Home Maintenance

Tips for Locating Hard-to-Find Roof Leaks


To fix a roof leak, you have to find its source. Unfortunately, finding the roof leak is not always as straightforward as you may imagine. If you have water dripping from your ceiling, the source of the leak may be directly above the water, or it may be several feet away.

As water moves through your roof and the layers of your attic, it may not flow directly down. In fact, water typically creates a puddle on your attic floor until it finds some way to escape, such as a soffit vent or a light fixture. It’ll pop out where it can, not necessarily directly beneath where it drips through the roof.

Therefore, it can be an undertaking to find the source of the leak in your home. You should call in a professional roofer to help you with this task, of course. However, if you want to understand the process of how to find a hidden roof leak before your roofer arrives, read on for some tips and answers to common questions about what may cause a leak.


Consider False Roof Leaks

Before you start looking, keep in mind that sometimes water and condensation in your ceiling or attic aren’t actually signs of a roof leak. Roofs that don’t have proper ventilation often develop moisture issues and these issues can be severe. They may cause mold, mildew, staining and other water damage. Further, a plumbing leak may sometimes affect the ceiling and therefore appear to be a roof leak. If you find signs of water damage that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a leak in the roof. A professional roofer can help you determine if the condensation you find is from a leak or from ventilation issues.

  1. Before You Look for the Roof Leak.
  2. How to Find a Roof Leak With Attic Access.
  3. How to Find a Roof Leak Without Attic Access.
  4. Answers to Roof Leak Questions.


1.Before You Look for the Roof Leak.

When you have a roof leak, your first priority should be to limit the flow of the water. Place a bucket beneath the water to catch it and prevent further damage.

If the constant drip-drop of water is annoying, you can place a small board of wood in the bucket and position it so the water hits the wood and then rolls off into the bucket. Water hitting wood makes less noise.

Then, move anything that could be damaged by water or by a possible ceiling collapse out of the room. Consider moving rugs, furniture, personal items and other objects. Keep them out until you’ve had a roofer fix the leak.

You may read guides that suggest you should now puncture the ceiling where the drip is coming from to allow the water buildup there to leak out. You should not do this without professional guidance. You have no way of knowing how much water is up there, what you might damage by puncturing the ceiling or how much of the ceiling may come down if you damage it, particularly if the leak is severe. Instead, call a professional roofer. He or she will let you know if it’s wise to relieve the water pressure.  Please also bear in mind that the ceiling may collapse spontaneously if the water damage is pronounced.


2. How to Find a Roof Leak With Attic Access.

  1. Can You Access Your Attic?

To start, you’ll need to figure out if you can access your attic. If you can, you can investigate the attic to look for signs of water. If you can’t, skip to our section on finding a roof leak without attic access.

attic opening

Before you enter the attic, you should consider what kind of insulation you have. Some can be dangerous for your health. For example, if you might have asbestos insulation, you should not enter your attic (or puncture your ceiling). If you have fiberglass insulation, you can enter your attic, wearing gloves, goggles and a face mask. Check your local safety regulations to make sure you’re wearing everything the authorities recommend. Also, you should bring a flashlight.

Also, if the leak is severe or may have built up for some time, you should consider whether the ceiling can hold your weight. Enough water damage can compromise the integrity of the ceiling or the ceiling joists and you wouldn’t want to fall through. Ask a professional if you are unsure.

  1. Look for Signs of Moisture.

Start your search above the leak in the ceiling. Look for moisture or signs of moisture on the roof truss or insulation above it.

wet attic

Those signs include:

  • Dark spots on wood or insulation.
  • Mold growth or mildew smell.
  • Discoloration, which may be a water stain, on wood or other materials.
  • Condensation on nails or other surfaces.
  • Damage to insulation, such as holes, dampness and/or stains.

Looking above the leak in the ceiling is a good start, but you’ll also want to check near common areas where water may gather in the roof, such as corners, where roof joints meet or near roof features, like skylights, valleys and chimneys.

  1. Use Light to Your Advantage.

If you cannot see any signs of moisture, use your flashlight and look for dark or shiny spots, which are sometimes more visible under a flashlight. Then, turn off the flashlight and any other lights in the attic for a moment and look for bright spots from the sun outside. If you can see any light coming through your roof (other than the light coming through the roof vents), that gap could be the source of the leak.

What To Do When You Find a Potential Leak Source

If you’ve found what you believe to be the source of the leak, you should let your roofer know. Often, the leak will be next to an obvious roof feature, which will make it easy for your roofers to locate when they are on top of the roof.

However, sometimes you’ll find a leak in the center of the roof. In this case, start at the edge of the roof and measure over to where you think the leak starts. Then, give your roofers the measurement so they will have a starting point when they inspect the roof.

Also, if you choose to put a bucket beneath the roof source, do not leave it directly on the ceiling. It is safer to place a wooden board across two ceiling joists and place the bucket on the wood. The bucket’s weight will be supported as it gets full of water and heavier.

What If You Don’t Find Any Water in the Attic?

If you don’t find water in the attic, you may want to consult a professional. It’s possible that the water in your ceiling is caused by something else, like condensation from poor ventilation in your attic (especially in cold climates) or a plumbing leak. Even mold, stained plywood and other signs of serious water damage may be caused by condensation and not rainwater. A roofer can tell you if the roof isn’t the source of your leak and what kind of professional you should call next.


3. How to Find a Roof Leak Without Attic Access.

It is becoming more common for builders to make homes with inaccessible attics. Other homes have only vaulted or cathedral ceilings, with no attic at all. In either case, you cannot go up to the attic to investigate. Instead, you have to call a roofer to get onto the roof and conduct an investigation. While you shouldn’t do this yourself, you might be curious about what your roofer is looking for and which parts of your roof might be causing the leak. If so, here’s a guide to what may have caused your roof leak.

The Most Common Causes of Roof Leaks

asphalt roof shingle blown off requiring replacement

There are many potential causes of roof leaks. Improper installation of a roof component or feature may cause a roof leak. Damage to any part of the roof may also cause a leak. Here are some common causes of roof leaks that you may want to know more about:

  • Missing or damaged shingles: If a shingle is missing or damaged, it can’t do its job of keeping water at bay. Missing or damaged shingles may be the result of improper installation, improper repair or extreme weather.
  • Objects placed on the roof: It is not always safe to nail something to your roof. Solar panels, security cameras, Christmas decorations and other objects could be the source of leaks if their installation interferes with the roof.
  • Vents and exhaust fans: If improperly installed or damaged, vents and exhaust fans can allow water to access your roof.
  • Skylights: Skylights have their own flashing to prevent leaks, but if that flashing is poorly designed, installed, or damaged, it may allow for a leak.
  • Exposed or improperly driven nails and screws: Shingles should cover all nails or screws in a roof. Exposed nails may create the opportunity for a leak. If your roofer chose the wrong roofing nail, it might also contribute to a leak.
  • Valley problems: Valleys are particularly vulnerable areas of the roof and roofers need to install them with care. You also need to keep valleys clean of debris so they can function properly.
  • Chimney problems: As chimneys run from your home up through the roof, they may allow for leaks if they do not have the proper flashing installed. Complete chimney flashing involves multiple types of flashing.
  • Flashing issues: Flashing is an essential part of the roof, and it protects everything from skylights to plumbing vents from leaks. Bent, damaged or missing flashing can allow for a leak.
  • Walking on the roof: It’s possible to create a leak by frequently walking on your roof or by walking in vulnerable areas, such as roof valleys. Roofing professionals wear correct footwear and know where they should and should not step to avoid damaging your roof.
  • DIY roof repairs: Roofing is complicated work, and most homeowners are not equipped to fix their roof properly. To avoid leaks, work with a professional instead of attempting your own roof repair.
  • Tree damage: Branches that scrape against your roof may cause damage to your shingles and allow for a leak. There are other ways trees can damage roofs.


4. Answers to Roof Leak Questions.

Can Extreme Weather Cause Roof Leaks?

Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, hail and lightning strikes, can cause leaks. You can limit this possibility by choosing shingles that the shingle manufacturer has designed to provide special protection against the extreme weather that is most likely in your area.

Can Condensation Cause Roof Leaks?

Condensation may appear to be a roof leak, but it is typically the result of poor ventilation or other moisture issues in your home.

Can Clogged Gutters Cause a Roof Leak?

On their own, clogged gutters are unlikely to cause a roof leak. However, if your roof has other problems, spillover from a clogged gutter can make them worse. Gutters can also contribute to the severity of ice dams, which can cause roof leaks.

Can Moss Cause a Roof Leak?

Moss growth can push beneath shingles and degrade shingles. Moss growing beneath shingles and on top of shingles can both allow for a leak.

Algae can be challenging to correct, but you can prevent it altogether by choosing an algae-resistant shingle. Many of IKO’s shingles are algae-resistant, including the Nordic performance shingle.

If your shingles develop moss, it must be manually and carefully removed by your roofer.

Can Snow Cause a Roof Leak?

Snow collection on your roof should not cause a leak on its own. However, if your roof is already damaged or improperly installed, melting water from snow may reveal the leak.

Should You Use Infrared or Thermal Imaging Technology to Find Your Roof Leak?

While infrared technology is more commonly used to find leaks in commercial roofs, some residential roofers offer infrared services. Infrared cameras may show you evidence of the roof leak, but they may not tell you what caused the leak. For that, you will need a professional’s opinion.

Can a Roof Leak Cause a Fire?

Roof leaks may cause fires if the water from the leak spills onto electrical equipment or the electrical wiring of your home. Fire risk is just one reason that roof leaks should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Reach Out to a Roofer to Find Your Roof Leak

Roof leaks don’t get better on their own, and you don’t have to find them by yourself. The sooner you can get a professional involved with your roof leak, the less damage you’ll have to pay for and repair. You can reach a professional roofer through IKO’s Contractor Locator to get the support you need to find and fix your roof leak.