
Roof repair, whether you decide to tackle it yourself or hire professionals, can be stressful, time-consuming, and costly. But as long as you know what to look for, where to look for it, and who to call if you discover the fix is beyond you, you will be in good shape.
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