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Troublesome Roof Leaks

by Steve Vacha

There are few things that concern a prospective buyer as much as moister penetration into a home. When it comes in the form of a roof leaks, it can really raise red flags for them. If roof leaks are not addressed in a timely fashion, they can lead to significant damage and possible mold.

A damaged or leaking roof causes leaks that are often easy to detect and decide how to repair. But, what about the leaks whose causes are not so obvious?  Slight discoloration or spotting of the drywall at ceilings in a home often signals the presence of moisture penetration from the roof. At the inspection we use a moisture meter to determine if a water stain is older or if it is something that has occurred more recently. A damp stain takes on more concern, because chances are it is a reoccurring leak, which should be attended to quickly or it could lead to more serious damage.  But, most water stains test dry.  These old leaks take a little more investigation to determine their source.  Many of these leaks are caused by ice damming or snow blowing in through roof vents.

Ice damming occurs when ice backs up from the gutters and gets under the shingles. Then, the heat from a poorly insulated attic melts the ice. This often will cause minor water stains from the leakage around the perimeter of a house. Today, many roofs have ice and water shield installed when they are roofed, which greatly reduces the chances of ice damming problems.

Snow blowing into roof vents is probably the biggest cause of minor water staining.   Strong winter winds blowing sideways can blow snow into the flat box or turtle vents that are on most homes. If enough snow blows into the attic or gather on the inside of the vents, it can melt and makes its way through the insulation to the drywall, thus causing stains.

I have seen many creative remedies for snow blowing into roof vents throughout the years, including plastic swimming pools in attics under a troublesome vent.   Simple sheets of plastic placed under these troublesome vents seems to be the best solution.  The snow falls on the plastic, melts and evaporates without discoloring the drywall below.

Once the source of a leak has been found, then comes the challenge of repairing the damage. Repairing a damaged roof consists of anything from the caulking at flashing and minor shingle repair to entire roof replacement. When it comes to a stain or damaged drywall at a ceiling, a novice repair can be as unsightly as the stain. I always suggest a skilled tradesperson, who can make a ceiling repair unnoticeable.