November 9, 2018

Emergency Roof Repair: A Complete Guide

A roof is more than just another expense—it’s an investment in the value of your home. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say!

Time to read:
6 Minutes
Written by
Nicholas Capobianco

Your roof is your home’s first line of defense against everything from high winds to heavy rain and falling limbs. It can increase energy efficiency, protect the structure of your home, and even offer aesthetic appeal. So, when your roof fails, it’s a threat to the entire home.

There’s no such thing as a “little leak.” Any time water finds an entry point into the home, it poses a threat to the structure, electrical system, and overall integrity of the building. Throwing pots and pans under the offending spots isn’t exactly a viable solution, either. When something happens to your roof, you need to know what can wait and what needs an emergency repair.

What qualifies as a roofing emergency?

One person’s definition of a roofing emergency may not be the same as someone else’s. Especially when the fix would ultimately end up with a price tag in the thousands. But waiting to repair or even temporarily fix a problem can set off a domino effect in the home. A little leak erodes some insulation, which introduces water to the wiring, which creates a serious fire hazard.

Most roofing experts consider an emergency to be anything that causes enough damage to the actual structure of the roof to allow a significant amount of water into the home. This isn’t just a few drops an hour, but a consistent drizzle that can saturate, cause internal damage, and lead to the growth of harmful molds. Emergency situations include:

  • Winds and debris that damage or remove large sections of shingle, flashing, or the decking underneath.
  • A tree limb or large piece of debris that completely penetrates a portion of the roof.
  • Any collapse in the roof’s structure.
  • Damage to the roof from an internal fire that’s weakened it from the inside.
  • A lightning strike causing any visible damage to the roof.
  • A small leak that’s not responding to any patches, or that quickly grows in volume.

No one wants unwelcome precipitation in their dining room, and it’s pretty hard to ignore when you have to move your bed to avoid rogue drips. Even if your leak or roof damage doesn’t constitute a bonafide “call in a repair technician at 3am” situation, it still needs to be repaired as quickly as possible.


Responding to a roofing emergency

How you respond to a roofing emergency really depends on the type of emergency you’re dealing with. (For example, a tree branch hanging through your living room ceiling calls for more than pots and pans.) In any emergency, the first thing to assess is whether or not the situation poses a threat to you or anyone in the home.

If the structure is visibly damaged or there’s been a collapse, vacate the home and call in professionals immediately—some things just aren’t DIY material. If water is pouring into the home, turn off the electricity as soon as possible to prevent exposure to live wires.

Although it may be your first inclination, don’t call your insurance company just yet. Contact a licensed roofing contractor first. A professional can accurately assess the situation and estimate the damages. This information is vital when making any type of insurance claim.

There are fixes that a firm belief in duct tape and WD-40 just can’t handle, and there’s no shame in contacting licensed professionals for a consultation. If the initial emergency is fairly small and you’re not in danger, then it can usually benefit from a short-term Band-aid solution. Just make plans for a permanent fix.


Professional repair is always preferable

Unless you’re a veteran roofer with experience and equipment, it’s always better to trust roof repair to professionals. There can be underlying problems that need to be taken care of, and a qualified roofer can spot them quickly. There’s also the matter of staying compliant with the terms of your homeowner’s insurance policy. Professional roofing companies have insurance, training, tools, and access to everything they need to do the job right.

Roofing is dangerous. There’s no easy way around that, and no one should try to get up on a roof and fix anything unless they have professional training.

Quick fixes for temporary damage control

When the problem is fairly small and can wait until you have the time and money for a more thorough repair, there are some quick fixes that work nicely.

Patching shingles

This is fairly easy and straightforward. The roofer will remove the damaged shingles gently. Then, they will waterproof the affected area, and replace the damaged area with a similar roofing product. Ice and water shield (or synthetic underlayment) can be used to temporarily waterproof the area as well. If the contractor can’t replace the area to match, they should instead start by having it waterproofed, and then give you some options on how to bring it as close to normal as possible. This could result in a full replacement if the roof is too old and damaged, or a fix if possible.

Capping chimneys

Old and new chimneys alike can start to leak. A chimney cap can be placed over the opening to stop the leak and prevent additional water damage.

Patching from the inside

This is generally safe for homeowners who can’t get professional help right away. Go into the attic, find the exact location of the leak, and measure out a piece of plywood. Attach shingles to the exterior facing surface, and use roofing cement to fix the patch in place. This is a temporary fix, and should not be relied on for long—this can hold you off until you find the right roofer.


This is exactly what it sounds like. A heavy-duty tarp is laid over the area where the leak originates. One-foot by three-foot wooden planks are used to fill in obvious gaps, and help to secure the edges of the tarp. Deck screws are used to keep everything in place until a more permanent fix can be arranged.


Keep in mind that all of these fixes are temporary. They won’t fix the problem permanently, and will eventually need to be professionally replaced.

Should you repair or replace your roof?

Only a certified roofing contractor and roofing professionals like the ones we offer here at Roofr can advise you on whether to repair or completely replace your roof. Sometimes, even a permanent patch won’t solve the problem. A professional assessment can identify weak spots, and damaged, deteriorating, or outdated shingles. All of this contributes to the overall assessment of your roof. Definite signs that your roof needs replaced include:

  • Multiple leaks
  • Structural damage
  • A roof that’s more than 20 years old
  • Damaged decking
  • Rot
  • Insect infestation (termites)
  • Water and storm damage
  • A large area needing repair

Above all: don’t wait to call roofing professionals!

A roof is more than just another expense—it’s an investment in the current and future value of your home. Don’t wait to call in professionals for a consultation; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.

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