How to Fix Your Leaking Ceiling

woman holding out a bucket to stop a roof leak
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In addition to being an eyesore, leaking ceilings can cause major problems around your home. Here’s how to identify and stop your ceiling leaks.

Spotting Your Leak

Wet flooring and brown or dark-colored splotches on your ceiling are common signs of a leak. Leaking ceilings can also cause bubbling paint and wet walls. If you notice any of these signs, address the problem immediately. Ignoring leaks can lead to structural damage and mold and mildew growth.

Identifying Your Leak’s Source

The source of your leak will determine how you fix it. Unfortunately, finding the location of your leak isn’t always easy. Water can travel considerable distances before eventually pooling and dripping. Here are three clues that will help you pinpoint the origin of your leak.

  1. Leak Frequency: Drip frequency is a good indicator of your leak’s location. Dripping that coincides with rain is usually a sign of a leaking roof. If you notice a steady flow of water, your leak is likely plumbing-related.
  2. Leak Color: The color of the water dripping from your ceiling will also help you identify the location of your leak. Dirty or brown water is usually a sign of a leaking roof. Water making its way into your home from your roof picks up dirt and other impurities along the way. Clear dripping is usually the sign of an interior plumbing leak. Water leaking from pipes won’t attract as much dirt and grime.
  1. Insulation Dryness: Attic insulation will also help you identify the source of your leak. Gain access to your attic and feel the top of the insulation covering the leaking portion of your ceiling. If it’s dry, your leak is below your insulation. Remove the insulation and look for moisture or signs of damage. If the top of the insulation is wet, the leak is likely located above your insulation in the roof or wall. 

    Fixing Your Leak

    Once you know the general location of your leak, it’s time to find the exact source and fix it. Here’s how:

    • Roof Leaks 
      Begin by looking for obvious signs of roof deterioration. Use a wire to mark any holes or cracks so you can find them on the outside of your roof. This will help you identify the affected portion of your roof during repairs. If there’s no obvious damage, inspect your attic ceilings and walls for water stains or trails. Trace any sign of running water back to its source and mark the area. If there is no visible damage, the cause of your leak is likely due to a problem with your flashing, shingles or vent gaskets. Gain access to your roof and inspect the leaking area. Replace any damaged or deteriorated areas. Sometimes plugging roof leaks isn’t DIY-able. Leaks in unusual locations or related to major structural damage are best left to the pros. Tackling major repairs can cause additional leaks and threaten the safety of your home.
    • Plumbing Leaks
      Your home is filled with pipes, which can make pinpointing the source of your plumbing leak difficult. Here’s a quick look at the most common sources of plumbing leaks and how to fix them.

    Bathroom Fixtures

    If your leak is directly below your bathroom, plumbing fixtures like toilets and showers are likely to blame.

    Survey your bathroom to identify your fixtures’ drains in relation to your leak. Mark off the affected portion of your ceiling and remove it to get a better look at your leak. Be sure to avoid cutting into joists, wires and other pipes. Remove the damaged dry wall section and look for signs of leakage. Water damage should be centered around the faulty fixture. To double check, recreate the leak by running your shower or toilet and then inspecting the open ceiling for leaks. If you see water dripping, you’ve identified the source of your leak. Here’s how to repair leaking bathroom fixtures.          

    • Bathtub Leaks
      Begin by checking your bathtub or shower insert for cracks. If you don’t notice any damage, run your bath or shower and inspect your ceiling leak. If you see drips, you’re likely suffering from a faulty drain gasket. Remove your old shower drain (most unscrew with a tub tool or channel-lock pliers) and inspect your gasket. If your drain’s gasket is old or missing, replace it with a new one. You can also use plumber’s putty to create a seal if you don’t have a gasket replacement. Call a pro if the leak persists. This could be the sign of a more serious plumbing problem.
    • Shower Leaks
      Spray water along your shower door and examine your ceiling. Dripping water will confirm a faulty shower door seal. Install a shower door sweep—most designs snap onto your door—and run silicone caulk along the base of your shower. If your sliding shower door track is leaking, run a line of caulk along its base. Call a pro if your leaks continue. This could be the sign of further plumbing issues.
    • Toilet Leaks
      Toilets use a wax seal to connect your toilet to your home’s plumbing system. Over time, these seals can age or break due to a loose toilet. To check your seal, flush your toilet and then examine your ceiling. If you see a leak, you could have a bad seal. Replace your wax seal to eliminate your leak. Call a pro if you continue to have leaks. Sometimes this is a sign of other plumbing problems.

    Water Lines

    Your home’s plumbing lines can corrode or break and cause leaks. If your leak isn’t below any major appliance or fixture, it’s likely the result of a faulty pipe. Remove the affected drywall to gain access to the affected area. It’s best to use a small, handheld saw to clear away wet drywall. Larger saws can damage wiring and other piping. Inspect the piping for obvious signs of damage once the wet drywall is removed. Water can run along joists, pipes and wires, so you may have to search for the source. Once you find the faulty piping, remove the damaged section with a general pipe cutter. Be sure the blades are rated for your piping’s material. Measure and install your new section of piping. If you’re replacing a copper pipe, be prepared to solder. Soldering requires working with flammable materials. If you’re unsure how to perform this task, call a pro. Soldering mistakes can lead to fires, serious burns and additional leaks.