The risks of putting off repairs on a leaky roof will save the homeowner the cost of completing minor repairs to the roof in exchange for dealing with major repairs related to the water damage it causes.
What a homeowner needs to understand is that the roof protects the rest of the home; This includes the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, framing and foundation. Along with the home’s occupants, preventing animal infestations and foreign organic growth (mold, algae, mildew, rot, etc.) from finding the conditions they need to thrive.
When it is allowed to leak, it can cause problems for the home and its occupants. That’s not to say that every leak is bad, there’s a chance of it becoming bad, because an aged roof will almost always have a few leaks; Some being noticeable and others are not, that’s the reality. So it's difficult to repair them all at the end of the day.
Bearing that in mind, we are going to discuss the risks associated with a leak that’s become bad to help a homeowner see what a leaky roof is capable of doing to the home.
At roofing mission (a.k.a BulletpRoof), it's our responsibility to tell the homeowner that an aged roof is expected to leak and that the cost of repairs at some point will be more than replacing the roof to solve the problem. Except to be fair, locating whether the water damage was caused by a leaky roof or some other reason could make this decision difficult for you; Especially when the homeowner is looking for ways to make their roof last longer and the risks of not replacing an old roof.
We’ll discuss the direct and indirect risks associated with a leaky roof.
Table of Contents
Direct Risks Caused by a Leaky Roof
These are directly caused by having a leaky roof because the leak broke down the roof system; roofing, attic, gutters and ventilation. Where the damage to the roof system prevents it from insulating and protecting the home, it cascades to indirectly damage the other home’s vital systems; electrical, framing, plumbing, foundation and HVAC.
- Soak the Insulation and Reduce Energy Efficiency - Provided there is insulation in the attic, leaks can soak the insulation over time to cause it to clump up and compress (fiberglass and other popular types will do this). As the insulation becomes less capable of maintaining the temperature of the attic, while reducing the energy efficiency of the home at the same time. Causing temperatures to fluctuate instead of being moderated in the home; Meaning in winter any hot air rising into the attic will cause condensation on the underside of the roof and in the summer it will cause the attic’s temperature to rise to 150 degrees fahrenheit (65 degrees celsius). Causing water damage throughout the attic and home, and shortening the lifespan of the roof at the same time.
- Mold and Respiratory Issues - Mold given time to grow in any damp environment will spread across any surface; Whether it is the roof, attic’s framing, drywall, ceilings, floors, etc. In general, this is a toxic spore that is responsible for helping rot to set in and break down the home, as a side effect it causes respiratory issues to humans. For the elderly and babies this could prove to be fatal, otherwise those in between will fall ill to some respiratory issue or another. Worse, the HVAC system will actively carry these spores throughout the home, requiring a professional in mold remediation to complete an expensive repair; Some of the risks of poor attic ventilation.
- Assist with Shortening a Roof’s Lifespan - A small leak can use gravity to spread along the roof deck to cause leaks in other areas, making the source of the leak become more obscure as it is left alone. Causing parts of the roof to remain wet instead of dry as it should, preventing fasteners from holding them in place as they should and shortening the life of the shingles in the process.
- Misaligned or Detached Gutters - As a leak causes water damage to soften the fascia behind the gutters, its fasteners will not be able to hold its parts in alignment or will detach altogether. When this happens there will be water damage that will work its way behind the drip edge every time it rains, and the water will drain against the home and its foundation causing damage to both. Worst of it being, a flooded basement, foundation cracks, ceilings holding pools of water, etc.
- Leaking Multi Layered Roof - When a homeowner notices a leak from a multi layered shingle roof, this indicates the roof is way past due for a roof replacement. As the water and heat trapped between the shingles have already caused considerable water damage to the home’s structure before it was noticed by the homeowner; Further details, reasons not to put shingles on top of shingles and are two layers of shingles better than one.
- Weather Damage will Get Worse - When wind, rain, snow and hail occur, and the roof is already retaining moisture in the roof due to the leak. It will make it easier for the roof to sag and crack, eventually allowing water to pool in less affected areas on the roof; These pools of water will leak at some point because water is meant to run-off of the shingles so that it can dry off quickly instead of remaining wet for a long period of time; Shortening the life of shingles.
- Punctured Sealants - Weather damage will cause the sealants or flashing around the chimney, air vents, skylights, etc. to develop holes in them; Example being, a pipe boot uses a neoprene sealant that breaks down from the sun’s UV rays and general weathering, developing small cracks in the seal. This allows water and air to enter into sensitive joints on the roof, where it is able to cause more water damage than the open spaces of a roof. Some of these joints or pipes lead directly into the home, where it could damage anything.
- Damaged Roof Shingles - Shingles are designed to break down individually to make for more cost-effective repairs, when a leaky roof is left in disrepair this is actually a bad feature. As the shingles begin to peel, crack and go missing, these will non-waterproofed sections of the roof for water to reach the roof deck and do water damage over time.
Indirect Risks Caused by a Leaky Roof
Due to a leaky roof breaking down the roof system, these are the cascading effects that are affecting the rest of the home and its vital systems; electrical, plumbing, framing, foundation and HVAC. Keep in mind, these effects obscure the leaky roof as a problem.
- Electrical Short Circuits & Fire - Water from a leak is impure, containing minerals that make it a good conductor allowing it to cause sparks or shorts when it comes in contact with exposed electrical wires. Potentially damaging the electrical system (small breaker trip, damaged appliances, etc.), causing sparks to set rotten wood on fire in the attic, and/or personal injury; Further detailed in can a leaky roof cause electrical problems.
- Slip and Fall Hazard - Leaks left alone can make their way through the attic and ceiling, to drip onto the floors and pool on the floor. These pools could lead to a slip and fall for any of the home’s occupants or pets, which could result in an unexpected injury.
- Insurance Coverage May Not Be Provided - Insurance companies, their adjusters have been trained to know when a leak is new or old; whether a homeowner’s neglected their repairs based on the structural damage to the home. Which will allow them to accept or deny a claim, with expectation of higher premiums in the event of an accident.
- Roof and Home’s Framing will Weaken - A leak given enough time to cause water damage to the home’s framing will both soften the joists and allow rot to set in. Causing the roof and home’s framing to sag over time, eventually not being able to hold the weight of the home along with any rain or snow added on top of it. With a worst case scenario being a collapse or cave in of your home.
- Underlayment Shrinkage - Underlayment is the last water barrier before water reaches the roof deck, over time this underlayment shrinks and shrinks faster when exposed to air. Eventually water will leak between the empty spaces that the underlayment is no longer covering.
- Thermal Expansion in Plumbing - Due to the extreme temperatures in the home due to the lack of attic/roof insulation, the air in the room will cause the pipes to expand and shrink; Causing the pipes to crack over time, go out of misalignment, develop cracks in their seals, etc. Especially for homes with copper or metal pipes, while PVC pipes will take more time to crack at the joints leading to leaks in the plumbing.
- Damage the Furniture and Interior Decor - Leaks, moisture and the humidity in the home are not a good combination for furnishings which will absorb the water over time. Leading to discolored cabinetry, furniture with water stains, mold growing behind furnishings, etc.
- HVAC System Overworked and Lifespan Shortened - HVAC system will have to compensate for lost warm or cool air lost through the attic in the summer and winter time; As a result of the leak creating spaces for air to escape and water to enter the attic through the roof. With the extra workload, it will not be able to meet the demand of the home, continually working. Which will require constant repairs until it finally gives out, needs to be replaced; Friendly tip, if different rooms in your home are different temperatures instead of the same, this indicates this issue is currently happening.
- Ice Dam Damage is More Likely - Ice dams occur when snow melts, refreezes and blocks water behind it. It’s a serious problem as ice will enter the cracks where leaks are occurring and more easily make its way under the shingles; Peeling the shingles up, damaging the nails that hold them in place and sometimes going directly into the roof deck to do damage. Allowing for more water to drip into the attic and cause further water damage in the home.
- Toxic Fire Hazards - Previously set in mold will create toxic fumes, combined with leaks causing electrical wires to create sparks that can cause rotten framing to catch on fire. Especially dangerous as the fire rescue department will have a difficult time reaching those in danger and fumes will ignite the fire further.
Conclusion About Ignoring a Leaky Roof Repair
The risks of putting off repairs on a leaky roof, especially a bad leak can be paramount on your home and it’s occupants well-being. While going completely unnoticed by the homeowner in other cases where it sneakily causes damage to the home.
Regardless, a leaky roof on its own is an indication that a roof is aged and leaving it in disrepair will allow the roof to deteriorate faster at the end of the day. Limiting its ability to protect and insulate the home, costing the homeowner more than a minor repair in water damage to the home due to negligence. It’s not worth it.
Left long enough, a leak can make a home unlivable for its occupants making it a serious issue depending on the severity of the leak.