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. Monika says

    We had just put in new hardwood floors only to find a puddle on the floor next to the newly re-installed pedestal sink in the powder room. The wood is a little warped (big boo) but we still have the sink to fix and we are no plumbers. Not sure if using teflon tape would solve the problem on the connections? And thanks for the tips with the leaves, you guys will save someone lots of stress for sure with this tid bit.

  2. Louisa T. says

    Just last week around 11:30p one night our youngest son had gone to the basement and came running back up shouting water is going everywhere (clearly not a roof story, but a leak just the same). My husband and I went running down and sure enough, we had a freaking geiser coming from a pipe overhead. Our dishwasher is only a few months old and this was my first guess. Cut all the water in the kitchen off since that was directly above the “fountain” and called the plumber the next morning. Turned out the drain line for the kitchen sink was clogged and it had found it’s ‘path of least resistance’. $400 later it was all fixed and a valuable lesson was leaned. Don’t pour grease down the kitchen drain (I know, I know, DUH)! So glad your’s was such an easy fix. If only ALL of them were like that, right?

  3. says

    We had lightening hit our chimney once and it cracked the stone around the chimney – which led to a lot of water all over the walls and floor in the morning. :( That’s when you’re grateful for all those insurance payments you make! I hope yours really was such an easy fix – with roof lines that meet like that, it’s going to take watching for leaves more often, isn’t it? :)

  4. Mandy says

    Not a leaky roof, but leaky pipes. I’ll try to make this short and sweet. The house we live in has PVC piping throughout, thanks to lovely neighborhood kids who stole all the copper plumbing while the house was in transition from renter to owner and metals were really high. My husband and I were on a cruise, and my sister was house/pet sitting.

    Thankfully, she was still awake at 2am, watching TV in the living room, and decided to go up to bed. She turned everything out, got into bed, and heard noises and what sounded like possibly water running. She walked into the hallway, near the bathroom, and stepped in water!! Apparently, the pipe wasn’t tightened enough, so it leaked from under the sink, covered the bathroom floor, and over the transition into the hallway!!

    She called our mom, frantic (who of course at 2am getting a frantic call from her youngest sent her almost into a panic attack until she realized it was only a leaky pipe) and luckily she only had to turn the water off to the sink to stop the leak. We came home a few days later to my dad being there, just finishing up fixing the problem.

    Our mom had told her (since we called every day from land to check in and make sure everything was ok) not to say anything while we were gone, since it was being fixed, and nothing could be done from our end.

    I cant even fathom how bad our house would have flooded had she not been awake, or been at work, when that happened. I don’t know how many times I thanked her for staying up late that night, and saving our house!

  5. says

    Don’t let him give you a hard time about being afraid of heights, $herdog! I just climbed the Inca Trail last week, and I discovered I’m TERRIFIED of heights. (Admittedly, not a good place to make such a discovery…)

    My vote is that you stay safe with the baby, with two feet on the level ground. Let the crazy one in the family climb up high on top of roofs and mountains to clean out leaves!

    Glad it was an easy fix :)

  6. says

    Wow! You guys are so lucky it was an easy fix! That could have been really disheartening to use your hard-earned book moolah on a new (or patched) roof! Good job getting on it so fast too. :)

  7. says

    Does a leaky slab count….? That’s been the bane of my existence these past few weeks. It involved demolishing the slab and dumping my less-than-a-year old flooring into the trash. Fortunately, it was contained to the laundry room. Yes, I can count my blessings. :)

  8. Amanda K says

    Oh gosh, this post bring back unpleasant memories. We had our roof replaced about 3 years ago. The shingle removal took longer than the contractor planned because there were 5 layers of shingles! The night the roof was finally shingle-less, I woke up around 2am to the sound of pouring rain. I woke up my husband and he ran to the attic in sandals and underwear (quite a vision). At first there was only 1 drip and then all of sudden, there were 100. I ran around the house looking for wet spots on the ceiling while he threw bats of insulation around to act like a sponge. Luckily, we didn’t end of having to replace any sheet rock…a little scraping and painting did the trick, but it was quite an adventure!

  9. Michelle says

    We just bought our first house in Sept ’11 and are learning so much from you two! Now I’m going to be on the lookout for leaves on our roof.

    We tested for radon because of your posts on it and negotiated a full radon mitigation system paid by the sellers before we closed…all thanks to you! Would have never thought to look into it otherwise (coming from an apartment in the city). So thankful to learn from you, keep it up!

  10. Jess! says

    Whoa. I had the same thing happen last fall – new-ish roof, accumulation of leaves along a concave roofline… The damage was more extensive inside the house (I’ll need some new drywall on the ceiling where the leak happened), and the reason behind it was actually shingles that hadn’t been properly overlapped when installed.

    We had a mild winter, with not too much snow, so I’m getting it fixed in the spring, and fixing the drywall in the living room when I knock out a section of a wall. Renos-mageddon!

  11. Rachel says

    I woke up one evening during a rainstorm to constant dripping (and was even dreaming of leaky facets!) around 3 AM and found a small leak coming from one of the beams in our bedroom. Leaves were the culprit for this one as well. A quick brushing of the leaves off the roof, and we haven’t had any trouble since! Good luck!

  12. says

    My heart started racing I was saying crap in sympathy! One of my old apartments used to leak (a LOT) when we had big storms around the doors to the balcony, and it was horrible. We had designated leak beach towels.
    However, it didn’t make me love thunderstorms any less. In fact, I love them so much that when my now husband took me to watch lightning from a big bridge on our first date, I knew he was the one. We’ve all got our things.

  13. Nora says

    When I lived at my parents house, I was standing in the basement when water started flooding through the ceiling. I ran upstairs and found the toilet overflowing and a small lake in the bathroom. I shut off the water, and later I was “lucky” enough to help my dad rod the pipe. That was pretty gross.

  14. erica says

    Not fun, but glad it wasn’t toooo major and didn’t happen while you were going to be gone for awhile… We have a spot that we are waiting for a good rain to test out our repair. Until I’m confident, a big plastic tub lives in the middle of our living room because we have new hardwood floors! Ours is *probably* coming thru a gap in the siding on our dormer. Fingers crossed that it’s fixed…

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