Home Improvement

How to Repair a Leaky Roof and Live to Tell the Tale

how to fix a leaky roof

how to fix a leaky roof  (Andrew Bret Wallis)

You wake up after a rainstorm to find a puddle on your living room floor. It doesn't take a cardiothoracic surgeon to deduce that you have a leaky roof. Sure, you may know to grab a bucket, but beyond that, is this the kind of problem you can fix yourself? Yes -- provided you take plenty of safety precautions.

Here's how to repair a leaky roof.

Play it safe

First, a disclaimer: Mark Graham, vice president of Technical Services at the National Roofing Contractors Association from Illinois, says that he "never recommends anyone go up onto the roof themselves. It's too dangerous and can lead to serious injury. Let the professionals do their job."

Still determined? Then take safety precautions, particularly if your roof is sloped rather than flat.

Mark McNicholas, a field installation manager from Home Depot, suggests you "tie yourself to the roof." You can be connected to anything -- the chimney, or even a picnic table on the other side of the house -- "as long as it can support your weight in case of a fall."

Locate the leak

Your first step is to identify where the leak is coming from. According to Graham, "a literal hole in the roof is very rare and something you don't see too often."

So how do you know where the damage is? Look for cracks on your roof or shingles that look raised up, damaged, or possibly with mold around them.

McNicholas says that "over the years, the nails on shingles swell and expand from rain. This causes shingle to pry up and become cracked and damaged."

As for how to repair the problem, it's based primarily on what type of roof you have: flat or sloped.

For a flat roof…

Flat roofs rarely have shingles, which means small holes can be patched pretty easily and can be done with primer and self-adhesive patching. Here are the materials you'll need:

  • Roof primer and patching system (like Lowe's Peel & Seel)
  • Paintbrush
  • Scissors
  • Flat-roof roller


  • Brush off any loose material around the damaged area. Apply primer, overlapping it onto the undamaged sections.
  • If instructed, let the primer dry (this will depend on which one you buy). Cut off some of that self-adhesive patching and cover the hole.
  • Smooth it by pressing on the patch with the palm of your hand. After that, take your roller and smooth it even more, making sure it's a good seal. This will prevent water from creeping in through the edges.

    For a sloped roof…

    Sloped roofs usually have shingles, which complicates your fix-it job. Here are the materials you'll need to make repairs:

    • Pry bar
    • Hammer
    • Roofing nails
    • Roofing adhesive
    • Shingles


  • Lift the broken shingle, take out the nails (carefully), and remove the shingle.
  • Use a pry bar to lift up (but not completely remove) the shingles above the damaged area.
  • Cut a shingle to the proper length and slide it under the now-raised area, on top of the damage.
  • Use roofing nails to secure the newly placed shingle.
  • Put a little bit of adhesive on the head of each nail and push down to make sure the shingle is secure.

    While these are fixes you can do yourself, almost everything you do is temporary.

    McNicholas says, "No matter what you do, you need to hire a professional to make a permanent fix." Hear that, DIY'ers?