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What to Do When Your Roof Leaks


Nobody wants to discover a dark stain in the ceiling, or worse, water drops splattering on their floor and furniture caused by a roof leak. If you spot the tell-tale ceiling stain or have water dripping down, you can’t ignore it. You need to take immediate action to minimize water damage, wood rot, and the potential for mold growth.

One thing that you can count on, roof leaks will not fix themselves or get better over time. Even small leaks can lead to major (read expensive) problems like rotting framing and sheathing, destroyed insulation, and of course damaged ceilings.

Roof Leaks: What You Need to Do Right Now!

If you have water continuously dripping, it’s likely that the ceiling will be discolored, the paint may be bubbling, and even bulging a bit.

Here’s what to do to minimize the damage until you can get it fixed.

Step 1 – Catch the Drip

Put a bucket or trashcan under the drip to catch the water. If you place a board in the bucket so the drip hits it instead of the water, you’ll eliminate that annoying drip, drip, sound. 

Step 2 – Protect Your Ceiling

If the ceiling is bulging, take a screwdriver and punch a hole in the center of the bulge. This will drain the water that has accumulated above the ceiling and relieve the pressure that could potentially cause a portion of the ceiling to collapse. It may sound backward to protect your ceiling by making a hole in it, but providing a clear path for water to fall through your ceiling and into a bucket prevents it from doing damage to other parts of your house along the way.

Step 3 – Protect Your Stuff

If possible, cover furniture and other property in the vicinity of the leak with plastic or a painter’s drop cloth. If you don’t have access to a waterproof covering, move your belongings out of the area.

Step 4 – Plug The Leak (If You Can)

If you can safely do it, try to find the source of the roof leak. That means a trip to the attic. Remember to take a flashlight. If you can locate the leak, attempt to safely plug it by tacking a piece of scrap wood, heavy-duty plastic film, or even the old standby, duct tape. The patch only has to hold until the storm passes. Remember, you’ve already contained the water and moved your belongings to safely, so don’t risk your safety when you can call a roofer to fix the problem.

Step 5 – Protect Your Roof with a Blue Tarp

If you can’t locate the leak or can’t get to it, call a reputable roofer who offers emergency tarp service. Putting up a “blue roof” after the storm doesn’t fix your problem but it stops the immediate damage.

Step 6 – Call a Professional

Once the weather has passed, you’ll need to have the roof professionally inspected. Small problems on roofs that are less than 15 years old can typically be patched. Older roofs may need to be re-roofed.

The Next Challenge – Dealing with Roofing Companies

If your roof is under warranty, your next call after the storm should be to your roofer to perform an inspection. If you don’t have a roofer, you want to be careful who you choose. There’s a pretty low threshold for people who want to get into the roofing business and as a result, there are some companies that offer less than professional service.

Here’s a quick checklist you can follow for selecting a reputable roofing contractor:

  • Get at least three bids. Get references from friends and coworkers, or use a reputable service directory to identify potential contractors.
  • Make certain that the roofer is licensed, insured, and will pull all required permits.
  • Have the contractor agree to locate and repair all damaged wood before repairing or re-roofing.
  • Ask for details on any warranty offered.
  • Be sure the contractor agrees that the job has to pass municipal inspection before it can be considered complete.
  • Get a written estimate detailing all work to be performed, estimated time to completion, and terms.

Once you have all that, call your insurance agent to see if you have coverage for this repair. If a licensed roofer can definitively state that the damage was caused by wind, or debris falling on the roof, or some other covered peril, odds are the company will honor the claim. The more detail you have to make your case, the greater the likelihood an insurance adjuster will look positively at your claim.

Preventing the Next Leak

Once the job is done, make sure you keep up maintenance to prevent a reoccurrence. Trim overhanging trees, keep gutters and downspouts clean and functional, and periodically inspect the flashing. Choosing the right contractor and keeping up good maintenance will keep roof leaks out of your life for years to come.

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