Water, water everywhere.
April 9, 2016 12:10 PM   Subscribe

We have a leak somewhere above our garage, and nobody seems to be able to figure out where it is coming from. I've heard a few stories from different contractors, but I'm clueless when it comes to home improvement and I don't know how to tell what to actually believe. Help?

When we moved into our house (built in 2007) three years ago, our home inspector spotted evidence that there had been a leak in the roof above the garage. The tell-tale signs were new drywall in the ceiling, and what he described as "excessive caulking" around the flashing above the garage. The people we bought from told us that this was indeed the case, and that the builder had come back and fixed the issue.

After we'd been in the house for a couple of years, we noticed some black spotting in the ceiling of the garage, in the new drywall. Clearly the leak was back. We brought in a contractor, who said the problem was that there was a piece of trim missing above the window that was directly above where the leak was. (The roof of the garage juts out a few feet in front of the rest of the house, where the window is.) He came in, made some repairs at no small cost to us, and we thought we'd finally solved the problem.

Then we got some heavy rainfall and the leak was back and worse than ever. We brought the contractor back and now he says the window itself is to blame. He said the window is slanted slightly toward the house and this is causing water to pool on the sill; the water is then dripping down through the screw holes in the window and eventually into the garage. He wants to replace the entire window and told us we're looking at as much s $2500 to do it, and it will take a month to order the window. In the meantime, he'll caulk the window shut to stop any more water from getting in.

I don't fully trust this guy now because

1) I think he misdiagnosed the problem the first time, but is telling me that the stuff he fixed was "contributing" to the leak; and
2) When I told him we were going to sell our house, he suggested we just cover everything up, caulk the window shut (to prevent any more water from coming in), and not tell anybody.

I had another contractor come through and he said it's possible that it's the window but he can't really tell until he sees it in the rain. That said, he said he said that even if that was the case, we wouldn't see as much water as we did. We had a mould remediation guy come in and he said in his inexpert opinion it was probably the soffits, just based on other similar situations he's seen. We have a few other people slated to come in; one told me that he doesn't think it sounds right to replace the whole window.

I know very little about this sort of thing, only that I desperately want to feel confident that we can resolve this situation and stop the leak.

Any ideas? Any tips on making sure that the next person we get to fix this actually fixes it properly?
posted by synecdoche to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know exactly how you feel! We spent a good chunk of money fixing a mysterious window leak last summer that just reappeared after the first hard rain on that side of the house this spring. This time we are paying for a roofer to come and check everything out and give us an opinion on what it could be, if it's not the roof.

One thing you can try is have someone stand inside next to the window while you spray various candidates with a hose. Spray, wait a bit, if there's no water intrusion after a few minutes move onto the next possibility. It'll be tedious, but you'll be able to narrow down the possibilities. We're going to be doing this tomorrow assuming the weather cooperates.
posted by zrail at 12:23 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you have neighbors that have a similar style house build by the same builder? You may find that one of them has already solved a similar problem w/ the window in question...
posted by NoDef at 12:26 PM on April 9, 2016

Leaks are tricky because the actual problem can be a long way from the visible drip. Chasing it down during a rain storm is the best option, though difficult to arrange.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:46 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

This guy doesn't sound very competent. I'd think any slight slant of the window would easily be remedied with some shims, so it isn't clear why you'd need a whole new window. Even then, unless this is a pretty fancy and huge window, it shouldn't cost $2500 to replace, even with labour.

Get the next person who comes in to come while it is raining or just after. Give them license to rip out drywall and cut everything open until they find the source of the leak. Sometimes you need to cut things open to figure out where the water is coming from, because it can travel a very long way.

If you post some photos of the inside and outside here, maybe people can offer suggestions on areas to check out.
posted by ssg at 12:54 PM on April 9, 2016

Oh I feel for you. First, my gut instinct would be to trust the mold remediation dude. These guys make a living fixing mold issues and they've seen a lot more water-related problems than most general contractors.

And second, I concur with Zrail about having someone spray the water where you suspect it might be leaking and then have someone assess on the inside if water is coming in as a result, and to keep testing different spots until you find the problem area. I had to do this for a brand new restoration on my house -- we found the exact site of the leak this way. We heavily caulked with water proofing material (it's important to use the right stuff!), let it dry out, replaced the dry wall, and that was that.

Water leaks are a pain in the royal butt. Try to help yourself as much as possible by attempting to determine where the leak is.
posted by zagyzebra at 1:02 PM on April 9, 2016

Due to #2 point, I'd never use that contractor again.
It's worth it to bring in a couple more estimates, have contractors guarantee solution (for agreed amount of time), then decide on contractor/price.
posted by artdrectr at 1:40 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

What's stopping you from getting into the space above the garage ceiling during a heavy rain and seeing directly where the water is coming from? If there were no access hatch I'd be cutting a hole in the drywall where the damage is (which you'll be having to fix anyhow so no great loss) and looking around with a flashlight. If you aren't into doing such work yourself, tell the next contractor you work with to bring a drywall saw and utility knife with him when he comes to do an estimate.
posted by jon1270 at 5:47 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Spraying things with a hose may give you false positives. If you are spraying from below, you may end up shooting water into weep holes and vents that are supposed to be there and do not present a problem when the water is coming from above.

I feel for you OP- we are finally going to be able to repair the area around our chimney this year after a two-year, multiple contractor, multi thousand dollar struggle to finally get water to stop leaking in around our chimney.
posted by rockindata at 6:34 PM on April 9, 2016

Thank you for all your advice everyone. We had a handyman who has done the odd job for us over today and he took a look. When I told him what the contractor said and he was pretty skeptical of the need to replace the whole window. He cut a whole in the ceiling drywall and spent some time on the roof and spotted what he thought was the issue. He did some caulking and we'll see if it does solve the problem (at a small fraction of what we were quoted by the contractor). We're due for some light rain overnight and tomorrow so we may find out soon.
posted by synecdoche at 11:12 AM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

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