How to Determine the Cause of a Ceiling Leak
Identifying the origin of a ceiling leak is very similar to putting together a puzzle. You might think it’s straightforward enough, however identifying precisely where water is entering into the house may be an exercise in trial and error. Where the water enters the house may not be at the cause of the water leak. Water pursues the easiest path until it gets to the lowest place or obstruction throughout that pathway where it starts to pool and leak. The minute you want to pinpoint the cause of the leak in your ceiling, a comprehensive assessment and doing away with the most obvious causes is a good starting point.
Figure out if the leak happens only during the course of bad weather or is a continual issue showers or shine. This is a very good indication that the leak starts someplace or other on the roof if the leak dries out between storms. If the leak is steady when it shines or storms, the leak probably comes from a plumbing water supply line.
Analyze the water seeping from the ceiling. There’s a great possibility it comes from a leaking plumbing line or fixture if the water appears fresh. If the water is filthy or stains the ceiling, the source might be a leak in the roof.
Get to to the attic and, with a flashlight, locate the place exactly where the ceiling is moist somewhere between roof studs. You will need to take out any padding in the way of the leak. If there is a plumbing line near the leak, for example the supply line for a swamp cooler, check the line for leaks or dampness.
Look up at the ceiling at the same time in the attic and note any spots where light shines through. Insert a plastic straw through the space. This will certainly help you find and repair the hole from atop the rooftop.
Check out the inside of the attic ceiling for water blemishes or trails. Follow the water trail or stain to its origin. Make note of the area if there are no apparent cavities, as water could be getting under roof causing the leak and flashing.
Check the roof’s exterior. Use a step ladder to gain access to the roof.
Start at the top of the roof and work down. Check valley flashing, gaskets around plumbing vents and utility entrances. Check flashing around chimneys, dormer vents or other roof protrusions. Look for any shingles in need of repair. Note if there are any wind-lifted, bulging or raised shingles as leak origins.
Analyze all spots of the roof where two separate building materials meet, such as between siding, shingles or flashing. Look for corroded or ruined components as origins of ceiling leaks.
Check gutters and downspouts for obstructions. Backed up discharge water can get beneath flashing and trigger a ceiling to leak.
Things You Will Require
- Plastic straw
- Step ladder
Safety line and other appropriate safety equipment
Every year check out your roof and re-tar or use roof cement around plumbing vents, attic dormer vents, chimneys and anything that projects through the roof. Yearly maintenance in the summer, fall or spring helps to reduce the chances of wintertime leaks.
Use rubber-soled sneakers when accessing the roof. Tie off a safety line on something secure to break any falls from the roof.
How to Repair Your Leaking Ceiling
In addition to being an eyesore, leaking ceilings can cause major problems around your home. Here’s how to find and stop your ceiling leaks.
Spotting Your Leak
Wet flooring and dark-colored or brown splotches on your ceiling are common signs of a leak. Leaking ceilings can also cause bubbling paint and wet walls. If you notice any of these signs, address the problem immediately. Overlooking leaks can lead to structural damage and mold and mildew growth.
Pinpointing Your Leak’s Origin
The source of your leak will identify how you fix it. Unfortunately, finding the location of your leak isn’t always easy. Water can travel considerable distances before eventually pooling and dripping. Here are three clues that will help you pinpoint the origin of your leak.
Leak Frequency: Drip frequency is a good indicator of your leak’s location. Dripping that coincides with rain is usually a sign of a leaking roof. Your leak is likely plumbing-related if you notice a steady flow of water.
Leak Color: The color of the water dripping from your ceiling will also help you pinpoint the location of your leak. Filthy or brown water is usually a sign of a leaking roof. Water making its way into your home from your roof picks up dirt and other impurities along the way. Clear dripping is usually the sign of an interior plumbing leak. Water leaking from pipes won’t attract as much dirt and grime.
Insulation Dryness: Attic insulation will also help you identify the cause of your leak. Gain access to your attic and feel the top of the insulation covering the leaking portion of your ceiling. If it’s dry, your leak is below your insulation. Look and remove the insulation for dampness or signs of damage. The leak is likely located above your insulation in the roof or wall if the top of the insulation is wet.
Fixing Your Leak
It’s time to find the exact origin and fix it once you know the general location of your leak. Here’s how:
Roof Leaks: Begin by looking for obvious signs of roof deterioration. Use a wire to mark any holes or cracks so you can find them on the outside of your roof. This will help you pinpoint the affected portion of your roof during repairs. Examine your attic ceilings and walls for water stains or trails if there’s no obvious damage. Trace any sign of running water back to its origin and mark the area. If there is no visible damage, the cause of your leak is likely due to a challenge with your flashing, shingles or vent gaskets. Gain access to your roof and check the leaking area. Replace any deteriorated or damaged areas. Sometimes plugging roof leaks isn’t DIY-able. Leaks in unusual locations or related to major structural damage are best left to the pros. Tackling major repairs can cause additional leaks and threaten the safety of your home.
Plumbing Leaks: Your home is filled with pipes, which can make pinpointing the source of your plumbing leak difficult. Here’s a quick look at the most common sources of plumbing leaks and how to fix them.
If your leak is directly below your bathroom, plumbing fixtures like showers and toilets are likely to blame. To double check, recreate the leak by running your shower or toilet and then taking a look at the open ceiling for leaks. If you see water dripping, you’ve pinpointed the source of your leak.
Bathtub Leaks: Begin by inspecting your bathtub or shower insert for cracks. Run your bath or shower and inspect your ceiling leak if you don’t notice any damage. If you see drips, you’re likely suffering from a faulty drain gasket. Remove your old shower drain (most unscrew with a tub tool or channel-lock pliers) and check out your gasket. Replace it with a new one if your drain’s gasket is missing or old. If you don’t have a gasket replacement, you can also use plumber’s putty to create a seal. Call a pro if the leak persists. This could be the sign of a more serious plumbing issue.
Shower Leaks: Spray water along your shower door and analyze your ceiling. Dripping water will confirm a faulty shower door seal. Install a shower door sweep– most designs snap onto your door– and run silicone caulk along the base of your shower. If your sliding shower door track is leaking, run a line of caulk along its base. Call a pro if your leaks continue. This could be the sign of further plumbing issues.
Toilet Leaks: Toilets use a wax seal to connect your toilet to your home’s plumbing system. Over time, these seals can age or break due to a loose toilet. To check your seal, flush your toilet and then examine your ceiling. If you see a leak, you could have a bad seal. Replace your wax seal to do away with your leak. Call a pro if you continue to have leaks. Sometimes this is a sign of other plumbing issues.
Your home’s plumbing lines can corrode or break and cause leaks. If your leak isn’t below any major appliance or fixture, it’s likely the result of a faulty pipe. Remove the affected drywall to gain access to the affected area. It’s best to use a small, handheld saw to clear away wet drywall. Larger saws can damage wiring and other piping. Examine the piping for obvious signs of damage once the wet drywall is removed. Water can run along pipes, joists, and wires, so you may have to search for the origin. Remove the damaged section with a wide pipe cutter once you find the faulty piping. Be sure the blades are rated for your piping’s material. Measure and install your new section of piping. If you’re replacing a copper pipe, be prepared to solder. Soldering requires working with flammable materials. If you’re unsure how to perform this task, call a pro. Soldering mistakes can lead to fires, serious burns, and additional leaks.
If you notice water damage on the ceiling or other signs of a leak, don’t assume it’s your roof.
As the snow melts, our company gets calls all of the time from customers who have a roof leak and think they know exactly where the water is coming in– usually because there’s a water mark on the ceiling or wall. But, did you know roof leaks and the cause of water damage are actually hard to diagnose? It may not be your roof leaking at all.
At times, ascertaining the source of a water leak can be difficult. It’s a common misconception that the leak originates from directly above that area when there’s a stain on the ceiling.
But, water travels. When there’s a leak present, water may be traveling down from another area of your home, dripping onto the ceiling, causing you to believe that’s the location of the leak. If applicable) to better ascertain where the leak is coming from, it’s best to have an experienced professional get on your roof and in the attic (.
There are other factors to consider. Water on your ceiling may be the cause of a variety of things. Regardless, a leak can cause serious issues inside your home.
1. Water pipes leaking or dripping
Plumbing pipes are often in your attic and may either be accumulating or leaking condensation, causing the water to drip. This happens quite often, leading to a misdiagnosed roof leak. Your professional should be able to spot this during the examination and strongly recommend an HVAC company who can help.
2. Condensation inside your home
If your house is not properly vented, insulated or has a whole-house humidifier that is set too high, condensation can develop and cause moisture content in the home, particularly your attic.
Keep in mind, whole-house humidifiers should not be set at more than 30 percent, per manufacturer guidelines, to avoid this issue.
Wetness in a crawl space can also be a factor. The wetness is invisible and eventually rises through the home, stopping at the roof deck, creating condensation. The use of a sump pump, pea gravel, and other products can help, but contact a professional service provider to assist.
3. Clogged gutters and downspouts
If your gutters are clogged, water has nowhere to go but in! Gutters must be properly maintained so water (and ice in the winter) doesn’t back up with the debris.
Consider gutter guards to prevent build up of debris in your gutters. Our best advice is to simply keep those gutters and downspouts cleaned.
4. Ice dam
Walk the perimeter of your home to check for areas where ice may have built up this winter season. When water from the ice and snow melts, it will more than likely leak right into your home. This doesn’t mean your shingles are bad. It simply means, as with clogged gutters, the water has nowhere to go but it in.
Use Roof Melt Tablets to Prevent Ice Dams
Find out what to do when winter storms dump snow and ice on your roof and in your gutters.
Check for these roof repairs
Turns out it was a roof leak? Wait to repair your home’s interior. Draw a circle with a pencil around the stain, and see if the spot grows after a few very good rainfalls. You’re probably pretty safe to move forward if it doesn’t.
There are many things we, as homeowners, can do to be vigilant in the fight against roof leaks. You can check your home for the following things before having to call a roofing professional:
• Look for cracked or missing shingles. If you have to get on the roof, safety first. Be sure someone is holding the ladder. Wear the proper attire– shoes with rubber soles are best.
• Peak at your skylight while on the roof or from inside. Look for broken seals or broken edges.
• Check attic insulation level. State minimum (in Indiana) is 13 inches. Take a ruler with you, pop your head up and measure. Insulation and ventilation are very important in allowing your home to breath, reducing the risk of condensation.
• Look for loose or damaged siding. Water can often enter the area causing a leak, most especially with wind-driven rains.
Remember, when in doubt, call a reputable service provider to assist in diagnosing the cause of your problem. Most roof evaluations are free of charge.
My Roof is Leaking– What Do I Do and the Dangers of Waiting
No one ever wants to find water leaking from their ceiling. Whether you are home when the leak starts or come home to it, it is important that you take immediate action to avoid further damage to your home.
Contain the Leak
If you find water dripping from a bulges or discoloration in your ceiling, it’s likely that water is pooling on the other side of that bulge or dark spot. Grab a pail, trash can, or some other container and place it under the site of the drip or suspected leak. You may even want to consider propping up a board inside the container so the drips hit the board and not the build-uped water. This will decrease the repetitive dripping sound.
Next, take an old screwdriver, locate the center of the bulge where water is build-uping and puncture it right in the middle. Though it might seem strange to punch a hole in your ceiling to stop a leak, the new hole will allow the water to drain smoothly and relieve pressure on the rest of your ceiling. If water build-ups and pools, the entire ceiling could collapse.
If you are confident you know where the leak is coming from and can safely get to the cause, cover the exterior surface with a large tarp. As you may already know, unfortunately if your roof is actively leaking due to weather, a roofing service provider can not repair the leak until that weather has stopped.
An experienced roofing specialist will examine your roof both from the exterior of the roof itself as well as the inside of your home, typically through the attic. Checking out the underside of the roof sheeting can show signs of water damage, however it is not a foolproof method so checking the roof for damage is needed as well.
Dangers of Waiting
When it comes to a roof leak, it is important to act quickly. Leaky roofs never fix themselves or get better on their own. If the leak isn’t bad yet, even. Get it fixed now. Often we hear from homeowners that they noticed a stain on their ceiling or possibly some bubbling for awhile but thought it wasn’t serious. Avoidance and overlooking will not fix a leak in your roof. Many times by the time you notice damage within your home it is already too late. The National Roofing Professionals Association strongly recommends checking your roof twice a year, in the fall and spring. Here is what to look for to prevent a fixable issue from turning into a damaging and costly repair:
On the inside, you should look for:
- Dark areas
- Spots where outdoors light shines through
On the outside, you should keep an eye out for:
• Missing, warped, decomposing, peeling, broken, blistering, or buckling shingles
• Plugged or slow-draining gutters/downspouts
• Loose material or wear around chimneys or vents
If your roof is fewer than 15 years old, it can most likely be spot-repaired instead of requiring a total replacement. Just remember that a small leak will not go away– it will only get worse.
Roof leaks are typically just signs of a much larger challenge. Both danger and the probability of structural erosion increase if unaddressed. Regular evaluations are your best defense against a leaky roof. Be vigilant, search for leaks, and talk with your specialist about the condition of your roof regularly.