How to Find Leaks in Your Roof Shingles?

Most residential homes have sloping roofs with a roof shingle covering. As a result there are many consumers that want to know how to find the source of their roof leaks. 

For many people the prospect of getting up on one’s roof is daunting, especially if one does not own a tall enough ladder or the correct safety gear, and particularly if the roof is steep. Indeed under such circumstances, and particularly if one is not comfortable at heights; it is wiser to enlist the services of a professional roofing contractor. 

It is important to note, that using a “handy person” or a neighbour, assuredly may not be the best idea simply because of the personal liability that the homeowner takes on if such an enlisted person(s) do not have the proper insurance coverage, WSIB coverage or fall arrest certification. 

Upon consideration of this fact, there are some people who have the comfort to get on their roof as many walk-able bungalow owners and cottage owners can attest. The first thing to know on the subject of roof leak repair is what to do first. 

First steps involve pin-pointing the damage areas (usually inside the home). It is suggested to take a pencil and mark a circle around the stain. This can serve as a future barometer to note if the leak persists or has been corrected, as the stain may grow larger in time if not properly addressed or not readily found. 

The second step is to take stock of one’s surroundings and applicable details. For instance ,if the leak stain or water drip is demonstrating itself on the ceiling immediately near the fireplace; one may logically conclude that somewhere around the chimney may be the source. 

Conversely a leak which shows itself internally above an entrance way or window location, may actually be the result of a leak coming from a foreign location, but dripping onto a ceiling rafter, through an exterior wall, and travelling to a different location before evidencing itself in what one might believe to be the source location. 

Therefore; it is also a good idea to measure the distance from here to there (landmark locations such as interior wall distances) and document those coordinates. 

To note, is that if the interior leak is gushing water or dripping relentlessly, it is a good idea to first contain the leak by getting a vessel such as a garbage can or bucket and placing it beneath the drip. Using a pencil or nail; poke a hole in the ceiling at the leak site to direct the water and possible pressure build up to run to that opening. This will help avoid water spreading across the ceiling, particularly if there is a vapour barrier beneath the drywall ceiling. If the ceiling is plaster, the resulting fix can be especially expensive after the fact. 

Now that you have protected the floor beneath with tarps, plastic,or even garbage bags; and you have poked any necessary holes in the ceiling; one may get back to tracing the source of the leak. 

By marking and writing down the coordinates of the leak; check for two things. One check it is not a plumbing issue. As an example; if you live in a two storey house and water is showing up on the main floor, you need to question plumbing. While it is possible for external source leaks to travel inside walls and permeate many floors; the usual situation under such circumstances is that water travelling within a wall cavity will pool and spread when it hits the bottom plate of the wall. 

So ask oneself is there a toilet or sink or bathtub in fairly close proximity to above where the leak is demonstrating itself on a floor beneath. Items such as corroded pipes ,plumbing fittings, hot water radiators, and space pack HVAC equipment located in attics are often the true culprits under such circumstances. 

The second thing is to consider is the circumstances surrounding the leak. For instance some leaks are observed under particular weather circumstances such as heavy or driven rain, after freeze/thaw events, or observation of animals like birds,squirrels and raccoons on or near the roof. 

Other circumstances can include leaks which result from siding areas, roof appliances such as chimneys,skylights and poor roof deign circumstances, like valleys which run into side walls of dormers as common examples. 

Noting all such information discusses is helpful to either the professional or novice seeking to resolve the problem. 

It is also important to consider that something doesn’t typically work and then suddenly not work unless there is a physical reason fo that occurrence. Such examples can include clogged down pipes and gutters, animal damage, ice dams, and wind related damage. 

Leaks which result after a roof is fairly new, can often be traced to a deficiency in workmanship or product failure, or an original design flaw. Usually such items will eveidence themselves within the first two years. 

Once the interior home elements have been investigated, documented, and coordinates determined; the next step is external review of the roof itself. 

When examining the roof there can be things which are obvious, and some things which are not so apparent. As an example a roof can look fine with no physical eveidence of immediate deficiency, and so one must consider companion components adjacent to the roof. Often water testing is necessary to reveal a hidden condition or verify a suspicious cause. 

In our initial example; we discuss a leak showing up internally near the chimney. But what if the metal flashings at the base of the chimney appears in good order and has been reliable for years; and the associated caulking on the flashing is in tact? 

One may have to investigate the integrity of the chimney itself. One would have to observe if there are any other roof appliances such as vents or stacks nearby, which could be the source of the issue. Other observation points could involve the surrounding shingles themselves which could be exhibiting severe deterioration or cracking. 

In other words; much like how a doctor must observe,test, and eliminate potential trouble sources; the roof observer must methodically go through the exercises to pinpoint the true source or multiple sources as the case may be, in order to remedy the problem. 

To do so can take time and patience if there are no obvious items which stand out. 

Some of the hardest leaks to track can involve hidden conditions. Examples of some hidden conditions can include condensation, undulation or structural deficiency beneath the shingles involving the roof deck itself, leaks which track sideways from valleys and appliance details, and items which have been water tested but produce no leaking at the time of testing. 

Some roof repairs are relatively easy, and simply involve changing or replacing missing or damaged parts and or some associated shingles. Others are made more complex by nature of the height, steepness and safe access points of the roof. 

A simple shingle repair on a low height, walk-able roof is in the realm of a fit homeowner. 

Step One: Match the shingles (Take a small sample from an existing tab in the designated repair area and source it at a lumber store /home improvement retailer or dedicated roofing supply store). 

Step Two: Gather the tools you will need. 1) a hammer 2) a utility knife with a sharp hook blade. 3) a hand-held pry bar 4) a caulking gun 5) tube of exterior roof grade caulking 5) a safe ladder and rope to tie off at the gutter. 6) A safety belt and lanyard which is CSA approved for the task. 7) proper eye protection 8) proper footwear such as rubber soled runners,or work boots 8) 1-1/4” roofing nails 9) wear pants ( the roof can be very hot) 10) your cell phone charged in the event you need to call for help or to get down off the roof. 

Step Three: Using the pry bar and hammer; loosen the damaged shingles by sliding the bar under the shingle tabs, and coax the prybar by tapping the back with the hammer. Work your way beneath the shingle to encounter the nails which secure the shingle. 

Work the pry bar under the nail heads and jack them up so they are proud of the shingle surface. Using the opposing slotted end of the pry bar, gently pry the nails out of the desired shingles. 

Step Four: Clean away any debris from the roof surface and make good, using your utility knife, any rough or damaged edges of adjacent shingles. Then fit in, or cut to fit in the new replacement shingle or shingles. (To note is that the shingles will originally have been laid in a staggered, off- set pattern). Therefore you will simply fill in the missing pieces with new product in the same location as the shingles were originally placed. One will have to eventually secure a replacement shingle beneath an existing shingle. In the same manner decribed above; carefully remove the nails from that existing shingle using your prybar. 

Step Five: Re-secure the shingles using new roofing nails. Place the nails along the manufacturer’s already marked adhesive strip. Place four nails in the shingle .One on either opposing end ,and two spaced similarly apart on the field of the shingle. ( it may be good to take note of where the nails were located prior to having removed the old shingle). 

Repeat the actions on the next shingle course above, and also re-secure any existing shingle immediately beside the newly replaced shingles. Apply a dime sized dap of caulking under the centre of each shingle you have replaced to help it seal down until such time as the manufacturer’s adhesive strip may self activate with the heat. (Tip): watch a video on line, if you have little confidence before beginning the repair. 

To learn more about various roofs, roof repairs or roof replacements, and leak detection; contact AVENUE ROAD ROOFING® or visit