Why Your Roof Is Leaking in the Winter (And How to Prevent It)

It’s wintertime, and the temperatures are dropping rapidly.

In addition to drafty rooms, slick driveways and bursting pipes, you also have another issue to contend with: a wet roof.

You want to think that your shingles will hold up against ice, sleet, and snow. However, the reality is that even the most well-built roofs can fall victim to the damage that extreme winter weather can hurl at our properties.

Did you recently notice that your roof is leaking? If so, you aren’t alone. Homeowners across the country contend with this issue, but you don’t have to simply grab a bucket and suffer through it. 

Today, we’re sharing a few reasons why you might be in this predicament, and a few ways you can prevent it from happening in the future. We’ll also cover how our team can help keep your interior nice and dry all winter long!

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.

Sources of Winter Roof Leaks

Notice your roof crying over the cold? There are a few reasons why this might be the case. Let’s take a look at the most common culprits.

Ice Dams

By far, a majority of roofing leaks can be traced back to ice dams.

In short, an ice dam is a thick ridge of ice that forms along the eaves of your roof when heavy winter precipitation hits. As the buildup accumulates, it can compromise your gutters and cause your roof to leak.

How do they form?

When your home is hit by snowfall, it doesn’t take long before it begins to pile up on your roof. At the same time, you’re likely pumping the heat indoors to stay warm. As that heat rises, it can seep out through your roof. This heats the roof and makes it warmer than the outside air.

In response, the bottom layer of the rooftop snow will begin to melt. If your roof is sloped, that melted snow will trickle down the sides. The only problem? It soon reaches the edges of your roof. Here, the snow is colder, because it sits outside of your home’s perimeter, unwarmed by inside air. 

Thus, when that melting snow reaches the outside edges of your roof, it stays there and freezes. Over time, this causes a dam to build up. As melted snow continues to travel to this spot, it becomes trapped by the dam and seeps beneath your shingles. Once this happens, it doesn’t take long before the runoff enters your attic, insulation, and exterior walls. All of this activity can compromise your home’s structure and encourage rot, eventually damaging your sheetrock and paint. 

Before long, the water has seeped into your interior walls and down your ceilings. This leads to visible staining and unsightly leakage, not to mention dangerous mold and compromised air quality.

Poor Attic Insulation

If you have a roof leaking in winter and it’s not caused by an ice dam, your attic insulation could be to blame. The conditions that lead to an ice dam can also create extra condensation in your attic, as well. If your attic insulation isn’t up to par, too much warm air could enter that space.

If it’s allowed to travel upward and enter your attic, you’ll experience excessive condensation as a result. That’s because heat from your warm living room turns into water vapor as it travels upward. If it collects in your attic, it will create huge, harmful droplets as it cools. As these fall on your attic’s wooden surfaces, they can cause your roofing beams to slowly rot.

In addition to encouraging the growth of hazardous mold, this also causes your roof to sag over time, leading to a leaky roof that might appear to come out of nowhere.

Exhaust Vent Condensation

Your home’s exhaust fans are designed to remove high levels of moisture from rooms that tend to stay damp, including your bathroom. They work by transferring that moist air to the exterior of your home. 

The only problem? Your bathroom exhaust fan likely terminates in your attic.

If your attic is unheated, that moist air could turn into frost as it travels through your bath vent duct. As it melts, it can seep through into the ceiling and create what appears to be a roof leak.

Low-Slope Roof

When winter precipitation hits a home with a regular or high-pitched roof, it’s able to move freely downward toward the outside of the house as it melts. However, a low-slope roof can encourage water buildup, rather than a downward flow.

As a result, the water remains stagnant, which can damage shingles and cause moisture to seep through the roof and into interior walls. Low-sloped roofs tend to have inferior draining capabilities, which causes them to develop leaks faster than others, especially during particularly wet seasons. 

Structural Water Damage

There’s a chance that the roofing leaks you’re seeing can be traced back to structural water damage that has compromised your roof’s shingles and trusses. When water isn’t allowed to fall away from your roof, it can collect and damage both the outside and inside of your property.

This is why it’s important to schedule routine roofing maintenance checks on a regular basis. You might not be able to see the signs of such water damage at first, but a professional can discern them immediately and inform you of the next steps to take.

Clogged Gutters

The purpose of your rain gutters is to move water away from your home.

Are yours clogged with leaves, dirt or other debris? If so, it’s time to clean them out immediately. When water is allowed to stay in them for too long, it can lead to rust. This can damage your roof and lead to costly, hazardous leaks. 

Clogged gutters also encourage water to sit on top of your roof for too long. In response, the structure will eventually give way, causing water to drip from your ceiling. 

Fixing the Damage

Have you determined the cause of leaking roof woes in your household?

If so, it’s time to call in a team of roofing professionals to assess and fix the damage. Here are a few of the services you can request.

Removing Ice Dams 

If your leaks are caused by an ice dam, it can be tempting to attempt to remove them yourself. However, this is a job best left to the experts. The steamers and other heavy-duty equipment required to eliminate the dam can be dangerous for the untrained.

Fixing the Roof

Is structural water damage the problem? If so, a roofing team can fix the issues that are responsible for your leaks. This might include repairing missing shingles or completely replacing ones that are compromised.

Properly Insulating Attic

Warm air traveling up to your attic and then condensing can be a major problem.

However, a professional roofer can add extra insulation in this space to ward off excess moisture, starting by sealing off all air leaks. Blown-in insulation can fill the area tightly without leaving gaps or holes around pipes, beams and other structures. 

How to Prevent Winter Roof Leaks Before They Occur

You’re now on the lookout for winter roofing leaks but so far, you don’t notice any. That doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. Such leaks can occur at any time, often without warning. Let’s explore a few ways you can prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Check for Water Damage

Make it a point to routinely check your roof and all the areas around it for any signs of water damage. In addition to searching for the obvious signs of worn-out shingles and rot, you should also double-check all of the seals around your chimney and plumbing vents.

Got skylights? Don’t forget to check the seals around those, too.

Install a Drip Edge

Could a metal sheet solve your roofing woes?

A drip edge is a sheet of metal, usually shaped like an “L”. It fits along the perimeter of your roof to prevent ice dams from forming. As runoff water hits it, the drip edge directs it away from the fascia and into your gutters. If ice dams are your wintertime foe, this simple step could make a major difference.

Clean Your Gutters

Don’t simply assume that your gutters are clean and clear.

While it might be a menial task, it’s important to check them frequently and remove any build-up you see. This will keep them functioning at top capacity and help prevent excess debris from clogging them and rendering them ineffective.

Check Your Attic Regularly

As mentioned, your first sign of a roof leak might be a stain on your ceiling that wasn’t there yesterday. Issues that originate in your attic are especially hard to find, as you likely don’t spend much time up there.

Especially during the wintertime, keep a close eye on yours. Check it often for mold, wet insulation, and any other inclination that your attic could be harboring excess moisture and condensation. 

Address Weak Spots on Your Roof

Worn, weak or missing shingles don’t just look unattractive and lower your curb appeal. They can also allow precipitation to enter your roof more directly, rather than shielding your interior.

At the very first sign of a compromised roofing area, go ahead and call in the professionals. Time is of the essence and it’s important to act quickly to minimize any damage.

If Your Roof is Leaking, We’ve Got Answers

You’re already chilled to the bone the second you step outdoors. Now, your roof is leaking on top of everything else.

Not to fear! We’ve seen situations just like yours before and we’re ready to help.

We’re a team of qualified, experienced roofing experts skilled in every facet of the industry, from initial installation to ongoing maintenance and repair services. Fill out our contact form today to get a quote, and start welcoming winter, not dreading it.

T. Simpson

Originally founded by a 16-year-old Tony Simpson as a way of acquiring funds to help pay his way through university, T. Simpson Roofing, propelled by Tony’s strong work ethic and commitment to delivering quality work and unbeatable customer service, quickly grew into a thriving business.