How to Find a Roof Leak (and Fix It)

Sometimes you hear it first. Sometimes you see a new stain spreading on your ceiling, and sometimes you feel it land right on your head. No matter how you notice it, the dreaded drip of a leaky roof is always an unpleasant discovery.

Aside from being annoying, a roof leak can wreak havoc on your property, and it always needs immediate attention. Fortunately, do-it-yourself fixes are possible, if you know how to find a roof leak—although the task can be tricky. The next time you’ve got a roof leak, don’t just put a bucket down and forget about it once the rain stops. Do something about it.

Here’s some advice to help you find and eradicate minor roof leaks.

Finding the Source of the Leak

Before you can do your own roof leak repair, you have to know where the leak is coming from. Unfortunately, leaks don’t always line up with where the water is dripping through the ceiling. Once the water enters through the source of the leak, it can run for some distance—along rafters and other structural elements—until it finds a point in the ceiling where it stops flowing and drips through.

Here are some of the common points of origin for roof leaks:

  • Broken, worn, or missing shingles
    Loose or missing nails
    Worn or improperly sealed flashing

You can look for the leak source from inside your attic, or from on top of your roof (if it’s safe for you to go up there—don’t do this if it’s still raining, or if the roof is at a steep angle). Water always flows to the lowest point it can, so look “uphill” from the drip to find the culprit hole in your roof.

If a visual inspection doesn’t locate the source of the roof leak, you might be able to find it with the help of a friend and a garden hose. When the weather is dry, have one person get on top of the roof. Once there, the person up top should spray down the roof, in isolated areas, starting “downhill” and working upward, while the other person observes the leak from inside the house.

Leaks in the attic are usually easy to spot

As you can imagine, this method can take some time, as you may need to keep a steady flow of water on the leaky spot before it begins to drip through. However, once that happens, you can identify the area where the roof leak is located, and mark it for repair or closer inspection.

A Quick Emergency Fix

If you need a temporary cover for a roof leak before you repair it, you can make one with a tarp or some plastic sheeting and four two-by-fours. Follow these simple steps:

Pick the right size of tarp from the hardware store or cut a piece of heavy plastic sheeting large enough to cover the leaky area from the eaves to the peak, plus about four feet extra
Wrap one end of the plastic around a two-by-four the same width as the sheet
Staple the plastic to the two-by-four, and nail the second two-by-four onto it
Do steps 2 and 3 to the other end of the plastic sheet
Place one set of the attached two-by-fours along the eaves and run the other end of the sheet up over the top of the roof
In addition to the two-by-fours you can put some extra weight to ensure the tarp doesnt blow off such as sand bags.
This WikiHow article explains this well.

The two-by-fours weighed down will help ensure the tarp doesn’t blow it off the roof. Don’t nail the two-by-fours or any part of the sheet directly to your roof, or you’re going to have more leaks to repair!

A Simple Fix for Holes

When you know exactly where a leaky hole in your roof is, you can temporarily fix it with a twelve-inch square of galvanized sheet metal flashing.


Lift up the shingle covering the hole. You can pry up nails if necessary
Slide the metal flashing up under the shingle so that it covers the hole

Any water that falls on this spot should run off over the sheet metal, missing the hole.

When It’s Time to Call the Pros

Working on roofs can be dangerous, and fixing a leak around moldy or rotten wood takes a lot more than just a plastic or metal patch. Also, leaks can often occur around skylights, chimneys, and other structures that aren’t easy to cover with quick DIY fixes.

For a long-term solution, or to fix a difficult leak, you’ll want to get professional roofing services. Experienced roofers will be able to locate roof leaks, no matter where they’re hiding, and they can provide permanent roof leak repairs, no matter what type of roof you have.

Inevitably, most people will need roofing repair at some time or other, but don’t let a leaky roof dampen your spirits. As long as you take proactive steps to deal with problems as soon as you notice them, you can minimize any damage to your home.