The Do’s and Don’ts of Roof Leaks

November 7, 2023 Jessica Campbell







Anyone who has had to deal with a roof leak knows what a hassle they can be. At the very least, they can result in a disturbance for residents in the affected units or common areas, costs for interior remediation and roof repairs, and potential for health hazards like mold growth. In extreme cases, especially when leaks go undetected for prolonged periods of time, their presence can compromise the structural integrity of a building. Whether navigating a leak is a new experience for you or you’re a seasoned professional, the following tips will help ensure a more seamless and stress-free process.


Do: Complete a Thorough Investigation When a Leak Occurs


The process of the investigation starts from the interior, where the leak is presenting itself. Measurements are taken from the affected area to the nearest wall, to be referenced once the roof surface is accessed. Where possible, investigating behind the ceiling can be key to figuring out where the leak is coming from. If a drop ceiling is present, tiles can be lifted to inspect behind. In other situations, drywall can be cut, provided authorization is granted. If there are any spaces between the interior leak area and the roof surface, those areas are also inspected to identify if they are affected by water infiltration or if the leak is coming from those spaces. This may include an attic, crawlspace, mechanical room, or another unit.


On the roof surface, the interior measurements are used to trace out the area directly above the leak, as a starting point for the investigation. When investigating a protected roof system, like an inverted or green roof, multiple layers must be removed and set aside to expose and inspect the membrane. With any flat roof system, cut tests can be performed to determine the make-up of the roof system, identify is there is moisture beneath the membrane, and discover if water is potentially travelling. If there are no damages or defects in the area directly above the leak, cut tests also provide guidance when determining which direction to expand the investigation.


Investigating a leak takes away the guess work and helps identify a viable solution to resolve the occurrence. Through the process of an investigation, it is also possible to determine if the leak is coming from a source other than the roof, like plumbing or HVAC, if there is moisture and potential mold growth present in unseen areas like behind the ceiling, if water is travelling beneath the membrane, and in cases where attics are present, if there are deficiencies that may be contributing to the leak or to ice damming.


Don’t: Rely on Band-Aid Fixes


Especially in emergency situations, the goal is to stop any immediate water infiltration, by any means necessary. This can sometimes result in products and materials being used that are only meant to be in place temporarily, until further, more extensive repairs can be completed. It’s important to be able to discern the difference between temporary and permanent repairs so you aren’t left with a “band-aid” fix.


Two products that many roofing companies use in case of emergencies are tarps and roofing cement. The use of tarps to mitigate any immediate weather damages is generally understood to be a temporary solution, but often we encounter situations where roofing cement has been applied and presented as a long-term repair, which it is not. Roofing cement can stop water in its tracks, as it hardens and dries quickly, even in wet conditions, however, it does not offer lasting compatibility with roof membranes or shingles and can cause damage to internal piping if it enters the roof drains. If roofing cement must be used, we recommend following-up with the contractor who applied it to confirm what their next steps will be for permanently repairing the leak area.

Finally, be cautious about the use of caulking as a solution to a leak. Although caulking has its place throughout the roof and building envelope, it is not a miracle material that will seal and repair all roof defects. Caulking should not be used to repair damaged or deteriorated membrane or shingles, flashing that is too large, corroded metal, damaged drains, and more.


Do: Encourage Residents to Report Early Signs of Leaks


As a property manager, you can only report a leak that has been made known to you. In cases where damages have become extensive or where water is actively pouring into a unit, it makes sense that a resident would report it immediately. In other cases, residents may not realize a leak is occurring right away or may not think it’s a big deal if its presence is minor and non-intrusive.

Periodically checking in with residents and encouraging them to report early signs of a leak may help to prevent a minor situation from turning into a major catastrophe. Initial stages of a leak may include dripping sounds, soft spots, minor staining or blistering, drywall separation or a musty smell.

Don’t: Have a Superintendent or General Contractor Address a Roof Leak

Many of the superintendents we encounter are extremely familiar with the buildings they oversee and can be helpful resources when investigating a leak. They are often a wealth of knowledge and can provide valuable guidance, however, it is not recommended to have a superintendent or general contractor repair a roof leak. If the person addressing the leak is not well versed in the specific roof system and compatible roofing materials, this is where you tend to see band-aid fixes like caulking and roofing cement.

Where superintendents and other building staff can be extremely helpful is in the early detection and reporting of leaks. When completing walk throughs of the building, ensure areas below roof surfaces are being checked to determine if there are any active leaks or early signs such as staining or blistering. Keeping an eye out for openings where daylight can be seen in areas like mechanical rooms can also help to catch potential water entry points that can then be reported for repair.


Do: Hire a Reputable Roofing Contractor to Investigate and Repair Roof Leaks

To ensure leaks are being accurately diagnosed and repaired, always hire a qualified and reputable roofing contractor to investigate them. With an abundance of roofing contractors throughout Southern Ontario, you want to make sure the company you contact is experienced, trustworthy, and has a proven history of exceptional service.

Confirming the company you contract is well-versed in the roof system at your building can also make the difference between quality of repair. Some roofing companies specialize in one specific type of roofing, like sloped shingled roofs or single ply roof systems. If they are not familiar with other roof types, the likelihood of poor workmanship and incompatible materials is greater.

Never be afraid to ask qualifying questions, see previous work examples or seek out peer reviews before hiring a contractor.


Don’t: Hold Off on Resolving a Leak


If a known leak occurrence is not addressed, it will only become worse over time. No matter what time of year it is or what other projects are occurring at the building, it is important to report a leak right away to mitigate further damages. During the winter months is when we encounter the most hesitation related to handling leaks, but this time is also when we experience prolonged wet weather from snow and ice accumulation, subsequent melt, and rain during milder periods. Waiting until spring will only allow the leak to persist and cause more harm.

By hiring a reputable roofing contractor, you can ensure that safety, manufacturer guidelines, and best practices for winter are all being strictly followed when addressing a leak or any other roofing matters. At the very least, the leak can be investigated, and temporary repairs applied to prevent further water infiltration until permanent repairs can be completed.


Do: Complete Routine Inspections & Preventative Maintenance


There is no way to predict when and where leaks will happen but completing routine roof inspections and conducting preventative repair and maintenance recommendations provides the best chance to reduce their presence. The goal of preventative roof maintenance, like maintenance in any other area, is to extend the serviceable life of the system and ensure it will perform as well as possible for as long as possible. During regular inspections, areas that are showing signs of deterioration or that have been damaged by natural elements or man-made occurrences can be identified and addressed. If inspections are happening often enough, this can help to catch defects that may otherwise cause a leak.

Items to look for include, blocked or inadequate drainage, deteriorated sealants, membrane, or shingle damages, missing or damaged roof flashing, loose or detached metal, loss of UV protective granules, rust on metal surfaces and gas lines, heavy debris build-up, natural vegetation growth, displaced gravel on inverted roof systems, and more.


Don’t: Complete Interior Repairs Before the Confirmed Resolution of a Leak


The last thing you want is to spend money on interior repairs only for a leak to continue and negate those repairs. Before completing interior remediation, ensure the recommended roof repairs have been completed and have stopped the leak. When first reporting a leak, it is helpful to note if it has been active at any point and what type of weather occurrence was happening when it was. If the leak only occurred when it was pouring rain, when rain was wind-driven, in the days following rainfall, or when it was extremely cold, waiting for that particular weather to take place again is recommended before completing interior repairs.


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