How to Find a Roof Leak (And Repair It): A Step By Step Guide

March 12th, 2021 BY First American Roofing

Roof leaks are the worst, especially when you suspect you have one but can’t find the source.

Unfortunately, learning how to find a roof leak takes time, and the only way to improve is to find more roof leaks (which probably isn’t what you want in the first place).

The good news is, we’re going to walk you through the steps of finding a roof leak and what to do next. Follow this step-by-step guide to quickly and safely find and repair your roof leaks.

Why Are Roof Leaks Bad?

If you lived somewhere where it never, ever rained or snowed or required you to have good heating and cooling control, then a roof leak probably isn’t that big of a deal. But, we don’t know where that place is. Roof leaks leave your roof, attic, and home susceptible to water damage, mold growth, spreading of damage—basically a whole lot of issues.

If you don’t fix a roof leak right away, you will find yourself with a much larger problem than you started with and have to spend a lot more time and money to get it repaired. Water damage from a leaky roof can lead to rotted framing in your attic, ruin your insulation, and damage your ceilings with water stains and mold infiltration. So yeah, roof leaks are bad and can quickly turn worse.

how to find a roof leak from a stained ceiling

How to Spot Early Signs of a Roof Leak (or Potential Roof Leak)

These early signs of a leak should help you find both the source and the severity of a roof leak or potential roof leak. Here are some of the tell-tale early signs of a leaking roof.

  1. Water stains on your ceilings. As water leaks into your attic, it can saturate through your insulation and attic floor to the point of reaching your upper floor ceilings. These stains can occur very quickly, depending on the severity of the leak or slowly over time. Either way, if you spot any wet spots or stains in the corners or along the edges of your ceilings, chances are you have a roof leak. It can also be poor ventilation that causes moisture build-up in the attic, but it shouldn’t be ignored either way. Note: Water stains around chimneys can mean the roof’s flashing has lost its integrity and needs to be replaced.
  2. Rotted beams and moldy insulation in the attic. These are obvious signs of a leaking roof and can be detrimental to your home’s integrity and health. Rotted wood becomes a structural issue then and requires a much more expensive and extensive repair. So checking your attic before you see those interior signs of a leak can save you the pain of such damage.
  3. Curling, cracked, loose, or damaged shingles. These are some of the external signs of a roof leak or a potential roof leak that has yet to cause damage. The second your shingles are damaged from severe weather or large debris is when it becomes susceptible to leaks. These are the repairs that can be difficult to manage or find because they haven’t displayed any physical evidence of leaks yet.

How to Pinpoint the Roof Leak

So you suspect you have a roof leak or have seen the evidence of a leak—now what? Some of those leaks can be so small they are hard to spot without getting up close and personal with your shingles. However, there are a few ways to pinpoint the source on your own.

Look Near Chimneys, Dormers, and Vents

Areas of penetration on your roof are one of the number one spots where leaks occur. Chimneys, dormers, vents, and any other opening on your roof require extra sealants to ensure it is leakproof. This includes flashing, caulk, sealants, a special installation of shingles, etc. If any of these areas cracks or gets damaged, the water can leak directly down the vent or chimney and into your attic or the walls of your home.

Find Water Stains on the Attic Floor

If you notice water stains on your ceiling or suspect a leak and check up in the attic, look for that water spot on the attic floor. The leak should be above or near that spot. Water can travel down beams or other attic structures, so it may not be exactly underneath, but it won’t be far. You can also look at your insulation, and if you notice any discoloration, mold, or a change in its appearance, there’s a good chance there has been some water saturation in that area. Note: use a bright flashlight to scan the area first before walking through the attic and risk injury or damage.

Get Up on the Roof and Look for Damaged Shingles

Ok, you may not have to actually get up on a ladder and look if you have a good view of your roof from a downhill spot. Take a look at your roof at as flat an angle as you can, and you will quickly be able to see any flaws in your shingles. They may be out of line, the corners lifted, missing, or just misaligned. These are all signs of shingle damage that can lead to roof leaks or have already started leaking. Before noticing a source of the leak, you can catch these repairs early on and get ahead of it.

How to find a roof leak from a sagging ceiling

How to Fix a Leak (By Leak Type)

There are many different types of leaks, each of which require a slightly different method for repair. Let’s break down the most common types of leaks and how to fix them.

Small Leaks

Tiny leaks can be tough to find, but knowing where to look can help. For one, oddly enough, condensation can build up in your attic and actually drip down extended nails. A simple solution for this is to snip the end of the nail off to prevent it from dripping. Also, nails and screws and wear away at their hole over time and cause small leaks. You can seal these with caulk or other waterproof sealants, and then make sure to have proper insulation laid in your attic to both prevent and spot any roof leaks.

Plumbing Boot

Your plumbing boot vent is very susceptible to leaks over time, and if they do, your best bet is to replace the whole thing. If there was no extensive water damage to the area, you should very easily be able to unscrew and remove your old boot and install a new one in its place. Make sure to use rubber washers with your screws for extra protection on the new install.

Roof Vent

Similar to the plumbing boot, you can pretty easily remove and replace any cracked or damaged roof vents. Metal vent leaks will often be in the form of a broken seam, while a plastic vent will likely have a cracked housing. As nice as it sounds to re-seal the crack with caulk or some other sealant, that is a temporary fix, and you are better off replacing the entire unit. Roofing vents can easily slide under existing shingles, where they already are installed, and be screwed back into place.


Flashing may be one of the things most replaced on your roof. Metal flashing can rust over time, and any bit of water that gets behind your flashing will continue to force it outward and loosen its seal. So a full replacement is necessary in this case as well.

Damaged Shingles

Damaged shingles may be able to be fixed as one-off replacements. If your roof is relatively new and in good shape, you should be able to get away with removing and replacing only the damaged section of shingles. However, older roofs that have more damage collectively or experienced a severe leak will potentially require a full replacement. Often times, severe storms can cause damage to your roof regardless of how old it is. In these cases, it can be a good opportunity to file an insurance claim to get some of the repairs reimbursed.


asphalt roof damage

Complex Damages

And lastly, if your roof leak is far more extensive than a simple DIY fix, we absolutely suggest calling your local contractor. We know how to locate, diagnose, and fix your leak in no time at all.

The Best Way to Repair Roof Leaks

If you’re worried your roof is leaking, but don’t want to break out the ladder to search for leaks, it’s time to call in the professionals and fast. While a small leak might not look bad, there could be serious damage under the surface that will only grow worse over time. The good news is, if you catch a leak quickly, your roof will be patched up and looking good as new before any damage can be done. That’s why it’s best to call your local roofer whenever you suspect a leak!

If you happen to be located near La Crosse, WI, make sure to contact our team at First American Roofing! We are well-versed in roof repairs and replacements and are happy to get you and your home back in tip-top shape. When you find yourself with a leaky roof, don’t hesitate and give us a call!