Fixing a roof leak on an asphalt shingle roof isn’t difficult. But it can be intimidating. Fact is, you can fix most roof leaks yourself with just some basic building materials: Roofing caulk, a new roof vent or plumbing boot and flashing, roofing nails, a new shingle and a few pieces of flat flashing. Fixing the roof leak, however, is the easiest part of the job. But first you have to decide if you feel comfortable climbing up a tall ladder and walking and kneeling on a hot or steep roof. It’s a gut-check job even in good weather. And you shouldn’t even consider doing it yourself if you’re not willing to rent or buy the proper safety gear. You’ll need:
- An extension ladder that extends at least 3′ taller than the eaves you plan to access your roof from
- A safety harness (these run about $250)
- Several roof brackets (also known as toeholds or roof jacks, $10 each) and 2×6 planks to set across the brackets
- Soft-soled shoes (not tennis or running shoes)
- OLFA 18mm L-1 Snap Blade Utility Knife
- Hand tools, a tool belt and a bucket
Now that you have all your tools and materials, let’s get to work:
CHECK THE WEATHER
Working on a wet roof is the best way to wind up in the ER, so put off roof repairs until you have clear skies with little to no wind and no rain in the forecast. Work in the morning after the dew has dried and the shingles are still fairly cool (walking on a hot roof is not only dangerous for you, it can damage the shingles).
THEN SET UP YOUR GEAR
Set the extension ladder on firm level ground (add plywood pieces under one foot to level it on uneven surfaces) and extend it 3′ above the gutter line. Secure the base of the ladder with rope and stakes to prevent movement. Then tie the top of the ladder to the chimney or to a 20d nail pounded into a rafter.
Next, secure the roof brackets by prying up a shingle and secure the brackets to the rafters (not the roof decking) with screws. Lay in the 2×6 planks into the brackets and secure with screws.
Then climb into the safety harness and find a secure tie-off point on the roof. Once the harness is secured, sweep the roof gently with a push broom to remove loose granules and debris from the working area.
Load all your tools into a bucket and hoist it onto the roof. Secure the bucket to an anchor point near your work area. If it falls, that means a trip back down to collect your tools.
SCOUT OUT THE LEAK
You can find many roof leaks simply by examining the shingles above the drip marks on your ceiling. Corroded chimney flashing; deteriorated plumbing, bath and roof vents; and areas where the roof meets vertical surfaces are the most common leak points, as are holes left from old satellite dishes or TV antennas. If you can’t find an obvious leak, pop the attic access panel and look for water stains on the rafters or decking. Follow the stains back to their starting point. If you can’t spot the leak from the attic (or don’t have an attic access), have a friend scout the attic while you soak the suspected areas with a garden hose. Once located, let the water dry and start the repair.
HOW TO REPLACE A LEAKING ROOF OR PLUMBING VENT
- Pry up the roofing nails at the bottom of the old flashing.
- Push the flat end of a pry bar or long blade putty knife under the shingles covering the top portion of the vent. Then lift gently to separate the shingle from the metal flashing.
- Remove the nails holding the top portion of the flashing and remove the vent/boot.
- Slide the new vent/boot over the vent pipe and tuck the top portion of the flashing under the shingles you pried up earlier.
- Fasten the new flashing with galvanized roofing nails.
- Apply roofing caulk to each nail head and along the bottom tabs of the shingles that were disturbed.
HOW TO REPAIR ROOF PENETRATIONS
- Push the flat end of a pry bar or long blade putty knife under the shingle(s) with penetrations and gently lift it up.
- Slide a piece of flat flashing under the lifted shingle and secure it with roofing nails. Cover the nail heads with roofing caulk and lay a bead of caulk under the shingle tab before pressing it down onto the flashing.
- Fill in the penetrations with roofing caulk.
HOW TO REPLACE A MISSING OR DAMAGED SHINGLE
- Push the flat end of a pry bar or long blade putty knife under the shingles above the missing shingle and gently lift shingle(s)p.
- Remove any remaining pieces of the damaged or missing shingle and the roofing nails.
- Slide the new shingle into place.
- Gently bend up the shingle above the new replacement to give you enough room to install new roofing nails. Then apply a thin bead of roofing caulk to the underside of the old shingle so it reseals onto the replacement shingle.
ROOFING TIPS FROM THE PROS:
- Asphalt shingles are coated with quartz granules to reflect sunlight. They’re sharp and can cut your hands. So always wear leather gloves when handling shingles.
- Cut shingles by scoring the underside with a durable knife like the OLFA 18mm Snap Blade utility knife. Then bend the shingle until it separates. Since shingles can dull a blade quickly, the heavy-duty 18mm snap-off blades can be changed quickly so you always have a sharp edge. Snap off the dull section with a pliers and toss into your tool bucket. A new blade is ready to go. It’s that easy!
- You’ll spend a lot of time kneeling on the roof, so wear cushioned kneepads with a nonslip surface or kneel on a 3″ thick piece of upholstery foam. The foam won’t slide and lets you move around freely.
- Older shingles develop algae stains that appear as dark streaks. Several cleaning products are available to remove the stains. Apply the cleaners as directed, but never use a pressure washer to clean an asphalt roof. Even at the lowest setting, the pressure can damage the shingles.