Patches and tarps and caulk, oh my?
October 28, 2009 9:58 AM   Subscribe

How can I implement a temporary fix for a leaking roof?

I've had various water issues with my 37-year-old house since I bought it nearly 5 1/2 years ago. The first was water running down the wall of the basement when it rained, which was resolved by replacing all the gutters and installing gutter screens (others were indoor plumbing issues and not relevant to this). I thought this might have resolved the problem causing water damage to the bathroom ceiling at the outside wall as well, but it has not. The damage increased so slightly as to be unclear whether it was new damage or not until the last several weeks and tremendous amounts of rain we've gotten in the Atlanta area. It's now clear that there is additional water coming in and causing further damage.

I cannot afford to hire a roofer right now. I expect to be able to do so in 3 months or so, and only need a fix to last about that long. I'm also likely going to need to have the bathroom ceiling replaced. My roof is shingled and sloped, 2 storeys from the ground at that point, and I have attic access and a ladder. I've read the responses to AskMes and found this question and that to be somewhat relevant. I do not want to put a tarp on the outside of my roof, but would be willing to put one in my attic (and then what?) if that would help. I'm smewhat comfortable making modest home repairs, but I don't have any great experience or expertise.

What is the best way for me to temporarily forestall further damage without a big cash outlay or anything that takes a great deal of know-how?
posted by notashroom to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The first thing to do would be to get on the roof, if you're comfortable doing that, and look for damaged or missing shingles. You might luck out and find some that are peeled up or a dislodged flashing or something. If you have no luck there, check the attic to see if you can find out where the rain is coming in. The problem is that where it comes into the house often is completely different from where the defect is. However, it's probably going to be difficult, if not impossible to fix anything from the inside.

Roof leaks are one of those things that can really destroy your house. If there's any way possible to have a roofer in sooner, I'd try to make that happen.
posted by electroboy at 10:36 AM on October 28, 2009

I strongly suggest putting a tarp on your roof until the roofer can repair the leak. I'm undergoing this same problem and, after finding the damaged area of the roof, every roofer I've spoken to has said the same thing: do what you must to prevent the leak until you can get the area repaired.

The simplest way is to affix a tarp so that the rain streams past the affected area, meaning you should start the tarp at the peak and cover the roof past the damaged part. If you don't start at the peak, there is a chance that rain will stream under the tarp.

What you don't want is to get water damage to your roof beams, as that can lead to serious problems in the future. ( Living in Atlanta you may not have to worry about snow load on your roof, but your roof is not something you want to be compromised structurally). I bit the bullet and have decided to upgrade to steel shingles ( I get a lot of wind, so I'm constantly having to replace shingles every year)
posted by Isosceles at 10:57 AM on October 28, 2009

Call a roofer and ask how much they'd charge to come out and give you an estimate. They may even do it for free, but if they have to spend some time finding the leak they'll probably want to charge you for it. If it's something simple they may be able to fix it on the spot. Or they can tell you what it will cost so that you can plan, and they can also tell you how they would keep it from getting worse until it was fixed. They've seen all of this stuff before and that's going to be your best option. (I understand the not wanting to make a huge cash outlay, and especially understand not being able to, if you don't have the cash. I've been there. And I just spent $2700 last week to fix the water and gas lines to the house and that hurt our budget really, really bad. But this is something that can cost you many, many times over if you don't get it stopped.)
posted by azpenguin at 11:02 AM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: google-fu to the rescue...

I could'a tried to describe this, but it's better to find the work someone else has done/ described on the web already:

Here's some info:

using roof patching tar on outside (requires ladder - might have to rent one)

This is the product I've used before, didn't really peruse the site for "how to" info... might be some there?

Here's an aerosol version... *might* work for a bit?

and it looks like this forum might be a good place to learn about roofing and maybe get some help, suggestions, etc.

As far as my experience... you really need to repair the leak from *on the roof* If I were in a bind and needed to repair this quickly and cheaply, I'd go into the attic... try to locate the place where the water comes in... drive a screw or nail at that point right through the roof from inside to outside - to mark the spot, then go onto roof (borrow or rent a ladder, wear grippy sneakers, maybe even use a long rope thrown over the house to other side - and tied off - if need be) and patch a giant area around and over the nail/screw I'd driven through (remove it). btw... don't wear ANYTHING you ever want to see again when you patch the roof using the tar... this stuff stick to everything and it's terrible to get off of you (use goop or gojo hand cleaner)... and use gloves (maybe have a spare pair).


good luck.
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 12:20 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've temporarily fixed leaks by going up on the roof with a bucket of roof tar, and spreading it around the suspected area liberally.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:08 PM on October 28, 2009

Nthing everyone else - you've got to fix it from outside. Unfortunately, if you've got a 37-year-old house with it's original shingles, in Atlanta, then that roof is seriously toast; it may be in such bad condition that it's difficult to find the leak amongst so many cracking, worn-out shingles.

Also nthing that this can do a lot of damage fast, and that delay in fixing it will only make the eventual repairs more expensive. If you can borrow the money to get the whole roof redone sooner rather than later, you'll come out ahead.
posted by jon1270 at 1:51 PM on October 28, 2009

Question - are the two floors the same size? Or do you have a large lower floor and smaller upper floor? Your problem might be along a wall or window just above the leak where the two floors meet.
posted by tilde at 2:13 PM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: I agree that a 37-year old roof is likely to leak anywhere, but the weakest part is the vent pipe penetrations. If you're comfortable going up on the roof, check is the seals around the vent pipes, pictured here. I haven't repaired mine yet, but here is a brief description.

I haven't tried this either, but someone told me a temporary fix is to go in the attic, staple plastic all around the vent pipe and duct-tape it to the pipe, making a hanging bag all around the vent pipe. This will work for a small leak, but if too much water comes in, make a hole in the bag and put a bucket under it. Naturally you have to support the bucket from the joists, not the sheetrock, and keep it emptied.
posted by one at 4:02 PM on October 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all. There's a lot of great information here. I meant to mention that I do not know the age of the roof, and it's possible that it's the original. Tilde, it's a standard ranch house with full basement, daylight basement in the back, not a split level. I think I'm going to try the tar patch on the roof and see if I can make that work. I know it's advisable to hire a pro roofer ASAP and I'd do it right now if it were an option. Unfortunately, it's not, but fortunately I do know of a couple of reliable local roofers who do good work so I know who to call when I can. I appreciate everyone's input.
posted by notashroom at 5:05 PM on October 28, 2009

One note about roofing tar (which I've used -- along with fiberglass mesh -- with great success for permanent sealing around my roof-mounted A/C units and chimney) is that it is THE FILTHIEST SUBSTANCE KNOWN TO MANKIND! Seriously, it will get all over your clothes and hands, so wear some crappy gloves and clothes that you can throw away afterwards. I got just a little of that crap on an old pair of jeans and tried to wash them, and it got all over the inside of my washer.

Comes off easily with solvent, but still -- be prepared!
posted by coolguymichael at 5:34 PM on October 28, 2009

i would just like to add that i spent 6 months with tarps all over my roof (my husband put them up in desperation during a particularly heavy rain). we are now using roofing tar to patch areas around vents and seams. i was pretty annoyed by the tarps at first, but honestly it's better than the alternative. embrace it! we were the shanty-town tarp house. thank god we had such a fully-loaded tarp supply from our burning man expeditions.
posted by apostrophe at 9:11 PM on October 28, 2009

Response by poster: I'm starting to get the idea that applying roofing tar will be a messy task. ;) Thanks, y'all. I will be sure to get Goop or mineral spirits or such and wear clothes I'm willing to just toss.
posted by notashroom at 6:34 AM on October 29, 2009

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