panoramic shot of handyman holding hammer while repairing roof near coworker

Roof Leak Repair: A Complete Guide To Fixing A Leaking Roof

Carey Chesney6 minute read
August 06, 2021

It’s something no homeowner wants to see: A wet spot on the ceiling or even a ray of sunshine coming through the top of your attic. A leaking roof is right up there – pun intended – with a flooded basement in terms of the things that can keep you up at night. Worry not, though!

If you end up facing this dilemma and think roof leak repair is beyond your ability or expertise, we have you covered. Let’s take the worry out of roof leaks by going through a step-by-step guide for identifying and fixing them as well as what it might cost you.

What Can Cause A Leaking Roof?

As you might expect, the first task is determining what is causing your roof leak. There are quite a few possible culprits, including:

  • Damaged shingles
  • Holes in the roof flashing
  • Improperly driven nails
  • Debris in gutters
  • Older, weathered chimneys
  • Improperly installed skylights
  • Damaged vents and vent boots

How To Find A Roof Leak

So, which one is it? Well, it’s going to take some investigating. With a little knowledge, you can find the source of leaks in your roof by following these tips:

  • Look for water damage in your ceiling, then trace it into the attic and into the rafters.
  • Go outside with some binoculars and look for a damaged shingle.
  • Stand up on your roof with a garden hose, with a spotter inside the house, and soak the areas that look penetrated to see where the water leaks through.
  • Remove shingles around the damaged area to better see the source of the leak.

Before You Fix A Roof Leak

You’ve identified the source. Great! You’re on your way to dryer days!

The next step is to go through some preparation before attempting to fix your leaking roof. Here are the steps to take:

1. Move Belongings Away From The Leak

It’s important to move your belongings away from the leaking area so they don’t get damaged. You’re already dealing with a leaky roof, which is no fun. You don't want to compound the problem by adding some water damaged belongings to the fix-it list. 

2. Get Something To Catch The Water

Place a bucket or something else underneath the leak to catch the water and prevent water damage to the floors. Again, let’s keep the issue of the day to the leaky roof and not pile on more problems.

3. Puncture Any Ceiling Bulges

Look for any sagging bulges where water has collected in the ceiling. Next, puncture these spots to relieve the water pressure so that the collected water falls into the bucket or buckets below.

4. Lay Down Tarp

Lay down tarp over the source of the leak on your roof to prevent further leaking while you prepare to repair the area. See the theme here? It’s all about protecting your stuff in every way you can while you work on fixing your leaky roof.

5. Gather Your Materials Or Call A Contractor

To be clear, you don't have to do this yourself. There are a plethora of qualified contractors that can get the job done and are only a phone call or click away. They don't work for free, though – shocker, right? If you’re looking to save some money and are feeling confident you can do it yourself, you’re going to want the right tools and materials. You’ll want to gather or rent/purchase the following if you intend to DIY the repairs:

  • Ladder
  • Hammer and nails
  • Pry bar
  • Utility knife
  • Caulk gun with roofing cement
  • Replacement shingles, if necessary

Let a pro do it for you.

Find a top-rated pro to help on HomeAdvisor.

How To Fix A Leaking Roof

OK, so you have your tools and materials ready to go. Here are some basic instructions for fixing a leaking roof, depending on the source of the leak of course:

Replace Damaged Shingles

Each shingle is initially secured with four nails. Begin removing the first row of nails by sliding the pry bar under the shingle immediately above the damaged one and gently lifting it to free it from the sealer strip.

Next, slip the pry bar under the damaged shingle and pry upward. Once the nail pops up about a one-fourth inch, remove the pry bar, press the shingle down and pull out the nail. Repeat this procedure for the remaining three nails.

Then push the pry bar under the shingle directly above the damaged one and remove the second row of nails the same way. After yanking out all eight nails, pull out the damaged shingle. Then put the new shingle in by placing it in the right position and securing it with four nails.

Also, there are a wide array of roofing materials, so consider using higher-quality materials for a larger roof replacement.

Reseal The Roof Flashing

Begin by chipping out the old mortar and caulking along the edges of the flashing (the thin material that meets vertical sections of the roof to waterproof it). Next, use masonry caulk to seal the joints between the flashing and the chimney. Finally, seal the seam between the cap and step flashing with urethane roofing cement or silicone caulking compound.

Repair Flashing Around A Chimney

Flashing can also require repair around a chimney if it looks like the leak is coming from that area. The process is similar, but using step flashing will prevent future leaks through the base of the chimney.

Keep in mind that problems with the siding of a chimney could require repair on the chimney itself. Bring in the professionals for this one and consider having a yearly chimney inspection done to prevent future chimney problems.

Recaulk Dormers And Walls

Dormers and walls can also be a cause of leaks. Remove old or damaged caulking with a utility knife and then put fresh, new caulk around all the areas that were creating leaks.

Remove Debris From Gutters

Many homeowners don't realize that debris building up in their gutters can cause a roof leak.

Check your gutters – or have a professional check them – seasonally and make sure you’re safely removing debris. Keep in mind that cleaning may not always be enough, so be sure to check to see if the gutters and/or the flashing around the gutters may have to be replaced or repaired as well.

Replace Flashing Around Skylights

First, remove the shingles around the skylight from the top down.

Next, use a pry bar to break the seal between the shingles above, and then loosen the nails and pull them. Remove the skylight so that you can inspect, repair or replace the curb and then remove and replace the curb as needed.

Then, install a peel-and-stick membrane to the bottom, sides and top – in that order.

Finally, install metal flashing in the same order: bottom, sides, top. If that doesn't work to stop the leak, you may potentially have to have the skylight reinstalled altogether.

Remove Snow In The Winter

Ice dams (packets of ice that form on cooler parts of the roof) and heavy snow can be ruinous to your roof. Use a special shovel with a long scoping pole to pull the ice off the roof from the ground to avoid the dangers of going up a ladder and walking on an icy roof. Be sure to safely remove snow from the roof regularly in the winter to prolong the life of your roof and prevent leaks.

Average Roof Leak Repair Cost

To make a good decision about doing these things yourself or hiring the work out, it’s important to know what it would cost to hire a professional vs. the DIY approach. According to Home Advisor, the national average roof repair cost is $950, with most homeowners spending between $365 and $1,559. Roof replacement is a whole different ballpark when it comes to cost. Let’s take a look at each specific repair and what they’ll typically cost, keeping in mind that the size of the area to repair and the type of material used means costs can vary greatly:

 

Cause Of Leak

Average Cost To Repair (With Contractor)

Average Cost To DIY

Damaged shingles

$500 to $1000

As low as $20

Roof flashing

$200 to $900

As low as $50

Flashing around chimney

$300 to $600

As low as $30

Chimney repair

$100 to $1000

Leave it to the professionals

Repairing dormers and walls

300 to $1,500

As low as $75

Gutter repair

$500 to $1500

As low as $20

Skylight flashing repair

$500

As low as $50

Snow removal

$100 to $300

As low as $20

Roof replacement

$5000 to $50,000

$1,000 to $5000

 

Thinking about hiring out the work but worried about the cost? Consider getting a home improvement loan to help pay for the repairs.

The Bottom Line: Plug Up That Leak To Keep Your Home Warm And Dry

Don't put off addressing a leaky roof. Even something that might seem small or inconsequential can end up turning into a huge pain in the ... um … roof. Whether you're a DIY person or more comfortable hiring out the work, be sure to get on it right away to keep your home warm and dry. Thinking about repairs and improvements to other parts of the home? Consider creating a home renovation budget before you dive in.

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Carey Chesney

Carey Chesney brings a wealth of real estate sales and marketing experience to his buyers and sellers as they navigate highly competitive markets. Carey and his wife Ilze work together as Realtors® in Michigan.