Do Stains on Your Ceiling or Drips From a Bathroom Vent Mean Your Roof Is Leaking? How to Find Out

During the winter in Canada (January/February), and especially around mountainous areas like Calgary, Alberta, temperatures can change radically in a short period of time. When warm weather follows quickly after a severe cold snap, homeowners will often call our roofing company to report that their roof has suddenly started leaking, or their bathroom vent is leaking, or that water has been collecting in their light fixtures. If you have encountered similar issues or have noticed brown stains forming on your ceiling it may not be your roof that is the problem. Before assuming that a roof replacement or repair bill is looming, take the following steps to see if it is your really your roof that is leaking.

How to tell if your roof is really leaking or if the problem is elsewhere:

– Look for something like a trapdoor in the ceiling of the uppermost storey of your home

– Get a ladder and a flashlight and set up the ladder so that you can safely reach the trap door (be sure to take your flashlight with you)

– Climb the ladder and carefully lift and move the trapdoor (usually a light plywood panel)

– Poke your head up into your attic and using your flashlight examine the underside of the roof (a.k.a the roof deck) as well as the vapour barrier (usually clear plastic) under the insulation in your attic.

– Check for frost or icicles on the underside of the roof or signs of melting, including puddles of water on the vapour barrier under the insulation in your attic. If you see any of those signs then the problem may not be your roof but improper attic ventilation or attic insulation.

Your roof may not be the problem. It could be…

1) CONDENSATION IN YOUR ATTIC – When we get a cold snap in the winter – and we seem to be getting more of them in Calgary – we tend to turn up the furnace. If there are gaps or tears in the vapour barrier above the insulation in your attic the heat from our homes will escape into the attic and hit the underside of the freezing cold roof deck. Condensation results and then quickly freezes. When it warms up in a hurry, the frost or icicles melt and the water drips down through any gap it finds in the attic vapour barrier. Often those gaps or holes can be found around – you guessed it – around vents or the wiring for light fixtures. To minimize condensation issues in your attic you may need to review and modify your attic ventilation system. The solution may be as simple as installing a couple of extra roof vents and checking your soffits to make sure they are not covered with insulation – much cheaper than replacing or repairing your roof. Call a trusted local contractor, share what you have found and ask for advice. Your knowledge of the situation will indicate to the contractor that you have done your research. You may never prevent the problem altogether – weather conditions can be unpredictably harsh – but you can certainly minimize the problem.

2) CONDENSATION IN YOUR VENT PIPES – If the leaking is by, or from, your bathroom (or kitchen) fan it may be that condensation has formed inside the vent pipe for your exhaust fan and frosted up. When it warms up, the frost that has formed inside your vent pipe will melt and pour down into your bathroom (or kitchen, as the case may be). To minimize condensation issues in your vent pipes, you will want to discuss with a trusted local contractor how to reconfigure your vent pipes to minimize direct contact between the cold air (or sometimes snow) blowing in from outside and the warm air being blown out by your exhaust fan. You will also want to ensure that

If you do NOT note any of the symptoms listed above, it will be worthwhile to call a trusted local roofing contractor. A thorough inspection may reveal actual problems with your roof, but conducting the above check will help you feel more confident and informed when discussing the situation with your contractor.