I am a brand new home owner with almost no experience with DIY stuff. There was a few days of significant rain and now my wife noticed some stains on our 2nd floor ceiling that we are pretty sure weren't there before. The stains aren't huge: probably about a half dozen spots that are between 2 and 10 inches in diameter. They are all localized in an area of about 2 feet square. When we bought the house a few weeks ago the inspector did not notice any problems with the roof or evidence of leaking but that was before Hurricane Irene rolled through.

I'm not really sure how to approach the problem. It has stopped raining today and looking in the attic a bit I don't see any obvious place where water came through. All of the insulation above the second floor ceiling looks dry. Should I get up on the roof and look? (A daunting proposition for someone of my skill level.) Should I just call my homeowner's insurance to start a claim process? (With $1000 deductible I'm not sure if that is the right play.) Should I wait until it rains again and go up in the attic and look for leaks? Should I just watch the stain to see if it gets worse?

  • After the first few answers I guess I'm leaning toward calling a roofer out to take a look at things. How much should I expect a roofer to charge to come out and take a look and tell me what I'm looking at? I'm leery of trying to address this myself - the roof seems like a pretty important part of the house. :-) Sep 9, 2011 at 21:30
  • Make sure your tie is straight, then step forward and extend for a handshake. Be sure you remember to smile! Don't worry, after the first few times you'll find approaching new water stains much less intimidating.
    – Doresoom
    Sep 10, 2011 at 2:15
  • On the ceiling? Then I'd probably approach from below. Sep 10, 2011 at 11:13

6 Answers 6


I have had several calls since Irene for similar problems on roofs that had previously had no leaks. As most have already said, the first step is to get up in the attic for a visual inspection. I would remove the insulation over the stained area to check for damp insulation and allow the ceiling drywall to dry completely. Look straight up over the stain area on rafters or trussed for any signs of water staining. You may get lucky and be able to trace a stain trail to the source of the leak. It is not uncommon that in a storm with wind driven rain for water to be forced uphill into a ridge vent, then track down a framing member. If this is the case, it was an isolated incident and no repair may be needed. However if the winds lifted a few shingles or damaged the seals around vent pipes etc., some simple repairs may solve the problem.

A word of caution, if you call in a professional roofer, get more than one opinion. It is very common in that trade to try to up sell uninformed home owners on a whole new roof at around $350 per 100 sq foot, rather than just offer a simple inexpensive repair. I would try to find a reputable general contractor in your area that will work with you as you learn more about home ownership and give you expert advise and recommend reputable tradesmen for roofing, plumbing, electrical etc., as needed. The best way to find such a resource is by referral from other homeowners or friends. Rarely will a really good GC advertise, as they are too busy already and get plenty of work from referrals from their customer base. Sometimes you can chat with a project pro at a local building materials center, even a Home Depot or Lowes and they may give up the names of a couple of good, well respected home maintenance general contractors.

  • this is great advice thank you. i like the idea of trying to build a relationship with a GC Sep 13, 2011 at 0:03

It's either the roof or a pipe issue. I would wait till it rains again before doing anything in terms of getting it inspected. Two reasons, if it is the rain (roof leak), then you will see it during the next rainfall. It could be, however, a pipe issue. Not all pipe issues are leaking pipes. I have seen many homeowners assume a pipe is leaking because the water spots are directly below a pipe. Sometimes condensation collects on a cold pipe and then it runs along the pipe, maybe for yards even, until it hits a joint or a bend that causes the condensation to drip.

My advice. Wait till either you feel or see that the sots are getting bigger or the next rain, which ever comes first. Then get into that attic and check it out. Be aware that not all roof leaks are obvious, look around the walls or and metal flashing or cords from the roof to the floor of the attic. Remember that it doesn't take a large amount of water to make a huge spot appear.

  • Why would there be any pipes up there? That may be a really stupid question, but I can't think of a reason. It is on the ceiling above the staircase on the highest floor of the house. Only the attic and the roof are above it. Sep 9, 2011 at 21:28
  • When I say pipes, I don't refer to a specific type. Anything in attic I would consider as a possible source for a "running" leak. It could range from ventilation tubing to enclosed electrical wiring.
    – allindal
    Sep 12, 2011 at 3:20

If you feel comfortable in the attic, then go up there and start pulling back the insulation above the ceiling and look for water damage. If you see water rings, then I'd start planning the repair process even if you wait until the next rain to verify the source. Realize that water can run a long ways before you see evidence (e.g. I'm fighting an issue in my basement that I'm sure is caused by a flashing issue on my neighbors roof). Look for anywhere that water could run along and eventually settle in this space. Pay special attention to any protrusions in the roof (various vent pipes and the ridge vent itself).

Since it's a new purchase, you should also check with your agent to see if there is anything that covers this in your contract, or if you have a warranty provided by the seller.

  • 2
    Good point about checking with the real estate agent. There might also be money in escrow for repairs to things that fail within the first x years.
    – Tester101
    Sep 9, 2011 at 20:08
  • Interesting idea about contacting my agent. I will do so, but I don't remember anything like that in my contract. Since the inspection did not note any problems with the roof it was never really raised as a concern. It is a fairly new roof. Sep 9, 2011 at 21:26
  • @jkohihepp A new roof will typically come with a warranty from the installer. Find out if that's the case and if it's transferable to you.
    – BMitch
    Sep 9, 2011 at 21:52

You need to stop the water from coming in, so you need to identify where it is coming in. If you don't feel comfortable going up on the roof you might want to call a roofer out to do it for you.

You probably do not want to file an insurance claim for something like this. It will cost you money out of pocket (and it may even end up being more than your deductible) but home insurance is there to take care of major losses not "minor" home repair and maintenance. Filing a claim for something like this will likly lead to higher premiums down the road and make it harder for you to get home insurance in the future.

If the house itself is brand new you may be able to get the builder to fix it for you.

Welcome to the joys of home ownership :)

  • Thanks for the info. The house is far from brand new. The roof is fairly new but I'm sure it is outside of any warranty. Sep 9, 2011 at 21:27

With hurricanes, you can get water being driven back up under the shingles by the wind, which can make it near impossible to identify the source of the problem from the roof.

For larger holes, you can sometimes find them by going up in the attic:

  1. black out any windows in the attic, and throw a blanket over your attic access to block light from coming in there.
  2. during the daylight, go up there and turn off the lights.
  3. cover your eyes with your hands and stare into your palms for 10 seconds.
  4. uncover your eyes, and look around to see if there are any light sources.

Odds are, this won't work for those small only occassional leaks, but you might move from bay to bay (I assume you brought a flashlight for working in the dark, but repeat the stare at your palms thing after you shut it off to force your eyes to dialate) and look around a few more times.


If you don't want to wait for a rain, have someone with a garden hose and 2-way radio go on the roof outside while you go into the attic. Stay in contact for the areas being sprayed as water travels!

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