The only thing worse than realizing you have a leaky roof is realizing it when there’s a thunderstorm outside. While a leaking roof is a major inconvenience, it’s also so much more than that. It can cause significant damage to your historic home, including health problems, rot, termites and so much more.
I teach my readers in my Historic Restoration Plan eBook that you should follow the “House Sandwich” plan of renovation. Which means you start with the roof and the foundation (the bread) since they are most important. Until those two are solid and water tight don’t do anything else.
In this post, we’ll focus on the roof since even more than the foundation that is most important. Here are the major signs that you could have a leaky roof that you can see before it starts raining directly into your home (get out the pots and pans!).
Mold Growth on the Ceilings and Walls
If you’re noticing mold or mildew growth on the ceiling or walls, this could be a huge sign that the roof is leaking. Mold requires water to grow, and a leaking roof can allow excess water into the very structure of your home. Any homeowner experiencing mold growth should address this issue right away, as mold can cause serious health and breathing problems if left untreated.
Even a musty smell of high levels of humidity may be cause for concern of a leak somewhere. Use a moisture meter to find the source of the leak whether it is a roof of pipe and resolve it quickly or you may suffer serious issues from mold and mildew growth in your home.
Discoloration on the Ceiling
A leaking roof can cause unsightly brown stains or discoloration on your ceiling called “water marks”. At first, it won’t be that noticeable. However, after a while, the stains will gradually grow. Typically, there will be a darker ring that encircles the water damage. After even more time, the stains attract mold and mildew, which causes that ugly color.
You may be tempted to paint over this with some primer to make it go away, but finding the source of the issue is a better idea. No matter how small a stain may look, be sure to try and find the source before it turns into a significant leak and then you can safely prime and paint he area to cover it up knowing the source of the issue is resolved.
On a traditional roof, the joints and corners are protected by flashing since they’re the most vulnerable. Actually, the joints and corners are the weakest spots. This means that they can be susceptible to damage that can cause leaks. That’s why it’s crucial to inspect the flashing on your roof. Look for breaks, cracks, splits, or even loose flashing. In fact, this should be part of the regular maintenance routine you follow for your historic home.
Another important area of flashing to check is right around the chimney. Typically, the 90-degree bend is where the rust begins, particularly if it’s made from galvanized steel. Don’t worry, because this is an easy fix. All you have to do is place a new piece of flashing underneath the rusty, damaged one. That will divert water elsewhere instead of through your roof. Check the flashing by the plumbing vent boot for rust or damage as well.
If you notice spots of buckled, curling, or warped shingles that is a sign your roof is on it’s last leg and if it’s not yet a leaky roof it will be one soon. Those curls shingles have lost their ability to keep water and if the roof leaks don’t start this year you can bet they aren’t far off. Start budgeting for a roof replacement now.
Missing shingles are another ominous sign that the roof on your home needs repair. It’s a good idea to do a quick visual inspection of your roof every year and after a big storm to ensure that the shingles are still in place, especially if you have an older home. You should always double-check shingles after a bad storm, whether it’s hail, branches, or high winds they can all damage shingles. A missing shingle is an easy fix and it should be done immediately.
Rusted or Leaking Gutters
Have you noticed the gutters on your home covered in rust or dripping water? If so, it could indicate a leaky roof. Typically, rusty spots happen at the gutter seams where there’s a lot of contraction and expansion. However, the trick is determining if it’s worth replacing the entire gutter or if it’s still in good enough condition to be fixed.
Maybe you have aluminum gutters that don’t rust. Great! Are your gutters cleaned regularly? If not, then they will likely back up causing water to be forced into soffits and rafter tails which leads to rot. Use leaf guards and depending on how many trees are in your yard you will still have to clean those gutters at least a couple times a year.
Fix those leaks early and often and you keep repair costs down and avoid the big issues when a storm rolls into town. As someone who live in rainy Florida I can assure you that preventing leaks is a whole lot better than fix the damage they cause.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
2 thoughts on “Diagnosing a Leaky Roof (Before It Rains)”
Thanks Scott – great advice as always!
Please forgive the spelling I also have age related eye problems. I even managed to misspell 😳 my email addy. 🧑🏻🦳