A leaky roof is a frustrating and costly problem. It’s important to know what causes the most common leaks so you can start fixing it as quickly as possible!  The typical causes of roof leaks are: missing or damaged shingles, rotted wood, improper flashing installation, and ice damming. Some other potential reasons your roof might be leaking include:

1. Missing or cracked shingles

Cracked or missing shingles, also known as “blow-offs,” are the most common reason for roof leaks and urgently need to be addressed. Asphalt shingles normally last about 20 years depending on their quality. A few things that can cause shingles to break include:

  • Tree branches falling on the roof
  • Insect infestation (termites)
  • Freezing and thawing cycles during winter months

If you notice any of the above issues with your current roof, it’s time to call a roofing contractor! Replacing your roof will fix all of these problems at once. Don’t let them get worse – you could end up with much bigger problems if you to ignore them!  Repairing or replacing your roof can be a rather costly project that can sometimes be covered by insurance.

2. Ice Dams

Ice dams are caused when snow and ice start melting off the roof, which causes water to back up behind the dam. This water then refreezes at night when everything is cold and creates an ice build-up, causing leaks. If you notice any leaking around the chimney area it could very well be an ice dam issue, and should be addressed immediately! Sometimes, removing all snow from a roof will help to stop them from forming; however, this is not always possible during winter months in colder climates where there is high humidity levels near oceans and lakes (which cause more severe ice dams). In addition to taking care of ice dams, it’s always a good idea to keep gutters and downspouts clean – this will avoid overflowing water from reaching the building. Also make sure you have adequate insulation in your attic – cold air can enter through ceiling leaks as well as floor vents.

3. Faulty or Missing Flashing

Flashing is typically used between different kinds of materials that meet at an angle such as where chimneys, skylights, dormers, and vent pipes come through the roof. It helps prevent leaks by sealing those joints and voids so moisture doesn’t find its way inside your home and cause damage to ceilings and walls. If these areas were not properly sealed during construction due to improper installation or faulty materials (which does happen occasionally), it will cause leaks and need to be addressed. Other areas where flashing is used include around skylights, chimneys, and the base of a window or door (under siding such as vinyl). If you notice any of these areas leaking it’s important to repair them immediately by correctly installing new flashing material.

4. Improperly Installed Shingles

If shingles are not installed properly, they may start coming loose after a few years and lead to roof leaks. The main reason for improperly installed shingles is that the nails aren’t long enough or they were nailed too close to the edge of the shingle disks. This can cause water infiltration, which leads to wood beneath your shingles to rot out (leaking). Also, the seams where two shingles meet should be offset by 1/2″ to prevent water from pooling and potentially causing leaks.  It’s best to call a professional roofer if you notice any leakage or other problems with your roof that aren’t addressed here – they will be able to correct all of these issues for you.

5. Damaged Wood

As wood gets older it can dry out and cause cracks which leads to leaks around doors, windows, attic vents, etc. This is especially common in areas with high humidity levels where wood tends to expand and contract more often than normal. Shrubs or trees planted too close to the building can also damage underlying wood over time. If you notice any of these issues it’s time to call a contractor – they will come inspect the wood and recommend a solution. Replacing old wooden roof decking with new ones is not a cheap project – but, then again, neither is repairing ceilings and drywall that have been damaged by leaks!

6. Poor Ventilation

Moisture that accumulates from condensation inside your roof assembly can cause long-term damage, especially if ventilation levels are poor. Warm air holds more moisture than cold air, so as warm moist air rises up into cold attic spaces temperatures drop and the moisture starts to accumulate on cold surfaces below (roof sheathing or ceiling drywall). If ventilation levels in your attic aren’t high enough this could lead to major problems. Moisture that accumulates over time will cause wood to rot out, which will eventually lead to roof leaks (and subsequent damage). If you haven’t already, make sure you increase the ventilation levels in your attic by installing gable or ridge vents. This is a relatively inexpensive project and could save you thousands of dollars in future repairs!

7. Missing Roof Shingles

As with any low-slope roof system, missing shingles can result in water infiltration when it rains or snows. When this happens ice dams form around the edges of the roof, which causes gutters and downspouts to overflow when water can’t drain properly because it’s blocked by ice dams. The only way to fix this problem is to replace the missing shingles and create a new ice and water membrane (if necessary).

8. Damaged Asphalt Shingles

A damaged asphalt roof isn’t necessarily leaking – however, it can eventually lead to leaks if it’s not repaired. Loose granules around the edges of the shingles is one of the most common signs that you need a repair. You should start by tightening any loose or missing nails on all your shingles – then seal any exposed nail heads with roofing cement for added protection against leakage (cost: $20-$40 per gallon depending on where you purchase it). If more than 50% of your shingle surface area, is you should consider replacing them (cost: $100 or more per shingle depending on the brand).

9. Decay in Trusses Underneath Your Roof Asphalt Shingles

As wood gets older it can rot out, which leads to roof leaks. Damaged trusses are common when roofs get older (15-20 years) and usually won’t cause catastrophic problems unless you have extreme weather conditions (heavy snow or ice loads). Making sure your trusses are properly spaced apart so there is proper ventilation between them will help prevent this kind of damage from occurring over time. If you notice any signs of decay in your trusses, be sure to call a contractor for an inspection – they may recommend having the trusses replaced to ensure the long-term stability of your roof.

10. Weather-Exposed Areas of Your Roof

Asphalt shingles are designed for average conditions, not extreme weather. If you live in an area where high wind speeds are common it’s important to make sure the underlayment is properly installed and maintained throughout the life of your shingles (cost: $100 or more depending on the size of your roof). Wind-driven rain is one of the most common causes of roof leaks that homeowners experience, so if you live in a hurricane-prone area be sure to get regular inspections from a professional contractor. Additionally, don’t plant anything close to your home if you’re in an area with high wind speeds – this will create unnecessary stress on your roof and can lead to water infiltration or shingle damage.

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Helen is a real estate agent. She specialises in apartment buildings and has been working for Brick Real Estate located in Springfield, Massachusetts for almost five years. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College before completing her Master's degree at the University of Connecticut. It was after this that she took up office work with several local brokers including one of the largest commercial real estate companies in New England. However, after four years of desk-based work she decided to move back to where she grew up and become a residential broker instead; this way she could spend more time outdoors and less behind a desk or computer screen. Helen also works as a yoga instructor during the weekends because her current job can be quite demanding and strenuous on her body, especially her back. She also enjoys yoga because it is a great way to relieve stress and stay relaxed at the same time.

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