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. Vanessa says

    So glad it worked out and wasn’t any major to repair. Trust me I know from experience how bad it feels when you see that trickle of water :(

  2. says

    Nothing like a leaky roof to rain on your parade!

    Five years ago, when we bought my in-law’s home, we suffered with a leaky roof. It was awful. The worst was being at work and seeing it rain – being an hour away from home, I would panic and think, “Oh, no! The buckets aren’t out!” More times than I would like to admit, we would come home to puddles inside our house. It was horrible…..especially when the leaks were coming through our light fixtures. Uhhh….scary!

    That spring, we replaced the roof. Speak about peace of mind! Now when we are at work and it rains, I don’t panic anymore. We hope to get 25-30 years out of this roof. Fingers crossed!

    Glad your roof leak was an easy and free fix!

  3. Cporoski says

    That is crazy. We once had our upstairs bathroom create a 3 foot bubble in our ceiling. It was a small hole but we needed to pop it into a bucket. It was almost 3 gallons of water! oh, the pleasures of home ownership :)

  4. Sarah says

    Man you guys are LUCKY!! We haven’t had roof issues (knock on wood) but our washer and dryer are in the basement and the washer pipe runs into the sink down there with a lint trap attached to the end. We have to remember to change that trap frequently because we’ve had a few instances where our basement flooded because the water couldn’t get through the holes and sprayed everywhere! Emergency home issues are scary though, I’m glad you guys were able to solve it so quickly and easily.

  5. Pam the Goatherd says

    I’m glad to hear your leak was such an easy fix. That had to be really scary to have water coming through the outlet like that!!!

    The only leaky roof I’ve ever dealt with was after a small tornado went through my Miami neighborhood. We had Spanish tile that got lifted and shifted slightly. Didn’t know anything had happened until a few months later I realized the closet in our spare bedroom/home office was getting mildewed. Trying to file a claim with the insurance company so long past the storm was impossible, so we patched the roof with sealant as best we could. That worked until Hurricane Andrew hit. Every other house on our block got a new roof, but our insurance company insisted that our roof should just be patched again. We changed insurance companies after that, but because the hurricane damage happened before the switch we still couldn’t get a new roof. We moved a couple of years later so I don’t know if the new owners had any more problems or if they ever put a new roof on.

  6. says

    thank you for sharing this. we all have “oh crap” moments with our house and it is nice to know the perfect petersiks do too! :) it is also a great reminder that not all situations like this are cause for a budget-breaking repair, but rather a little elbow grease is all the treatment needed.

  7. Liz says

    AH! So glad it was an easy fix! As a new homeowner, water in places where it’s not supposed to be is one of my biggest fears! The house I grew up in totally flooded when I was little and it was such a major problem, so I’m probably a little more fearful than I should be. But roofs are expensive!

  8. Ashley says

    Good luck during the Monument Ave 10k tomorrow John! It looks like it is going to be a beautiful day for running with the rain holding off until after lunch (hopefully no leaky roof).

  9. Sherri says

    Did you kill the lights/electricity? I’m just thinking water+electricity=bad news.

    Or, is that over-cautious?

    • says

      We were worried about that too, 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!


  10. Stephanie says

    Very glad it wasn’t bad. We had a drip from the roof one time, but it was just some separation of the roof from the flashing on a chimney vent on our roof. No big deal compared to the 6 or 7 times the basement sewer drain has backed up in the last 13 years and the one time a pipe broke in the basement. Yes, our basement is cursed by something!

  11. Nicole says

    Ok picture this…it’s is the day of your daughters first birthday (January 2011) and water starts leaking in 5 of the 8 rooms in your house! Yikes! Well if you lived in New England like we do it was a normal occurrence at the time because we were experiencing record breaking snow storms and this Saturday was the first warm-er day so snow was starting to melt. To make a long story short…the water kept coming….when all was said and done we learned that our roof was so old that it didn’t have the proper, and now required by law, ice shield under the shingles. Fast forward to today….there was so much damage and multiple contractors kept putting us off due to families that were worse off, then we had a tornado in the area…blah blah blah…Today we have a brand new kitchen with granite counter tops and almost every room was repainted courtesy of our insurance company. It took a year of struggle but it was worth it and now I have a dream kitchen! That’s our roof nightmare.
    On another note….our nugget, Mya just turned 2 and she is spunky like Clara…total ball of happiness. Keep up the great parenting and clever DIY!

    • says

      Hey neighbor. We just moved to our “new” house the last weekend of Jan’11. I remember exactly which weekend you are referring to. Little did we know then the purpose of the snow rake the previously owners left behind for us. Needless to say, we installed the heated roof wiring the next fall. I wish I would have gotten a new kitchen out of it! We still have our orginal 1960’s cabinets.


  12. A Kurtz says

    That same thing happened to us with our roof during the winter of 2010 when we had all the snow in DC. The snow and ice backed up due to leaves as it was melting and came down through the attic and into my closet, but was absorbed by my sweaters…not cool.
    BTW – those storms were crazy last week. We were in Charlottesville and had a lightening strike close enough to the house that it fried the computer in our Mini Cooper. Try calling the insurance to report the accident, “uh, my car got struck by lightening…I think”. Glad you got the roof issue figured out!

    • Amy says

      My grandfather once had to call his insurance company to tell them is car got hit by a longhorn sheep. As in the sheep ran into his car, he didn’t hit it. He was living in Montana, but the insurance company was in suburban Columbus, Ohio. They kept thinking he ran off the road into a farm or something!

    • says

      No way! My science teacher in high school had a deer jump into his car (it went through the front window). Poor guy got hurt but was ok. When he came back to school we all were asking “Wait, a deer hit you? You’re sure you didn’t hit a deer?”


  13. Meredith says

    Well, this isn’t a leak story, but when I was in high school we had gotten torrential rains, resulting in flooding. Our house was high-ish, so not directly in the flood plain, but we’d gotten enough rain that water was starting to back up out of the drain. Enough backed up that it formed a puddle. Some clothes in the laundry room were near the puddle and wound up blocking the drain, resulting in 6 inches of water in the basement. I was headed downstairs for morning swim practice, wasn’t looking, and was suddenly ankle-deep in water in the basement. That was fun to clean up! (Although it certainly served as future inspiration to keep a tidy basement).

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