Common Causes of Winter Roof Leaks and How to Fix Them

February 28, 2024

what causes a roof to leak

Winter’s a magical time full of snowmen, hot cocoa, and holiday cheer. But unfortunately, your roof doesn’t feel the same way about cold weather. Snow, icicles, and frost can make a bad roof a whole lot worse - think damaged shingles, torn gutters, and leaks.

On average, Sparks, NV gets 19 inches of snow each year. Most homeowners in the area know that winter roof leaks are all too common. They’re sneaky, disruptive, and, nine times out of ten, incredibly expensive to fix.

What’s more, water from a roof leak can make its way down to your home’s foundation and inflict serious structural damage.

But what causes a roof to leak in the winter? And how do you fix it?

In this post, we’re going to provide some answers - and how you can prevent roof leaks in the future. Let’s dive into the most common causes of winter roof leaks – and what to do about them.

What Causes Winter Roof Leaks?

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen signs of water damage around your home. Or maybe, you’re just being cautious and want to learn how to prevent leaks before they become a problem.

Either way, here are the ten most common culprits behind wintertime roof leaks.

Ice Dams

By far, many winter roof leaks can be traced back to ice dams. An ice dam is a thick ridge of ice that forms along the eaves of your roof. As the ice accumulates, it can force its way back up through the shingles, soffit, vents, or anywhere else it can find an out.

Icicles are a tell-tale indicator of ice dams, so if you see them, it’s time to call a Sparks roofing contractor immediately. Ice dam roof leaks can cause structural damage and compromise your home’s sheetrock and wallboards.

Attic Condensation

If your attic is not properly insulated, warm air from inside your home will enter it- and stay there. This hot air can condense into water droplets when it makes contact with the attic’s colder surfaces.

Over time, the moisture buildup will saturate the insulation, wood, and other organic materials in your attic, putting your ceiling rafters at risk of developing rot and mold. Rafter damage can make your roof sag, shift the roofing beams, and increase gaps between shingles, causing severe roof leaks in winter.

Exhaust Fans

A lesser-known cause of winter roof leaks, bathroom exhaust fans vent straight into your attic instead of the outside. As moist air from the bathroom is exhausted into the attic, it can condense, turn into frost/ice, then melt and drip down your walls.

Compromised Flashing

Your roof’s flashing seals the seams, joints, and other parts around the chimneys, skylights, or vents. Its job is to direct water away from critical areas. But if your flashing is cracked, rusted, or just not sitting right, melting snow or rainwater can seep into your roof through the imperfections.

Damaged Shingles

Cracked, damaged, or missing shingles can also lead to roof leaking in the winter. Falling branches, hail, high winds, or aging can all weaken your shingles and leave them prone to water intrusion.

Clogged Gutters

Rain gutters are meant to channel water away from your roof.

However, if they are clogged with leaves, sticks, and debris, the water from snow and ice melt will have nowhere to go. Like ice dams, the trapped water can push back on the shingles and sneak into the attic, eventually developing into a full-blown leak.

Low-Slope Roof Style

Several homes in snowy climates have pitched roofs- and with good reason. They help snow and water flow off the roof instead of letting it stand.

But with flat or low-slope roofs, water does not run off as quickly. This means the pooling water has more time to find its way through tiny gaps or weaknesses in the roofing materials, leading to leaks.

Also, roofs with a lower incline create ice dams and freezing/thawing cycles that damage your shingles.

Structural Damage Caused by Water

Unrepaired leaks or long-standing water damage can hurt your roof’s structural integrity.

During winter, this damage is made worse by freezing temperatures. Water sitting in your decking or rafters can freeze and expand, causing further damage to the roof structure and even more leaks.

That’s why it’s crucial to schedule routine roofing maintenance checks with a reputable Reno roofing company. You might not see the signs of such water damage, but a contractor can discern them immediately and let you know what steps to take.

Shingles are Nearing Their End of Life

Although you want your roof to last as long as possible, it's unwise to stretch your shingles’ lifespan too far. Old shingles that have lost a lot of their granules are not as watertight as their newer counterparts. Consequently, they might allow meltwater to trickle into your home.

Exposed Nailheads

Improperly installed roofs might have some exposed nailheads that can rust, shift, or fall out, leaving a tiny inlet for water. On the other hand, roofs that are installed correctly will have no visible nailheads. All nails will be completely covered and secured by the shingles.

How to Prevent Winter Roof Leaks

When it comes to roof leaks, preventative care is essential. Now that we’ve discussed the causes of some winter roof leaks, let’s explore a few ways to nip the problem in the bud – and avoid hefty repair costs.

  • Before winter arrives, look for damage like missing/damaged shingles, cracked flashing, or clogged gutters – or have a professional conduct a roof inspection.
  • Replace damaged or aging roofing without delay.
  • Clean out any debris, leaves, or branches from your gutters and downspouts to ensure proper water drainage.
  • Only allow trained and licensed contractors to work on your roof and mitigate your winter roof leak. Give the DIY handbooks a rest.
  • Insulate and ventilate your attic properly to minimize condensation.
  • Check areas around vents, chimneys, and other roof penetrations for any signs of damage or gaps.

It never hurts to schedule periodic roof inspections to stay ahead of issues.

What to Do If You Have Winter Roof Leaks?

Are you seeing the warning signs of a leaky roof?

For starters, try to pinpoint the source of the leak. Look for obvious signs of damage on the roof, such as missing shingles, damaged shingles, broken flashing, or ice dams.

Better yet, get the professionals involved. They can diagnose the problem and offer an estimate for repair. The most important thing is to act fast, because roof leaks can escalate quickly.

That said, it’s nearly impossible to thoroughly fix a roof in winter because of all the snow and ice. Even if your contractor is unable to resolve the issue completely, they should at least patch the problem, so your home doesn’t sustain more damage while you wait for spring.

Once the leak is under control, take steps to prevent future problems by addressing any underlying issues. If your roof is old or in terrible shape, you might want to start getting bids for a full roof replacement.

The Bottom Line

Winter in Nevada is hard enough on homeowners. The last thing you’d want is a leaking roof to put a damper on your holiday spirit.

Not to fear!

Use this post as a guide to weed out all potential problems that can cause winter roof leaks. Take charge of your roof's health and enjoy a worry-free winter season!

At Mountain Vista Roofing, our mission is to help our neighbors ward off unwarranted winter roof leaks with our premium service. Give us a call if your roof is leaking, may leak, or you're concerned about rooftop snow and ice.