Home Improvement

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!



Our Big Kitchen Makeover: The Reveal

Ok, we’re calling it. The kitchen is officially done! Of course that’s a lie and we still have a bunch of little things to complete, like:

And of course we dream of refinishing the surrounding oak floors to match the dark mocha cork in the kitchen so our whole house is more seamless (more on that here) but that’s a down-the-line thing. Thankfully all of the big stuff and most of the small stuff in the kitchen is checked off the list and we’re so excited to see how this room has transformed in the last five months. Can you believe we’ve been slowly chipping away at this renovation since October?! Things have definitely come a long way…

Just to save you from scrolling back, here’s the before again for comparison’s sake.

It really doesn’t even feel like the same room anymore. We can hardly remember the dark paneled kitchen that we lived with for almost a year while we planned our remodel and saved our pennies.

Here’s the makeover from the other side of the room:

And here’s a before and after shot from a similar angle where we opened up the wall to create a nice big doorway between the kitchen and the dining room:

Oh and here’s another fun before and after comparison (from the doorway of the office that leads into the kitchen):

Here are a few more POVs of the room as it looks now:

Lots of things are still in flux (items on the counters and shelves will definitely rotate in and out, which is fun for a kook like me). And these two 4 x 6′ rugs from our first house’s kitchen and third bedroom aren’t permanent…

… we just tossed them down for a few shots, but we envision getting something new to help define those areas (they’re old and stained and not as soft underfoot as a few other options, so we’ll keep you posted).

Oh and when it comes to the bar stools that we debated spray painting anything from a bright color to oil-rubbed bronze, now that the floor is so dark the silver color ties into the stainless appliances and looks nice and balanced in person. So we might live with them a while before we decide to defile them with spray paint or anything. Of course we’ll keep you posted.

And we actually have one more tweak that we’re seriously thinking about ever since a reader sent us a photoshopped picture of our hood with the top as wide as the bottom part (thanks Brooke!). She actually sent the pic on the 15th of February, but we decided to wait to finish up the kitchen (add the flooring, etc) before making any rash decisions…

The good news is that we’re still smitten with the idea, so all signs point to beefing up the neck of the range hood someday! Of course we’ll keep you posted on that too.

But back to the overview of our big kitchen makeover. We definitely got really hands-on with this transformation (especially when compared to our first kitchen reno, which we managed but mostly outsourced, my how things change). It just goes to show you that over time you can learn as you go and five years later you might be way more comfortable doing a lot more than you did the first time around. Here are some of the things we did in our current kitchen to save money:

And here’s an actual budget breakdown:

Not bad since a large kitchen renovation of this scale (our room is 24′ x 12′), if outsourced would probably be around 30K (for a giant new doorway that leads to the dining room, an accent wall of penny tile to the ceiling, all new cork floors, all new appliances, refacing oak cabinets and adding a peninsula to match the original cabinets, all new Corian counters including a giant 3 x 5′ slab for the peninsula, an entirely new lighting plan, a built-in hood with custom built shelves, a relocated pantry, stove, and built-in fridge, etc). We originally budgeted 10K for the job, so we’re really happy to come in under!

By contrast, our first kitchen renovation (from back when we both made bank working in advertising, haha) involved pricey granite, a lot more professional help, and all new cabinets.

It actually came to $20,500 (including the purchase of a fridge and stove that weren’t included in this breakdown since we bought them a year prior). And that room was only 13′ x 10’!

So although this second kitchen reno took us tons of time (we started this project back in October, and have probably put 5-10 hours a week into it since then – for a total of around 155 hours) it was definitely something that we loved doing – mostly on nights and during weekend Clara-naps. We almost never worked on it during the day on weekdays (when the blog is active and the bean’s awake one of us is a stay at home parent and one of us is on blog duty) so that might help those of you with a day job who wonder if you can pull off a major kitchen remodel like this on nights and weekends.

You can! It might just span across five months or so, but as long as you take things one small project at a time (it’s waaaay less intimidating than thinking of it as one big project when you break things down into bite-sized chunks) you’ll most likely live to tell the tale. And all the love and sweat that you put into your “new” kitchen will be totally worth it in the end.

Who’s excited to call this turkey done? Is anyone else out there about to start a big kitchen reno? What have you guys done when it comes to being hands on and saving some money by doing things yourself? We’d love for everyone to share tips about how they renovated their kitchen on a budget so this post can become an awesome resource for anyone out there who is thinking about getting started and would love to peruse a bunch of what-worked-for-me tips! And now we just owe Clara and Burger a big thank you: for sleeping through all the hammering and drilling and just generally being such great little DIY enthusiasts (Clara still loves to measure the cabinets with her tape measure since she remembers us doing it months ago).

A five month long kitchen reno can definitely “interrupt” daily life, but our little ones are such troopers, so we’re sending them both a big virtual kiss for their patience and excitement throughout the loooong and not-always-easy process! Our tip is to try to maintain as many working appliances as possible (which is easier when you’re working with your existing cabinets, but nearly impossible when it’s a full gut job). We only had a few days without most of them, if that, which was no sweat! In fact it totally paled in comparison to the 113 days that we were without our first house’s kitchen during that reno. Thank goodness for extension cords to keep the fridge running and the fact that moving our stove across the room didn’t mean losing the function of it!

Psst- To check out virtually every post about our kitchen renovation, click here, here, here, here, and here (hooray for monthly breakdown posts that have 20+ links in one place!).