Expert DIY advice on how to find, troubleshoot, and fix a roof leak, including how to keep the water from getting in during a roof leak emergency.

Drawing of a man placing pans beneath lines of dripping water.
Running out of pots and pans? It’s time to fix those roof leaks! Ron and Joe /

The source of most roof leaks is challenging to locate because it often originates far from where the leak appears. Water typically enters through worn, broken, or missing shingles, loose nails, or corroded or poorly sealed roof flashing around vents, skylights, or chimneys. Once inside, it flows along the sheathing, roof rafters, or topside of ceilings until it finds a place to drip.

Identifying the exact point of entry is crucial to fixing the leak effectively and preventing further damage to your home’s structure and interior

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of finding and fixing roof leaks with detailed, step-by-step instructions to help you manage the situation efficiently.

HomeTips Pro Tip: For safety’s sake, don’t go onto a roof that is steeply pitched, don’t step on the plastic sheeting (particularly if it’s wet), and never go onto the roof during a thunderstorm

Inspecting for Leaks

Internal diagram of a roof, including water leaking through a shingle, sheathing, roof rafter to a topside ceiling.
A roof leak often travels down a rafter, showing up down-roof from where it begins. ©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Step 1: Go into the attic with a bright flashlight. Look for wetness along the framing members, watermarks, stains, or discolorations on the wood.

Step 2: Turn off the light and look for holes where daylight shows through the roof.

Step 3: If it’s still raining, put a bucket under the leak in an area with proper support. Let the bucket collect the drips and fix the leak when the weather clears.

Caution: Step only on secure framing members and never on the insulation or topside of the ceiling below—neither of these will support you!

Water Testing

High-pressure garden hose nozzle hand sprayer control laid on a floor.
Use a garden hose with nozzle control to water-test for roof leaks. KellyP42 | MorgueFile

Step 1: Have one person go onto the roof with a garden hose while another stays inside the attic with a bucket and a strong light.

Step 2: The person on the roof should start flooding the roof with the hose at the bottom (the eaves) and slowly work uproof until water from the leak appears in the attic.

Step 3: Once the leak is found, push a nail up through the hole to mark its location for rooftop repair. Mark the surface of the roof with chalk if necessary.

Common Entry Points

Inspect the following areas for damage:

  • Chimneys
  • Flashing
  • Skylights
  • Roof Valleys
  • Vents
  • Dormers and Walls

Roof Leak Emergency

Man's hands lifting the damaged shingle, slipping a sheet metal flashing underneath.
Quickly fix a roof leak by slipping a sheet metal flashing up under the course above the hole. © Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Temporary Emergency Cover

Step 1: Unroll enough heavy (6-mil) polyethylene sheeting to cover the leaking section from eaves to peak, adding about 4 feet extra. Wrap one end around a 2×4, staple it, and sandwich it with a second 2×4. Nail the boards together.

Step 2: Position the sandwiched end along the eaves. Stretch the sheeting over the ridge and down the other side.

Step 3: Secure the top end with another pair of 2x4s to prevent wind from carrying it away.

Fast Fix for a Roof Leak

Step 1: Slip a 12-by-12-inch piece of galvanized sheet metal flashing under the shingle above the hole.

Step 2: Pry up any roofing nails in the row above the damaged shingle if needed to make sure the sheet metal covers the hole completely and tucks fully under the shingle above it.

About Do-It-Yourself Roof Repair

Man looking behind while standing on a step ladder, leaning on a rain gutter.
You need to be comfortable (and safe) working at heights if you’re going to repair your own roof. Dreamstime

Working on a roof can be hazardous. Only attempt DIY repairs if you have the necessary experience, tools, and confidence to work safely. Otherwise, consider hiring a professional.

For complex repairs or if the roof’s pitch is steep, seek professional help. You can get free estimates from local roofing professionals through services like ANGI.

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” served as MSN’s home expert for several years, and is featured as Yelp's home improvement expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort