To Prevent Water Damage, Watch Trouble Spots

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Drip Detectives: What to Do About a Leak in Your Ceiling

Mar 23 2021

It’s a normal day. You’re doing chores, tackling your regular maintenance tasks, dreaming about that kitchen upgrade, or crunching numbers for upcoming bills.  

Suddenly, you notice a water stain on your ceiling. Maybe it’s just a small off-color patch or some bubbling paint. Or maybe there’s a growing puddle of water on the floor. Drip. Drip. Drip. 

Uh oh. 

No need to panic! We can help you figure out where the water’s coming from and who to call. 

Leaks have two main causes: 

  1. Broken pipes — Freezing temperatures, corrosion, and minor shifts in your home’s structure can cause pipes to leak. Sometimes, it’s simply age or poor-quality craftsmanship at the root of the problem.  
  2. Roof and siding leaks — Impact damage, harsh weather, and plant growth can cause roof leaks. Damaged flashing (the thin pieces of metal installed at the seams in your roof), old caulking or adhesives, and clogged gutters are also common causes of roof leaks. 

With that in mind, read on for the steps to take.  

First, some damage control  

Close your home’s main water shut-off. Even if the leak isn’t coming from a broken pipe, it’s best to limit damage by closing your home’s main valve — just in case. Getting to it quickly can make a huge difference in the amount of cleanup needed.  

Your main water shut-off valve is probably located in your basement, a utility closet, or beneath a sink on the side of the house that faces the street. And if you discover the leak is coming from someplace else, you can always turn the water back on!  

Pro tip: Do yourself a favor and find your main water shut-off valve before you need it in an emergency.  

Then, some detective work  

Don’t see where the leak is coming from? 

Here are some common questions and observations to try and rule out the source:  

  • What happened when you turned your main water line off? If the leak slows or stops, you probably have a broken pipe.
  • What’s the weather like outside? Windy with pouring rain? There’s a good chance it’s a roof leak. Sunny with temperatures below zero? More likely a broken pipe.
  • What does my roof look like right now? Snow, ice, plant growth, and debris can damage your roof.
  • How old is my roof?  If it’s more than 15 years old, it may be worn out. Wear and tear is a natural part of your home’s aging process. If you knew a roof replacement was on the horizon, this may be your sign.
  • What’s going on in your attic? If you can get into your attic, check the rafters and roofing for dripping water, stains, wet insulation, mold, or rot. These are sure signs of a roof leak.  

Note: Water flows to the lowest possible point, so the leak in your kitchen ceiling may be coming from the roof located above another area.   

Finally, call in a pro  

Now that you may (or may not) have an idea of what’s going on, it’s probably time to call a professional. But who should you call? (You can try the Ghostbusters, but they might not be much help in this situation.) 

If you have a home warranty, the warranty company might be your first call. Interior plumbing is usually covered. Some plans cover roof leaks. Check your service contract.

If you don’t have a home warranty, start here:

  • Roof leak — A roofer or carpenter can assess a leak in your roof. If it’s a problem with your roof cover (a missing shingle or a cracked slate) the job could be quick. If the leak caused damage to your roof’s structure (the plywood and rafters below the shingles) it may be a bigger task. Have your pro put a temporary cover over the hole and get some quotes for a repair.
  • Plumbing leak — You guessed it! Call a plumber. They’ll have the right skill set, tools, and licensing to dig into your walls and tackle the problem.
  • Not sure — There’s no reason to empty your bank account just to diagnose the problem. A carpenter or even a general repair person should be able to locate the leak, do a basic patch job, and provide some feedback about who can fix the problem.  


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