The best way to Identify the Source of a Ceiling Leak
Water follows the easiest path until it reaches the lowest point or obstruction along that path where it begins to pool and leak. A thorough inspection and eliminating the most obvious causes is a great beginning point when you want to find the cause of the leak in your ceiling.
If the leak occurs only during bad weather or is a regular problem rain or shine, find out. This is a really good evidence that the leak starts someplace on the roof if the leak dries out between storms. The leak most likely comes from a plumbing water supply line if the leak is regular when it rains or shines.
Examine the water trickling from the ceiling. If the water appears fresh, there’s a great possibility it comes from a leaking plumbing line or fixture. If the water is unsanitary or stains the ceiling, the cause might be a leak in the roof.
Gain access to the attic and, with a flashlight, locate the place where the ceiling is wet in between roof joists. You will need to take out any insulation in the pathway of the leak. If there is a plumbing line near the leak, such as the supply line for a swamp cooler, check the line for leaks or moisture content.
Look up at the ceiling at the same time in the attic and note any spots where sunlight shines through. Insert a plastic straw through the gap. This will definitely really help you find and repair the hole from on top of the roof.
Inspect the inside of the attic ceiling for water stains or trails. Follow the water trail or stain to its origin. Make note of the area if there are no apparent gaps, as water could be getting under roof causing the leak and flashing.
Check the roof’s exterior. Use a step ladder to get 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 protuberances. Look for any shingles in need of repair. Note if there are any wind-lifted, bulging or raised shingles as leak sources.
Look at all areas of the roof where two separate building materials meet, including between house siding, shingles or flashing. Look for corroded or destroyed materials as sources of ceiling leaks.
Check gutter systems and downspouts for blockages. Backed up drainage water can get under flashing and result in a ceiling to leak.
Things You Will Require
- Plastic straw
Safety line and other appropriate safety equipment
On a yearly basis 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. Annual routine maintenance in the fall, spring or summer helps to prevent winter leaks.
Word of caution
When using a step ladder, work safely. Confirm the ladder is planted securely before climbing. Use rubber-soled shoes when accessing the roof. Tie off a safety line on something secure to break any falls from the roof. Use the appropriate safety equipment.
How to Fix Your Leaking Ceiling
In addition to being an eyesore, leaking ceilings can cause major challenges around your home. Here’s how to find and stop your ceiling leaks.
Spotting Your Leak
Leaking ceilings can also cause bubbling paint and wet walls. Ignoring leaks can lead to structural damage and mold and mildew growth.
Finding Your Leak’s Source
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 very good indicator of your leak’s location. Dripping that coincides with storm is usually a sign of a leaking roof. If you notice a steady flow of water, your leak is likely plumbing-related.
Leak Color: The color of the water dripping from your ceiling will also help you find the location of your leak. Unsanitary 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 determine the source of your leak. Gain access to your attic and feel the top of the insulation covering the leaking portion of your ceiling. Your leak is below your insulation if it’s dry. Look and remove the insulation for wetness or signs of damage. If the top of the insulation is wet, the leak is likely located above your insulation in the roof or wall.
Fixing Your Leak
Once you know the general location of your leak, it’s time to find the exact origin and fix it. 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 find the affected portion of your roof during repairs. If there’s no obvious damage, check your attic ceilings and walls for water stains or trails. Trace any sign of running water back to its source 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 cause of your plumbing leak difficult. Here’s a quick look at the most common causes 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 determined the origin of your leak.
Bathtub Leaks: Begin by inspecting your bathtub or shower insert for cracks. Run your bath or shower and examine your ceiling leak if you don’t notice any damage. You’re likely suffering from a faulty drain gasket if you see drips. Remove your old shower drain (most unscrew with a tub tool or channel-lock pliers) and check your gasket. If your drain’s gasket is missing or old, replace it with a new one. 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 problem.
Shower Leaks: Spray water along your shower door and analyze your ceiling. If your sliding shower door track is leaking, run a line of caulk along its base. Call a pro if your leaks continue.
If you see a leak, you could have a bad seal. Replace your wax seal to remove your leak. Call a pro if you continue to have leaks.
Your home’s plumbing lines can corrode or break and cause leaks. It’s likely the result of a faulty pipe if your leak isn’t below any major appliance or fixture. 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. Once the wet drywall is removed, examine the piping for obvious signs of damage. Water can run along wires, joists, and pipes, 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. Be prepared to solder if you’re replacing a copper pipe. 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.
Don’t assume it’s your roof if you notice water damage on the ceiling or other signs of a leak.
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. Did you know roof leaks and the cause of water damage are actually hard to diagnose? In fact, it may not be your roof leaking at all.
At times, identifying the origin 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. It’s best to have an experienced service provider get on your roof and in the attic (if applicable) to better find out where the leak is coming from.
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 specialist should be able to spot this during the checkup and highly recommend an HVAC company who can help.
2. Condensation inside your house or apartment
If your house is not properly vented, insulated or has a whole-house humidifier that is set too high, condensation can build up and cause moisture in the home, especially your attic.
Keep in mind, whole-house humidifiers should not be set at more than 30 percent, per manufacturer guidelines, to avoid this issue.
Moisture 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
Water has nowhere to go but in if your gutters are clogged! Gutters must be properly maintained so water (and ice in the winter) doesn’t back up with the debris.
Consider gutter guards to prevent accumulation of debris in your gutters. Our best advice is to simply keep those downspouts and gutters cleaned.
4. Ice dam
Walk the perimeter of your home to check for areas where ice may have developed 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
When winter storms dump snow and ice on your roof and in your gutters, find out what to do.
Check for these roof repairs
Turns out it was a roof leak? Wait to repair your home’s interior.
There are many things we, as house owners, can do to be vigilant in the fight against roof leaks. You can examine your home for the following things before having to call a roofing contractor:
• Look for cracked or missing shingles. If you have to get on the roof, safety. Be sure somebody is holding the step 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 split 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 damaged or loose siding. Water can often enter the area causing a leak, especially with wind-driven showers.
Remember, when in doubt, call a reputable contractor to assist in diagnosing the cause of your challenge. Most roof checkups 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 begins or come home to it, it is important that you take immediate action to avoid further damage to your home.
Contain the Leak
It’s likely that water is pooling on the other side of that bulge or dark spot if you find water dripping from a bulges or discoloration in your ceiling. Grab a bucket, 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 collected water. This will reduce the repetitive dripping sound.
Next, take an old screwdriver, locate the center of the bulge where water is gathering and puncture it right in the middle. 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. The entire ceiling could collapse if water collects and pools.
If you are confident you know where the leak is coming from and can safely get to the source, 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 contractor 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. Taking a look at the underside of the roof sheeting can show signs of water damage, however it is not a foolproof method so taking a look at the roof for damage is needed as well.
Dangers of Waiting
It is important to act quickly when it comes to a roof leak. Leaky roofs never fix themselves or get better on their own. Even if the leak isn’t bad yet. Get it fixed now. Often we hear from house owners 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 outside light shines through
On the outside, you should keep an eye out for:
• Missing, warped, decaying, flaking, broken, blistering, or buckling shingles
• Clogged or slow-draining gutters/downspouts
• Loose material or wear around chimneys or vents
It can most likely be spot-repaired instead of requiring a total replacement if your roof is fewer than 15 years old. 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 problem. Be vigilant, search for leaks, and talk with your service provider about the condition of your roof routinely.