April showers bring May flowers, August storms bring…roof leaks!

Summer rains bring flooding

There’s nothing like a gentle Springtime rain. But Summer often brings us torrential downpours, and along with them, roof leaks, incredible moisture and mold!

A few days ago, we had record rainfalls in Eastern Pennsylvania – five inches of rain in some areas. This fortunately came after an extended dry spell, so the rivers didn’t flood this time. We got really lucky.

These heavy rains often bring high winds, fallen branches and roof damage. Sometimes, they’ll just lead to enough leaking for you to notice. Maybe there’s a discoloration on your ceiling or window jamb. Whatever the sign, please pay attention. Failure to deal with a “small” leak now can lead to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of damage to your house later. Worse, the accompanying mold can pose a severe health/allergy risk.

When dealing with leaks, you need to take several steps in order to minimize the chance of more serious damage to your home:

  • Clean up any puddles – standing water will soak in to wood and lead to permanent damage, warping and eventual rot.
  • Catch drips – yep, the old bucket under the drip. You want to capture any drips you see so that puddles don’t form
  • Find the source of  the leak NOW!
  • Fix the leak ASAP

Water is responsible for more damage to homes than anything other than fires. It just doesn’t burn you to death. Instead, it’s like a cancer, that slowly destroys your home. Water deserves your respect and immediate attention. Remember – “there is no such thing as a small leak.”

The important thing is to find what’s causing the leak. This can be tricky, and I’ve known many good contractors who have tried for years to track down the source of a leak to no avail. The reason is that water can run down beams, across rafters, and show up many feet from the source. Sometimes, leaks will only show up in winter, associated with “ice dams” and other times they’ll only occur when the wind comes from a certain direction. That’s why it’s so important to track down the leak while it’s happening.

Most rain induced leaks start in the roof, so you’ll find the entry point in the attic. You do NOT want to be climbing around the slippery wet roof during a rain storm. Experienced roofers die this way. Don’t do it.

Instead, go up into your attic, if you can, and see if you can tell where the water is coming in. Here’s a quick check-list of what to look at:

  • Find where the leak is on the ceiling of the room below. That will lead you to a puddle or soaked insulation in the attic
  • Look for water stains, drip marks, etc. on the rafters above the wet insulation
  • Trace the water up the rafter. It should point right at the leak in the roof
  • Check plumbing stacks through the roof. Often the rubber gaskets or flashing will cause leaks
  • Check chimneys where they cut through the roof. Sometimes the flashing will be bad. Other times, debris bill build up on the high side of the chimney, trapping water and allowing it to go under the shingles
  • Mark the area at the highest point where you see the leak start. This is invaluable for whomever has to fix the leak.
  • Photograph the area. You want to take pictures at several zooms, particularly a wide angle view so that you can see where the leak is in the context of the roof. A close-up is useful to see exactly where the problem is. The more information you have to help fix the leak, the quicker the roofer will be able to find and fix the problem.

Almost always, the source of the leak will be a plumbing stack or chimney due to bad flashing. However, under windy conditions, it could be the ridge vent or other location. Sometimes, if your roof is in bad shape, the shingles will be responsible. Once you’ve determined the source of the leak, a skilled roofer can fix the problem.

Always remember to clean up any existing wet materials. If the insulation got soaked, it’s going to act as a sponge. Remove the insulation so that it doesn’t trap in moisture and put a bucket under the leak until it’s fixed. The first sunny day will evaporate any remaining water, but only if you get rid of these ‘sponges’.

Also, beware of wet sheet-rock. Sheet-rock disintegrates when it gets wet, so you don’t want to set the bucket right on it. Instead, lay a board across the floor joists to form a sturdy platform for the bucket. Also, keep in mind that you might have to replace the sheet-rock that got wet. If you catch the leak soon enough, you’re probably ok, because the hot attic will quickly evaporate the water and reduce the chance of mold growth. But if you leave the problem and allow water to repeatedly wet the area, you’re almost sure to have mold problems and maybe more severe rot issues. So again, it’s really important that you deal with the problem as soon as possible.

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