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6 Effective DIY Roof Repair Options to Fix Different Types of Roof Leaks

A collage of damaged roofs.

Once first raindrops and on your head inside the house you live in, it is too late to think about prevention, as you need to focus on repairing your roof. If there is a hole up there, then even a 5-minute shower will cause you problems but that might be for the greater good. This scenario will provide you with the opportunity to pinpoint the problem spot before a bigger storm hits.

On the other side, the damage to the roof might be more extensive, as even whole sections might be missing if the battens get damaged, causing the shingles and tiles to fly off the roof.

In the most severe of cases, the wooden understructure of the roof can get damaged and jeopardize the structural integrity of the entire house. Regardless of the degree of damage, if you notice that there are problems with your roof, you need to act immediately and wait for the next big storm fully prepared.

Related: Hip RoofsParts of a Roof Truss | Types of Roof Trusses

Roof Structure Diagram

We kick off the article with a diagram so that you know what we’re referring to under each type of leak or roof issue below.

Roof structure diagram

Learn more about the different parts of a roof here.

1. Clearing the Gutters of Debris

Clogged gutter photo

Most people refer only to tiles when they utter the word “roof.” However, a roof is much more than you see from above, as it has various parts that can, unfortunately, fail at one point of time, causing a leak to appear.

One part of the roof that many people oversee are the gutters. They are responsible for channeling rainwater from the roof down to the sewer below ground.

In most cases, gutters are made from sheet metal which corrodes so after a century of use, a hole caused by rust will start appearing in the gutters. Since you are highly unlikely to live long enough to see rust eating up the metal of your gutter, there is one problem that occurs every fall that requires your immediate intention.

Namely, as a consequence of leaves going yellow and falling down, they get washed down the slanted roof and into the gutters where they can create a dangerous clog. If the flow of water is blocked, then a small pond creates on top of your house, testing the waterproofness of the roof to its limits.

The pileup of water on top of your house will have to give way at some point and all that water will end up inside your home, running the wallpapers and furniture. In order to avoid such a scenario from occurring, you have to grab a ladder, lean it against teahouse and start clearing the gutters.

You will need to go around the entire house to clean every meter of guttering, so repositioning the ladder dozens of times is necessary. Don’t fail to move the ladder because failure to do so will result in injury.

Many homeowners take this task lightly and they overlean in an effort to extend their reach. This shifts their centre of mass and the ladders simply tip to one side, crushing down with you on top of them.

See more about cleaning gutters here.

2. Replacing a Damaged Shingle

Damaged shingle on roof

Another issue that arises with the roof are missing shingles. Roofs are tiled for a good reason and a single missing shingle results in the breach of the roofs water tightness, so you should replace them immediately once you notice they are missing.

If the damage is restricted to only a few shingles, then this is a DIY repair, while any damage more extensive than that requires professionals to be called in. Such devastation typically occurs after a large storm or a hurricane that your roof was not designed for.

If you’re dealing with a single missing or damaged shingle, you will probably notice it on the ground beside the house or you might see black residue appearing inside the drains, which is an indicator that a shingle is damaged and that it’s “bleeding,” to put in those words.

Like with cleaning the gutters, you need to pull up a ladder to reach the problem area. If the shingle is located near the end of the roof, then you might not even have to step onto the roof but finish the repair without climbing off the ladder.

Firstly, remove the damages shingle by lifting the edges of adjacent shingles and pry out the nails attaching it to the battens. Once you slide it out, scrape any excess cement left underneath in order to clear the opening. Apart from mortar, you have to remove any nails that are sticking out because they prevent the new shingle from sliding into place and they are a safety hazard.

Once the substitute shingle is ready to go in, use a sharp and durable knife to slightly round the corners at its back end. This will ease the placement procedure, that is over when the front edge of the new shingle aligns with the back edges of surrounding shingles on both lateral sides, as well as shingles above and below it.

Finally, fasten the replacement shingles to the rest of the roof using 6D hot-galvanized special roofing nails that are positioned near the shingle’s corners. All you have to do now is cover the nail heads using cement or caulk in order to prevent possible oxidation and weather damage. If you care about the way your roof looks from above, you can spend some extra time smoothing down the overlapping edges of shingles.

3. Repairing a Flat Roof

Example of a flat roof

Remember when we said that a pond on top of your house is a dangerous scenario. Well, if your roof is flat, then the danger becomes even greater because gravity won’t push water downwards like on a slanted roof.

Furthermore, the structure of a flat roof is different, as it is mostly comprised of roofing felt and tar that is used to impregnate the roof. However, it is usually the damage to the felt that is noticed by people below as water start dripping from a low spot on the roof’s surface.

Before you start repairing a flat roof, you need to drain the pond by swiping or mopping the roof. Then you have to clean the problem area of any debris such as sand or gravel.

After that, you are ready to slice open the roof using the aforementioned durable utility knife in order to cut through to the blistered layer without damaging the felt underneath. If you encounter any water sandwiched between the layer of blister and felt, squeeze it out by pressing hard on both edges. You can use simple rags to soak in this water before letting the hole you’ve made air dry.

As you might have realized by now, the ideal time to carry out these repairs is when the sun is shining and the air is not humid. However, if you are forced to repair the roof during the winter months, you can use a propane torch with a flame-spreader nozzle to speed up the drying process.

Since this tool is dangerous to wield, be sure to wear protective clothing and mandatory protective goggles. Stay alert at all times as parts of the roof’s lining are flammable so you could end up doing more damage than good.

Once the area is completely dry and you have made sure that there aren’t any additional ruptures across the entire surface of the roof, it’s time to patch up the hole you’ve made. Start by spreading a thick layer of roofing cement (the one placed under shingles as well) across the loose edges of the felt and press hard against the edges of the blister.

Then nail a whole row of 6D galvanized roofing nails along each edge of the cut, finally covering the nails with additional roof cement, so the blister gets evenly coated.

4. Resolving Issues with Battens

damaged roof battens photo

So far we have only advised you how to repair the upper layers if the roof. In reality, problems with the roof might occur deep inside the structure as extreme weather has the potential to damage the roof from within, paving (ironically) the way for water to sieve in.

Apart from the support beams, your roof is held in place with the use of battens which are used as a fixing point to roof tiles or shingles. If you have ever seen a sagging roof, like the ones old barns scheduled to be demolished, this is because their battens have rotten and can no longer supper the weight of the roof.

Battens or roofing lathes as they are also called were traditionally made from wood. In recent decades, more plastic, fibreglass, and metal battens have been installed but most residential objects still have wooden battens.

The sad fact is that wood rots away even it doesn’t come into direct contact with water, as it is enough for the attic to have poor ventilation for moisture to appear. This is the reason why a counter-batten system was invented. It consists of battens placed in both directions, ensuring that there is air flowing through the entire timer grid.

In terms of maintenance, metal roof battens are the best because they are stronger and longer-lasting than wooden ones. Furthermore, the biggest enemy of the roof, water damage, is basically powerless against a metal batten, as they are often made from stainless steel.

In fact, modern metal battens are designed in such a way that they can be used to replace 1-to-1 a cracked wooden batten, decreasing the total cost of roof repair.

5. Repairing the Roof’s Open Valley Flashings

Photo of damaged roof valley flashing

We are slowly moving from major roof damage like missing sections of the roof down to the smallest of cracks. These are perhaps the trickiest to repair because of a very simple reason: they are extremely difficult to locate.

However, it helps a lot of you know where to look for them. For instance, a minuscule puncture will rarely occur in the middle of shingle but such microscopic openings are more likely to appear in joints and flashings. The most likely culprit you should inspect first is the roof’s open valley that is the biggest single joint above your head.

Due to its length, the probability is the greatest that the cause for the leak is located here. Having inspected the full length of the open valley flashing, you ought to be able to pinpoint (quite literally) the rupture.

Now comes the easy part, patching up the hole. Like with other types of repairs, you first need to clean the area immediately around the problem spot using a simple brush. After that, you need to centre a piece of metal on top of the whole with 5 centimeters to spare all around the hole.

This will create a buffer zone, making sure the seal is tight enough. The pieces of metal you use to patch the flashing up must match the type of metal you have on your roof, which is most usually aluminum or copper. If you use different metal corrosion will soon appear, eating away through the flashing and worsening the situation.

Once the sheet of metal wider in diameter than the hole is in place, you should spread a thick layer of cement and apply pressure until the mixture hardens and assumes the concave shape of the valley. In order to be 100% sure that your patch is watertight, you can apply additional roofing cement around the edges of the patch.

6. The Trickiest of Repairs: Metal Flashings

chimney flashing on roof

Although it might seem complicated, repairing the roof’s open valley is actually easy because you are working with a large, (mostly) even, and a clear surface, which simplifies locating the leak and its subsequent patching up.

Other flashings located around chimneys, skylights and vent opening are more complicated to inspect and especially to repair. In fact, these areas are so problematic that you should inspect them regularly each spring even if you don’t notice a leak.

Flashing around chimneys are the largest ones and the hardest to install since they are comprised of two parts: the base that covers the bottom of the chimney and continues onto the roof and the cap that is built inside the brick structure of the chimney itself.

This is the source of most problems as the mortar holding the bricks and the flashing together starts to crumble, leaving space for water to penetrate the side of the chimney which is an expressway down into your living room. Unless you want to receive a flood rather Santa Claus down the chimney next years, you better get up there and secure the chimney flashing.

The first item on the agenda is prying out the flashing from the structure of the chimney. This is a delicate procedure as you need to pull out the already loose flashing just a little without yanking too hard and ripping it from the brick wall.

In order to fix the flashing, only a small part of it needs to protrude from the side of the chimney. Once the flashing is out, clean any excess mortar with a hammer and chisel or use a utility knife as an alternative.

After that, take a wire brush and gently clean the joint out of any debris. Since there is going to be mortar and dust flying all around, be sure to wear safety gloves, protective eyewear, and a facemask, so you don’t inhale the fine dust particles.

The next step in the repair is to wet the joint with water using a common paintbrush and then firmly fill the joint with cement mortar. Once the joint is full of mortar, press back on the flashing to return it back to its socket but be careful not to push too hard.

Now you have to wait for the mortar to dry in the air before picking up the caulk gun. Once the entire patched up area is completely dry, apply caulk all around the joint and over the cap of the flashing. The procedure described here is more or less valid for skylights and vents, with the exception of a metal collar that the latter ones have.

In Need of a Fast Fix?

All of the repairs we have listed in our guide are permanent fixes of any potential problems you might have with your roof. However, in certain situations, you might not be able to fix the roof right away or you’ll need to call professionals but the pesky flow of water from above has a mind of its own.

That is why you need to know the procedure for a fast fix on the roof leak. This will require you to take a short trip to the nearest DIY or home improvement centre where you’ll buy a 12-by-12-inch sheet of galvanized metal flashing.

The repair is done as follows: you lift the shingles with one hand and use the other hand to slip the metal sheet into place (above the hole). This will take you only a couple of minutes to do but this fix will last as long as the good weather lasts since a strong wind gush could dislodge the metal sheet.

We hope that by now you have a better understanding of the procedures necessary to repair a leaky roof regardless of the place where the hole in the roof is. The next devastating storm is always a day away, so don’t postpone any work that needs to be done to the roof of your house.

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