Winter Roof Leaks: Diagnosing Strange Leaks & How to Fix Them

March 1st, 2020 BY First American Roofing

Winter roof leaks are a harsh reality of living in the midwest. Considering we spend what feels like half of the year buried in snow and ice, it’s no surprise that our roofs show signs of wear. While your roof shouldn’t leak, with extended exposure to wind, ice, hail, and sometime debris, it’s common for homeowners to face a leak every now and again. But what do you do when your roof starts leaking in the winter?

When it comes to winter roof leaks, sometimes you may think you have one, but it’s really something else. That’s why covering how to diagnose a roof leak and what to do next.

How to Diagnose Winter Roof Leaks

If you believe your roof is leaking, but there’s no snow on the roof, and there’s no rain outside, it’s probably not a roof leak.

When it comes to roof leaks, a diagnosis is vital before attempting to fix anything on the roof. The first question we ask customers complaining of a leaky roof is where do you see the water stains?

Check for Ice Dams

If the stains are near the outside, by an exterior wall, they are likely from an ice dam. Walk around your house and take a look at the roof. Do you see ice in the gutters? Any icicles? Lack of snow further up on the roof, but more at the bottom?

These symptoms are likely due to an ice dam. What happens is, since the snow cannot shed off properly, it leaks through your shingles and into the walls, which causes those stains near the outside of the ceiling. If you are noticing this now in the springtime, it could be a slow drip or remnants from what used to be ice dams along your gutters.

ice dam forming on roof and in gutters

Multiple Small Stains Throughout the Ceiling

Do you see numerous small stains, almost like splatters, across your ceiling? This is very likely not a leaky roof. That’s simply condensation from cooking, cleaning, pets; you name it!

Condensation gets into the attic and cannot exhaust out of the attic. So, in the winter months, that moisture turns to frost, then when it warms up, it melts and drips back down to the roof floor, causing those multiple drips and stains on your ceiling.

Condensation and moisture issues can be caused by a wide variety of things ranging from not using a bathroom fan when you shower, to having improper ventilation in your roof. When diagnosing these issues, make sure to put an emphasis on where you are finding these small stains. If it is above the stove, it is probably caused by the steam produced when cooking and could easily be remedied by installing a blower. If there are stains in the bathroom, there’s a solid probability the issue is from someone not turning on the fan when taking a steamy shower.

The good news is, some of these can be solved quickly, like making sure you’re using that fan when you take a steamy shower in the winter. But, if moisture is getting up in the attic and there isn’t enough ventilation, there could be a bigger issue at hand that would need to be handled by a professional.

roof leak ceiling sagging

Your Bathroom Fan is Dripping or Leaking

If you notice your bathroom fan is leaking, you may think you have a roof leak near your fan. This is not the case.

What is actually happening is moisture gets up into the fan or vent hose, freezes in the winter, and as it melts in the spring, it drips back down through your bathroom fan. This is giving the illusion of a roof leak but is just moisture and condensation making its way back down.

You See Condensation on Your Skylight

Another common issue we get calls about is condensation on skylights. If you have skylights and they are dripping water, it’s likely because there is excess moisture in the home, not a leak in the skylight or roof.

Speaking of moisture, do you have a humidifier built into your furnace? If you do, you need to make sure it is always set relative to the temperature outside. If you have it set to 40-50% on a cold day, that is going to create a lot of moisture build-up inside your home—that is way too humid. If you notice condensation on your windows or skylights, then you have excess moisture in your home, and you should turn down that humidifier.

finding winter roof leaks in skylight

Finding the Cause of the ‘Leak’

These are the most common things we hear from people that think they have a leaky roof. But it usually turns out to just be consequences of ice dams and condensation in the attic, bathroom fan, or your home.

In more cases than not, we end up not diagnosing an actual roof leak, but another issue related to condensation or recurring ice dams. This is good news if you were worried about needing a roof repair or replacement. But the downside is, there is another issue at hand that will most likely need a repair of some type. Whether it is insulation, roof vents, or something else, it’s best to take care of the issue before it becomes a bigger problem.

The Best Way to Handle Winter Roof Leaks

If you’re worried your roof might be leaking, contact us at First American! Our team is at the ready to inspect your roof, run a home performance test, and get to the bottom of the issue. To find out more about how we use home performance testing to fix or prevent these issues, head to our website, or give us a call at 608-783-3101.