How To Fix A Roof Leak: The Basics of Roof Repair

When it rains, it pours—literally. And while a leaky roof can be an eyesore and a source of frustration, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, with the right information and materials, you can repair your leaky roof and have peace of mind for many rainy seasons to come. Not only is fixing your leaky roof less expensive than replacing it, but repairing your roof instead of replacing it is good for the environment. Depending on where you live, a new roof might have special requirements—for example, if you live in an area prone to wildfires, your roof will need to meet certain fire safety standards. Check with your local municipality for any regulations before beginning this project.

What’s the difference between repairing and replacing a roof?

Both roof repairs and roof replacements involve fixing defects in your roof. However, roof repairs are intended to get your roof up and running again, whereas roof replacements are intended to last for another 30 years. In addition to the state of your roof’s materials, there are other factors to keep in mind when deciding if you should repair or replace. For instance, if you have a large amount of damage, repairs may not be cost effective. In many cases, repairs are cheaper and faster than a full-blown replacement.

Determining the cause of your roof leak

If you’ve already determined that your leak is due to damage to your roof, you’ll want to identify the cause so you can determine the repair approach that’s best for your situation. One thing to keep in mind is that a seemingly minor leak may indicate more significant problems lurking behind the scenes. The first step, then, is to fully investigate the source of your leak and rule out any other potential causes. One way to identify the cause of a leak is to do a visual inspection of your roof, looking for any obvious signs of damage. Be sure to carefully walk around the perimeter of your roof, paying special attention to areas where shingles or tiles have lifted or cracked, or have pulled away from the roof deck entirely.

Repairing damaged shingles or tiles

If you have a small number of damaged shingles or tiles, you can repair them as long as you don’t see any rot or rust underneath. For minor damage, you can use roofing cement to seal torn areas and reattach loose tiles. If you have large areas of damage, you’re going to want to remove and replace the affected shingles or tiles entirely—especially if the underlying roof deck is rotted. If you’re removing and replacing shingles or tiles, make sure to remove them carefully to avoid damaging the roof deck. You can do this with a pry bar and hammer. Before you start, put some cardboard or old newspapers underneath the shingles or tiles to protect your roof from scraping or scratching.

Fixing a cracked or broken roof deck

If you notice that the roof deck is cracked or broken, you’ll want to seal it as soon as possible to avoid water from getting inside. For small cracks, you can use roofing cement to seal the crack. For larger cracks, you may need to replace the damaged wood. Before you begin any repairs, you’ll want to make sure that the underlying roof deck is dry by using a roof de-watering system. For example, you can use a roof rake to remove water buildup, or set up a roof drainage system to divert water away from your house.

Replacing rotted wood in your roof

If you notice that the wood in your roof is severely rotted, you’ll likely want to replace the entire section. A quick way to identify potentially rotted wood is to look for areas where the shingles are lifting away from the roof deck. If you have a large amount of rotted wood in your roof, you’ll likely want to replace it completely. Again, before you begin any repairs, you’ll want to make sure that the underlying roof deck is dry by using a roof de-watering system. For example, you can use a roof rake to remove water buildup, or set up a roof drainage system to divert water away from your house.

Repairs you shouldn’t skimp on

Certain repairs are best left to the professionals. If you notice that your roof’s eaves are damaged, it may be a sign that your roof has sunken. Depending on how far the eaves have sunk, you may be able to repair the problem by adding support to the eaves. Be sure to call in a professional if the eaves are sagging more than an inch or two. If you notice that your roof has a sag in the middle, you’re probably dealing with a rafter problem. This happens when the roof has sunk and the rafters are now too low for the roof. In this case, you’ll likely want to replace the roof entirely.

Replacing the roof entirely

If you have a large number of repairs that would cost more than the roof itself, or if you have particularly bad damage (like severe rotting or rafter problems), you may want to consider replacing the roof entirely. If you choose to replace the roof, you’ll want to take your local climate and building codes into consideration when choosing a new roof type. For example, if you live in an area prone to wildfires, your roof will need to meet certain fire safety standards. Before you begin any roof replacement, be sure to remove and dispose of the old roof materials to avoid contaminated water seeping into your home. Be sure to store materials away from your house and away from shrubs and trees, as they can be a source of roof leaks.

Replacing the roof: the do’s and don’ts

Replacing the roof isn’t as straightforward as patching a few shingles. Before you begin, you’ll want to make sure that you’re prepared to put in the time, effort, and money a full-blown roof replacement requires. The few extra hours and hundred dollars you save by patching your roof instead of replacing it may be an insufficient reward if the patchwork fails in the near future. Similarly, the patchwork may be aesthetically unappealing. Depending on your roofing materials and the extent of the damage, replacing the roof entirely may be the most effective and attractive solution.

The bottom line

If you’re experiencing occasional leaks during heavy rains, you can seal your roof using inexpensive materials and tools. If you notice that your roof has sustained significant damage, you’ll want to make repairs as quickly as possible to avoid water damage to the interior of your home. If the damage is too extensive, you may want to replace the roof entirely.

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