The roof leak can be one of the more difficult repairs to tackle. It seems like it would be easy. See the leak, hop up on the roof, patch or replace a shingle and there you go. When that actually works it’s great. The reality is that finding a small leak in a roof can be tough.
Internal items like truss bracing, insulation, duct work and wiring can cause water to run ten to twenty feet away from the actual location of the original hole. Many times the only way to track down the leak is to climb up into the attic and begin a search backward from the spot made in the drywall below. Patience and a keen eye for what may or may not be water staining is key. In most cases the storm or source of the leak has stopped before the repairman gets the call. Upon arrival everything has, for the most part, dried out.
If you’re fortunate enough to be on location at the time of the leak, your at an advantage but proceed carefully. The surface tension of water causes it to behave in very delicate but predictable ways. If water is making it’s way down a brace or wire and you touch the wood or wire it may quickly change direction and follow a new path causing more damage. When you have located the leak carefully follow the water back to its source on the decking above. Whether the roof leak is a straight up drip or a winding trickle, it will obviously lead up and outside to the roofing. Translating that location to the outside can be tricky. Take measurements from chimneys, peaks, valleys and vent pipes to help find that spot when moving to the top of the roof.
Caution should be used here. Ladders and roofs are very slick when wet. Electrical wires and connections can easily cause electrocution in ways not possible when dry. If the damage that causes the leak is obvious once you know were to look there are patching compounds that work equally well in wet or dry situations. Your hardware store will have a supply or these. Typically it will be a piece of damage caused by hail, falling branches, animals, or age.
If this is a small roof line or bump out area like a bay window, there may not be any access to see the source of the leak. In this case it becomes a matter of very close inspection from the top or highest point of the roof line and working your way down. You’re looking for any possible penetrations or openings in the roofing or flashing. An aging roof can expose nails. Flashing, when face nailed, should be sealed. However, like the picture above, if not sealed, exposed nail heads may begin to leak many years later.
A roof leak is not always easy to find. They can be very small breaches in the vast area of the roof. Sometimes a hole as little as a bb or pinhead can be the cause of a steady damaging leak during a long soaking rain. The best defense is regular maintenance but if a small leak develops, be patient tracking down the source. Look for the small openings if there is no apparent damage. And always, always work safely.