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How to Inspect Your Own Roof for Leaks & Damage

By April 10, 2020October 22nd, 2020Home Inspection, Roof
How to Inspect Your Own Roof

This is not meant to be a replacement to a home inspection, but to help homeowners find roof leaks/damage.

Before continuing, you should also read our guide to modified bitumen and our blog about shingle lifespan.

For the sake of simplicity, this blog will be focused on inspection shingle roofs only.

An Overview of Inspecting Your Own Roof

Roof Overview

Again, if you have not already, check out our other blogs on shingle lifespan and modified bitumen lifespan. They will greatly help you before you read this article. While you are at it, read all of our posts on roofs.

Determining Life Expectancy on Shingle Roofs

Depending on the type of shingle, shingles are said to last anywhere from 15-30 years. Three-tab shingles can be 15-20, while dimensional/architectual are estimated to be 20-30.

Depending on your climate, those estimated dates can be off. If you are in Florida, expect 17 years on your typical dimensional shingle.

Knowing this, you can estimate your expected life for your roof before inspecting using permit information or when you know the roof was installed. After we inspect, you can revisit this.

Get an Overview of the Roof

Assuming that you can walk your roof comfortably, you should proceed by getting an overview of your roof’s shape and how water flows off of the roof.

For example, slopes that go straight down to the eaves might discharge water easily. However, if your roof shape in looks like this (see below) in some areas, these areas may need special attention. This is what is known as a dead valley. (the valley in the roof meets a wall).

Common Area for Roof Leaks - Dead Valley

After you get an overview look at the roof and examine how water flows, you can move onto the next step, which is walking the perimeter of the roof. As you walk around the roof, start near the bottom and slowly work your way up the slope of the roof. This will help you see all portions of the roof.

During this time, you might also want to look for repairs. Repairs can tell us about previous leaks. Moreover, unprofessionally completed repairs can cause more issues like lifting shingles or loose shingles which we will discuss below.

Take a look at some repairs so you can see what they look like:

Can you spot all the repairs and defects?

Here’s all the defects/repairs, which you will learn about below:

  • Missing kick-out flashing.
  • Dead-Valley near gutter elbow.
  • Gutter discharging on the roof = more water on the roof = leaks.
  • Several places of repairs.

Inspecting Different Parts of a Roof

Shingles Themselves

We need to determine the condition of the shingles. By doing this, you can examine for granule loss, exposed nails, lifting/loose shingles, and missing shingles.

As you walk around the roof, carefully look at the shingles to find these items.

By looking at this image, you can see there is a crack in the shingle and the shingle is probably lifting. To tell if a shingle is loose/lifting, gently try to pull the shingle up from the bottom. Pulling too hard could just damage the shingle, but gently pulling determines if it is loose.

Lifting & Cracked Shingles

You can see more cracked shingles and granule loss through this image below. Granule loss helps protect the shingle from drying out, wicking away moisture, and allows you to walk on it. Too much granule loss is a sign the roof will need to be replaced.

Cracked shingles and granule loss

Inspector Tip: The ridge cap shingles (shingles at the peaks) are typically the first to wear/lose their granules.

We have two more images to look at below. Can you guess what’s wrong here?

Lifting Shingles
Loose shingles should be sealed
Vegetation rubbing the roofing material
Vegetation rubbing the roofing material causing excessive granule loss

Now that we have an understanding of the shingles, let’s take a look at penetrations and flashings.

Inspecting Penetrations and Flashings

Penetrations are the most common areas to leak. Flashing areas are also really common places for leaks. Therefore, as we are walking around the roof, we should carefully inspect these areas to ensure everything is sealed properly.

Let’s start at vents. In this case, we are going to look at a ridge cap and offset ridge vent.

Loose ridge cap

So from this image, we can see the ridge cap is definitely loose. Furthermore, the hole where the nail was is not completely open. This should definitely be sealed.

Exposed/Loose Nails at Ridge Cap

This is what the top of the ridge cap should look like. That black stuff is the previous tar. If any nails are exposed, we need to tar those down to prevent rusting.

Offset Ridge Vent

Pictured above, we have a brand new offset ridge vent. We have a baffle installed, which is the piece of metal sticking up at the bottom, and the vent is secured/sealed down.

When inspecting offset ridge vents, we should ensure the bottom edge is sealed with tar, as well as, nails or roofing screws.

Inspector Tip: Near the edges of any vents, slightly pull up to see if any nails are loose or areas need sealing.

Flashing Boots

Now let’s take a look at flashing boots. Flashing boots are made out of lead and are often chewed on by squirrels. Any damages to these boots should be sealed to prevent leaks.

Damaged flashing boot

You can see from this flashing boot, we have some minor cuts. You can tape over these with foil tape to do a quick repair. The foil will prevent squirrels from wanting to chew on the lead.

The whole in the middle of the boot is necessary. These are our plumbing stacks the discharge sewer gases. We just need to ensure water can not find its way around these pipes. Water CAN enter the pipe.

Here’s another example of flashing below. This one is a little bit more complicated and done unprofessionally, however, it is sealed the best way they could.

Electrical Mast

We just need to ensure there are no gaps and holes around these areas for the purpose of this inspection. However, when a new roof is installed, the roofers should install a different type of flashing.

Flashing Around Walls

Finally, let’s look at flashing around walls. In most cases, you cannot see the flashing (sometimes called L-Flashing or counter-flashing). This is because the flashing is tucked behind your siding material.

However, in this case we can see the flashing! So we can ensure everything is properly sealed so water does not get behind the flashing.

L-Flashing and missing kick-out flashing

In the image above, we do have flashing. But you might notice cracks are appearing against the stucco. The flashing appears to be sealed, yes? So what’s the problem?

The problem is we are missing kick-out flashing! Kick-out flashing is an extension of this L-flashing that kicks water away from the wall.

Right now, our water is flowing off of the roof and now hitting our wall which is causing some moisture intrusion. We should definitely add some kick-out flashing to prevent this.

It might be a good idea to inspect the opposite side of this wall for moisture intrusion as well. You should caulk cracks and paint over the entire area.

Inspecting the Attic for Leaks

Our final step of inspecting, is looking inside the attic for leaks. Assuming, you are safe, comfortable, and know how to walk inside an attic, let’s take a look at how you can spot roof leaks!

Common places for leaks:

  • Dead Valleys
  • Valleys
  • Eaves (where the roof meets the wall)
  • Penetrations & Flashing Areas

Knowing those common areas noted above, we can be on the look-out for roof leaks! We should also take into consideration what our roof shape is, if we have repairs, or missing/damaged shingles.

Roof Leak at Eaves
Picture of a Roof Leak at an Eave
Roof Leak/Staining
Roof Leak & Staining

Using the pictures above, we can tell a roof leak appears as brown or black staining on wood.

Using this knowledge we know in general how our roof is performing! Do we have leaks that need repairs? Are our shingles in good condition? Do we have any minor damages that should be repaired? Etc.

Concluding Thoughts on Inspecting Your Own Roof

Finally, we covered the areas you need to inspect your roof!

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below! If you have pictures you want to send us, use our resource center to text an inspector so we can see what you are looking at.

Thank you reading and as time progresses, we will probably be coming back to this post to update it with more information, so stay on the lookout!

Aaron Shishilla

Author Aaron Shishilla

Aaron Shishilla is the youngest registered professional inspector in Florida. Coming from a family-owned home inspection company and now the marketing manager at Waypoint.

More posts by Aaron Shishilla

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