If you discover your roof leaking, you may not want to hire an expensive repair service. You might want to try a few tried and true leak repair tips before you call in the costly professionals. Here, we'll provide several methods for locating and repairing minor leaks in your roofing. You don’t have to feel defeated and frustrated. There are many several ways you can track down and eliminate that annoying and potentially destructive leak with a few of the tips and tricks below.

The first signs of trouble can pop up at a moment’s notice and possibly after a relatively light rain. You may notice a small dark, wet spot on your ceiling. After a time, it may grow into an actively dripping leak. In the movies, it is usually portrayed as a humorous event -- lots of pots and pans all over the room catching the drips. Maybe the star of the show watches the water drip into his freshly filled coffee cup with an expression of defeat and frustration on his face.

The truth is that a leaking roof is not funny in the least. It probably doesn't seem like a big deal at first. Maybe it only leaks a little bit in heavy rain and just a couple of times a year. However, if left untreated, even for a short time, a small leak can cause much more significant problems, such as damaged ceilings, mold, corrupted insulation, rotting wood, and even basic house frame damage.


Finding the Problem

checking the roof

When you're looking for the source of the leak, remember a straightforward law of physics. Water travels downhill and in the path of least resistance. You may have evidence on the ceiling from a leak in the roof that originated several feet farther up the roof line that has trickled down to the location where it has dripped off the frame and pooled.

Look for roofing holes or cracks, and check sealant or flashing along edges and contour changes. While leaks can develop in an open, flat area of the roof, it is much more likely that a seam has opened or the sealing compound in an area of penetration has failed over time. Penetrations include anything cut into the roof, such as vents, pipes, and chimneys. They can be the cause of a leak that appears several feet away.

If you can easily access your attic, the simplest way to look for the leak is to go up there with a light and search for signs of water incursion, such as stains, mold, or residue. If you cannot easily access the attic, or you have limited headroom in your attic, it may be easier to check from the outside, but this will prove a bit more difficult.


A Trick to Finding Leaks

finding the leak

The easiest way to find your leak is to wait for a rainy day and go into the attic with a good flashlight to catch it “in the act.” Water reflects light, and a bright flashlight with no other ambient light source may allow you to track it all the way back to its origin. (Or at least follow it closely enough to narrow down your search.) Once you've found the entry point, mark it and wait for a sunnier day to check the condition of the roof in that location. On that nicer day, enlist someone to tap on the marked area inside while you investigate outside. Once you've found the entry location, you're ready to start the repair process.


Finding roof leaks in fair weather

If you don’t want to wait for a rainy day, the easiest ways to track down a leak is to enlist a friend or family member and have one person use a garden hose on the roof. Another person can look from the inside for the water seepage. Don’t apply too much water pressure; just a spray to create a trickle will do. All you need is the water, not water pressure, which could make a bad situation worse.

Start from the lowest part of the roof, close to where the leak appeared. Methodically work your way up the roof in small sections until you notice fresh water entering the house. Let the hose run a while before moving on to another area. This can be a slow process, but with a little perseverance, you will be able to track down the leak's source, if not the actual entry point. If you have a shingled roof, don’t be afraid to remove a few tiles for a visual inspection of the suspected area. Look for discolored or damaged paper or wood to find the exact location of the leak.

You may find locating the leak in non-shingled roofs, such as terracotta, metal, or slate, more difficult. However, with diligence and time, you should still be able to hunt it down.


Fixing a Hole

Now that you have tracked down the entry point (or points), mark them with chalk for easy locating. How you repair these leaks will depend mainly on where the leak is, but also on the type of damaged material you find.


1. Roof leak repair: fix small holes

Sometimes, the most troublesome damage is a result of tiny, almost imperceptible holes in your shingles. Small holes can cause hundreds of dollars of damage before you realize that they exist.

Most people move into previously occupied homes and have no idea of the roof’s previous history. Holes from removed television antenna brackets or satellite dishes, even Christmas decorations from holidays long gone by may go undetected for years. These holes can be the most difficult to find. But once you have tracked them down, a little roofing cement and shingle repair should stop the damage.

2. Leak repairs tips: asphalt shingles

Just because there is a leak involving a shingle, it doesn't necessarily mean you need to replace the entire shingle. In some cases, where there is a hole in the shingle, you can solve the problem by merely sliding some flashing under the shingle, nailing it in place, and sealing it with roofing cement.

Should you have to replace an entire shingle, however, try to match the original color as closely as possible. If you have no original shingles available, you may have to buy an entire bundle from your local hardware store. While you may think this is overkill, remember that you'll now have matching replacement shingles should you have future issues.


Replacing shingles

Replacing the shingle will require protective gloves, a claw hammer, 1-1/4-inch roofing nails, a utility knife, and a pry bar.

To remove the nails from the damaged shingle, slide the pry bar under the shingle above the one to be replaced. Gently lift it to free it from the sealer strip. Now, you will have access to the nails of the damaged shingle.

Slide the pry bar under the shingle to be replaced and pry upward. When you've extracted the nails about 1/4 inch, take out the pry bar and press the shingle down. This will expose the nails. Remove them with the claw hammer. Push the pry bar under the shingle above the one to be removed and take out the second row of nails. After removing all eight nails, remove the damaged shingle.

If the damage is a hole that extends into the wood below the shingle, patch it up with roofing cement before applying the shingle.

Slide the new shingle under the one above and carefully align the new shingle with the existing ones. Lift the upper shingle carefully, as it may be a bit brittle. Then, and secure it in place with roofing nails.


3. Leak repairs tips: curled corners

When asphalt shingles age, their corners may curl downward or upward. You can halt the progress of this curling by simply gluing down the curling section.

You can apply a small amount of roofing sealant under the corner with a caulk gun. Then, place a brick on it to keep it in place until the sealant dries. The sealant usually takes about 24 hours to dry depending on the type used. You'll find the correct drying time be listed on the product label.


4. Leak repairs tips: cracked shingles

If you have a shingle that is only cracked or torn, you may not have to replace it. You can apply a bead of roofing sealant underneath the crack. Press the shingle down and then use another bead of sealant on top to seal it. Then, smooth it over with a putty knife. If you want to disguise your repair further, check the gutter for some shingle gravel that has washed down from the tiles and sprinkle it over the putty to rough up the appearance.


5. Leak repairs tips: plumbing vents

Anywhere a plumbing vent penetrates your roof is a potential source of leakage. The boots surrounding these vents may be plastic, metal, or a combination of both. Check these connections thoroughly for cracks, splits, rotted rubber, or broken seams. You should always replace any suspected vent boots. However, if it looks okay, check to see if any of the nails are missing or loose. In this case, replace them with rubber-washer screws. These are designed specifically for metal roofing and are available at your hardware store. You'll likely have to loosen or remove the adjacent shingles to slide the new boot into place. Secure per the manufacturer's directions.

6. Leak repairs tips: roof vents

If you have a plastic roof vent, check for cracks. For metal vents, check for separated seams. If you have a damaged vent, replace it. Repairing it isn't worth the effort, and patching won’t hold for long. Look for loose or missing nails and replace them with rubber-washer screws. Try to remove the vent nails without damaging the surrounding shingles. When replacing the vent, remember to put some additional caulk beneath the shingles on both sides of the vent for extra protection. It will also help keep the shingles in place.


7. Leak repairs tips: walls and windows

Leaks don’t always happen around shingles. If the wind is driving the rain, it can enter the home anywhere there is a space. The gaps around windows, corner joints, window ledges, and cracks in the paint are all entry points for driven rain. Anywhere the surface of a wall is altered, such as a dormer, can be a trouble location. Water can easily find a penetration point where complicated joints or connections take place.

Even if the sealant appears to be intact, it may no longer be adhering firmly to the surfaces where it was applied. This allows water to travel behind it. Poke around these joints to check for separations or air pockets. If you're unsure about a caulked joint, take no chances. Remove the old caulk, then replace it with silicone-latex caulk. Missing or deteriorated trim or mounding can cause significant problems. Remove and replace them if necessary. Be sure to caulk them as well when replacing them. If you have stop flashing, remember to overlap it by at least 2 inches.

8. Leak repairs tips: step flashing

If you live in a home with roof sections that intersect with walls, you'll find step flashing used where they intersect with the roof. Anywhere this flashing is present, you'll find a potential for leakage. Flashing can rust, come loose from the wall, or separate from an overlapping piece. If it's rusted, you should replace it. However, if it's only slipped or separated, you can fix it.

If you have a small hole in your flashing, you can fix it by applying roofing cement. In the case that the holes are larger than about 3/4-inch, it may be necessary to make a patch and cement the patch to the flashing. Be sure the patch is of the same material as the flashing. Cover the patch with roofing cement to seal it.

If you need to replace the flashing, that may require also removing several layers of shingles. If you are uncomfortable with a repair of this size, it may be time to consider calling a professional.


9. Leak repair tips: brick chimneys

Having a fireplace can make a home cozy and warm. There is nothing like ending your day curled up with the one you love in front of a crackling fire in a brick fireplace. Unfortunately, fireplaces are one of the most notorious problems when it comes to keeping water out of your home. A host of bad things can happen that involve chimneys and water leakage.

The most prevalent problem is that the galvanized steel flashing around the chimney will rust and fail. First of all, consider the 90-degree bend stressing the metal. Add to that the constant heating and cooling caused by the location which can weaken it even further. If the damage causing the leak is relatively minor, you can usually fix it by merely sliding new flashing under the old and sealing the entire arrangement with mason cement. Remember, in this area, ordinary caulk just won’t do. Also, be sure to check the chimney itself for leaks and cracks in the bricks or mortar. These can also cause water leaks in the attic if not attended to. Again, use masonry cement, not caulk.


Finally, Safety First

Falls involving roofing are responsible for many severe injuries and even deaths. You should always be conscious of safety hazards in your work area. For example, you should never work on a wet roof. And be sure to keep your work area as clean as possible. Only wear soft-soled safety boots and shoes when doing roof work.

There are many safety factors to consider beyond simply falling off the roof. You may be close to electrical lines. You may find yourself using sharp cutting tools or dealing with materials that have sharp edges, like flashing. Since you have already invested in other tools and materials for your DIY repair, and you should invest in your safety with thick roofer gloves and appropriate shoes.


The Bottom Line on DIY Roof Leak Repair 

Most importantly, if you do not feel entirely comfortable in what you are attempting, or if the roof is unfamiliar territory for you, stop! Even if it is just for long enough to reevaluate the situation and reconsider your comfort level with the repairs that need doing. And always have a friend or family member present anytime you venture up to the roof. Not just in case an accident happens, but because another pair of eyes on the proceedings might prevent one from happening. Frugality is never more important than your safety, and saving a few bucks is not worth risking serious injury or worse.

Making minor roof repairs need not be an expensive or complicated process. There is plenty of reference material available. And most hardware stores have professionals that will be happy to advise you on any details you may not be completely clear on because you're buying your materials from them. Hopefully, these leak repair tips will get you on your way.