If rain penetrates your home’s roof (or if a pipe that passes through the attic or an upper floor leaks), the result is often readily apparent somewhere on the ceiling below the problem spot (though not always directly below the leak). Water drips or runs downward and eventually lands on the upper surface of the ceiling material, which is typically drywall or plaster. There it generally pools and spreads until it finds a place to continue its downward journey. With drywall, that place is often a seam between the ceiling’s panels. If the ceiling is plaster, the water usually just builds up until it saturates the surface enough to leak straight through the plaster.
The resulting damage can be pretty ugly. For starters, the dampness discolors the ceiling. And the water degrades the integrity of the ceiling material. If the dampness is allowed to remain for a few days, mold can form. So it pays to take care of the problem quickly.
If you have access above the drip, go into it and find the roof leak. Catch the leak with a bucket and mop up any standing water with rags.
If you cannot get into the area above the leak and water is dripping down from one point in the ceiling, place a bucket on the floor under the drip. Prevent the water from pooling and spreading by punching a small hole through the ceiling’s surface with a nail or an ice pick and allowing the pooled water to drain into the bucket.
If you can repair the roof to stop the leak, do so immediately. You can call an expert for repairs if you think that you cannot do it yourself.
Allow the damp spot in the ceiling to dry. Then use a narrow putty knife to remove any flaking paint or drywall. Next, see Fixing Peeling Drywall Tape and Fixing Holes in Drywall. After the repaired area dries, seal any stained area with a stain sealer, then repaint.
Troubleshooting & Repairs
Most roof leaks are hard to find because they originate away from where they show up.
Water typically comes in through through corroded or poorly sealed flashings around vents, skylights, or chimneys or along the intersections of roof planes or poorly platered ceiling or roofs.
Once water passes the roofing, it flows along the sheathing, roof rafters, or topside of ceilings until it finds a place to drip down inevitably onto your favorite piece of furniture.
Look for a roof leak during the day. Go into the attic with a bright, portable light; step only on secure framing members, never on the insulation or topside of the ceiling below, which will not support you. Start above the place where drips occurred, and work your way uproof.
Look for wetness along the framing members. Or, if the weather has been dry for a while, look for water marks, stains, or discolorations on the wood made by dampness. Then switch off the light and try to find a hole where daylight shows through the roof. If it’s still raining, put a bucket under the leak in an area that is properly supported.