One of the most important, and often most daunting, home maintenance tasks is to spot and repair leaks in your home's roof. Sometimes - as is the case when a spontaneous waterfall erupts over your kitchen table during your morning coffee break - leaks are obvious. Other times, though, leaks are more insidious and harder to detect if you are not an expert.
How to spot a roof leak
First and foremost, if you see any signs of water damage inside your home, such as mold growth on or around the ceiling or discolored water spots on parts of the ceiling, it is imperative that you investigate further to locate the source of the moisture. The best way to check your roof for potential leaks is to spend some time in your attic with a trusty old flashlight. Once you are safely positioned in your attic, you'll use your flashlight to look at the underside of the roof. You'll want to keep your eyes peeled for any dark or discolored spots as well as any obvious mold growth. If the underside of the roof is covered up by insulation, your best bet is to scan for any damaged or deteriorating insulation. In the event that you find a patch of insulation that doesn't look quite right, carefully -- and with proper safety goggles and attire -- remove the insulation in order to find your way back to the original leak. Most leaks are caused by an object, such as a tree limb or nail, or by a faulty seal around one of the roof vents, so make sure to check all vents for signs of a leak while you are up in the attic. Other common causes are improperly installed sky lights, broken or missing shingles, chimneys, and damage to the flashing (typically plastic pipe boots with neoprene seals) that lies underneath shingles.
How to check your roof's neoprene pipe boots
Most roofs today utilize plastic boots with a neoprene seal acting as a gasket around plumbing pipes. In comparison to the lead boots more commonly used in the past, these newer -- and less expensive -- boots present many problems for homeowners. Summer heat can often cause the neoprene seals to break down and dry rot, which leads to a leak in the roof. Another common problem is that the plastic boot starts to curl and pull away along its bottom edge. When this happens, nails can pop out and/or pull away from the roof, leading to a leak. When performing your roof inspection, make sure to take a close look at the neoprene pipe boots both on the roof's underside and outside when on top of your roof.
If it is a dry, sunny day, and you want to ensure that you have located any potential problem areas, it is helpful to simulate a hard rain. In order to do this, simply find a willing friend or family member to shower your roof with water from a garden hose while you inspect the underside from your position in the attic. This will guarantee that you don't miss a leak while doing your annual roof inspection.
What to do if you find a potential leak in your roof
You guessed it! The short answer is to call a roofing professional to ensure that you have properly diagnosed the problem AND to take care of all necessary repairs. Roof leaks are serious business and can lead to structural problems and compromise the health and safety of your loved ones. Because of this, it is best to act quickly once you spot a leak!