Why Is My Roof Leaking? (How We Fixed Ours Ourselves)

Last week was shaping up to be pretty good week. Sherry celebrated turning 30. We declared the kitchen done(-ish). Spring was in such full bloom it was practically summer. In fact, we even got a pretty awesome thunderstorm one night. Seriously it rained buckets. Faster and harder than we had ever seen since moving into our new house. And then around midnight, it happened…

We were watching some TV when we heard a sudden, loud rushing sound. Like someone dumped a gallon of milk on the floor in the kitchen. Our first instinct was that the new-ish-ly installed dishwasher was leaking, so we both dashed towards the kitchen – only to stop in our tracks when a stream of water hit us from above before even entering the kitchen. It was coming from one of the beams in the living room. And then we noticed a pretty steady stream coming out of a nearby wall too. Crap.

Neither of us had dealt with a leaky roof before. And I can tell you it was far less charming and danceable than Andre 3000 and Big Boi make it look in the Ms. Jackson video:

It all happened so fast. We scrambled to grab a bucket to catch the water streaming out of the beam and stuffed a big ol’ towel at the base of the wall that was dripping. Since it was still pouring outside (with a fair amount of thunder and lightning), our only plan of attack was to go into the attic to see what was up (since going outside with a big metal flashlight or ladder sounded like a really bad idea). So I crawled up into the attic with a flashlight and my iPhone (so I could document the damage for Sherry by snapping a picture) while Sherry stood in the living room and tapped on the beam so I could orient myself in the attic and follow the sound. Sure enough, I found a general area where water seemed to be seeping into the house. Did I say “crap” already? If so, here it is again. Crap. It was so bad that Sherry came up into the attic with me and we both just sort of crouched there staring at it.

The area was too narrow for me or Sherry to get into (there’s no flooring in that area) and since things were starting to dry up outside (thank goodness!), we decided to call it a night. At this point it was around 1:30 in the morning, and we figured that in the am the roof would hopefully be dry enough for us to get up there and see what was going on (you know, without getting hit by lightning). The stream from the wall had stopped and we left a bucket out to catch anything else that decided to drip from the beam – but that had pretty much stopped too since the storm had finally passed.

As if this weren’t bad enough on its own, it had now gotten too late to finish our DVR-ed episode of Dancing With The Stars. Tragic, we know. Watching Urkel strut his stuff would just have to wait.

The next day was sunny and hot, so we figured the roof would have dried by the time Clara was down for her nap that afternoon, which was the first moment of the day that we both could tackle the roof thing together. First we headed back into the attic to see if the spot had dried up. Yup, it mostly had.

Next I went up on top of the house to try to identify whatever was causing our leak while Sherry “Afraid Of Heights” Petersik watched from the ladder. I sort of half hoped for / half feared finding a big gaping hole. At least then I would know what needed fixing. Oh and it bears mentioning that this roof (a 30-year asphalt shingle one) was installed the spring before the previous owners sold us this house, so it’s only a few years old.

And yes, we do have quite the smorgasbord of rooflines. In case you’re totally disoriented, here’s roughly how this lines up with the floor plan below (note the chimney, which connects to our fireplace which is between the kitchen and living room – that’s usually what I use to orient myself).

When I headed to the area above the leak, it was pretty obvious that I was looking at the culprit. Not a big hole, just a big ol’ pile of leaves.

I try to keep the roof pretty clear of sticks and leaves, but I guess this pile had collected since I was last on the roof in the fall. And since it’s completely invisible from the ground, I had no clue this troublemaker was lurking up here. So after a few sweeps of the rake, the leaf collection was no more.

How does a pile of leaves cause a leak? It wasn’t so obvious to me at first, but having googled “find source of leaky roof” a bit the night before, I had a better idea. Shingles are overlapped in a way to allow rain to flow down over them. But when water flows up them, or rather builds up around them (like if there’s a leaf dam preventing water from moving off the roof quickly enough), it can seep under them and find its way into nail holes or other less waterproof surfaces. And you can see from the wet mark above just how high the water had built up. It must have finally found a way in, and swoosh, down it came, into the attic and the living room below.

I couldn’t be 100% sure that clearing the leaves would solve our problem, but I was pretty darn hopeful. Hopeful enough that I was even able to enjoy being on a roof a bit. Why yes I did tell Sherry to go into the sunroom and look up at one point. Skylights = a rip roaring good time.

We got to test our repair theory when we got a lot of rain over the course of a few storms that came through Richmond in the last week since the leak. It rained for hours on more than one occasion. And we were actually happy about it for once since it meant that we could test Operation Leaf Removal to make sure we had truly solved the issue.

After we survived about 5 hours of rain in the first of two storms, we decided it was time to check the attic to see if perhaps the water just hadn’t made its way into our living room yet (but was stealthily building up in the attic or something). Thankfully the attic looked totally dry. Victory!

And we had the same luck with the second big rainstorm (once again we checked the attic, and it was nice and dry). So for the time being, we’re considering the problem officially solved – and thanking our lucky stars that the leak didn’t ruin anything in our house, and didn’t cost anything to fix. And now we’ve learned our lesson about letting so many months go buy without checking the roof for leaf build up since there are some spots that we can’t see from the ground – and apparently leaves can be sneaky little buggers. We’re mainly just beyond grateful that the leak didn’t happen while we were in Hawaii. We can’t imagine coming home to a living room full of water.

Who else has a leaky roof story to tell? Was yours easy fix? Did it do more damage? Did you catch it just in time? Did you think your dishwasher was leaking at first? Any tips to pass around to the group about preventing, finding, or fixing leaks would be much appreciated – especially since we felt so inexperienced and unprepared this time around!


  1. says

    Oh no! At least you were able to fix it, but it must have been scary.
    I woke up one day and found our bathroom flooded – we live in an apartment and the upstairs neighbor had a leak. We then proceeded to live with a hole in our ceiling for a few months while the insurance company tried to find the leak (to no avail). We no longer have a hole, but since they couldn’t find the leak I’m worried our bathroom will flood again!

  2. says

    are you guys worried about mold growing? they always say where ever there is water that seeped behind walls or the ceiling mold might grow there. I only wonder because i have a leak in my apartment from an old covered air conditioner box and i am worried that there is mold behind the walls and under the floors. Hope everything is OK with your roof now!

    • says

      Hmm, good question! I think since it was just a one-time thing that lasted for about an hour, it all seems to have dried up so we hope we’re ok (mold likes constantly moist places, like walls in a bathroom where water collects regularly, so I don’t think it would like a spot where there was just a small leak once). But we’ll definitely have to keep an eye out for it just in case!


    • says

      If you’re afraid of the possibility of mold, just spritz those areas with white vinegar and let it dry. That will take care of the problem with any issues :)

    • Gem says

      I would definitely agree with doing whatever you can to prevent mould. It may not build up but my bathroom is testament to the fact that mould is fast and sneaky and definitely refuses to leave once it’s got in…

    • Heather W. says

      We had a roof leak too and got it fixed right away. Our roofers told us that either bleach or primer you used KILZ would also take care of it too.

  3. says

    Oh man! Good catch you guys! We discovered that there HAD been a leaky roof at one point in the house we bought when we tore down all of the wood paneling in the dining room to discover mold and disintegrated drywall (http://ridingescalators.blogspot.com/2012/03/project-dining-room-fast-forward.html). That was actually our first home improvement project too – so it was probably a little more scary than it should have been! But still – yuck! That was also when I had to learn how to do my first drywall patch! lol Glad it looks like your leak isn’t going to come to that!

  4. says

    Phew! Glad that it was such an easy fix. Roof leaks are always scary to me. I would have freaked out. Back in the day, when we were renting after we came home from a shopping trip we found the ceiling over our kitchen light wet. And as we were staring at it in the disbelief the light just dropped on the floor and a stream of water came gushing down! It seems the dishwasher in the unit above us was leaking!

    • says

      Thankfully since it was just a one-time thing that lasted for about an hour, it all seems to have dried up so we hope we’re ok (mold likes constantly moist places, like walls in a bathroom where water collects regularly, so I don’t think it would like a spot where there was just a small leak once). But we’ll definitely have to keep an eye out for it just in case! Someone recommended spraying the wall and beam with vinegar and letting that dry which makes things even more unappealing to mold so I’ll definitely do that today just to be safe!

  5. Brenda says

    So happy it was simple fix! I was really worried this was going to turn into a “now we have a huge hole in the roof” story.

  6. says

    Ugh, the house we bought was leaking when we toured it…and by leaking I mean pouring down rain INSIDE! Took us two full years to fix it but it is now finally fixed! The terrace drain had been blocked up and during the very rainy spring, we had water overflowing into the upstairs bedroom which caused the flood. What a headache!

  7. Katy says

    Hey guys! Glad you got it fixed. Are you worried about the electrics at all? I was concerned when I saw the water seeming to pour out from under the light switches… I had no idea of the leaf-on-roof-problem! I’m going to send the hubby up on a sky-high-exploratory-expedition tonight!

    • says

      We were worried about electrical stuff initially, but the rushing sound of all the water dumping down the wall didn’t short anything out when it all washed through, so we hoped we were ok. We opted to keep the electricity on so we could see what was happening (we worried the ceiling would collapse or the beam would fall or something in the dark). Of course we didn’t touch the light switches or anything while they were wet!


    • Martha says

      This is why my husband insisted that the house we are building will have no extraneous peaks. In snow country, ice dams are more frequently the cause than leaves. The water freezes as it hits the gutter and then it backs up under the shingles.

  8. Samantha says

    Have y’all considered a green roof? Planting a bunch of sedums up there would absorb rain water, trap heat, and cool of the house in the summer. It’s expensive, sure, but like most “green” designs, it pays for itself over time.

    • says

      Oh yes, we would love one. Sometimes they call for reinforcing the entire structure of a house to hold the added weight (we wanted one just over our last house’s sunroom since it was a flat roof and it would have been 10K to reinforce it to handle the weight so we opted out). Would definitely be fun if the cost came down over time (you know, if they’re like DVD players which got cheaper over time, haha).


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