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Minimal Monday: Roof Leak Locating and Repair

In my past, I built an entire new kitchen—floor to ceiling. I’ve demo’d the bathroom floor to move a toilet.

Hell, I’ve even designed and installed a new septic drain field to go along with that toilet.

But nothing seems as scary as water dripping from the ceiling.

It’s rained constantly for the past 48 hours here in Orlando and nary a hurricane in sight, or so says the Super-Doppler-3D-8000-whatever being pimped out by our local weatherman.

Well, the Mom-Doppler-24-7 went off as my wife pointed out the eight inch water stain forming on the living room ceiling.

(That Mom-Doppler thing can also forecast twin spats over couch seating, when the a/c filter needs to be changed, and when daddy spends too much on tools.)

“Yeah, that’s a leak…” I replied.

If the water has made it through ½” of drywall and ½” of plaster, then I can only imagine it’s time to get a bucket.

I watched it drip onto the living room floor, imagining my bank account crumbling away like the plaster ceiling is sure to do in just a little while.

A quick inspection made me shudder again, realizing the leak was located at the lowest point of our vaulted living room ceiling.

Y’know. water runs downhill. Gravity and s***.

So that means I had no less than 25 linear feet of leak potential.

Guess what?

It gets better.

Built in 1956, our flat-roof Florida snowbird nest had all the characteristics we wanted in a home, but no attic. Form over function suckers. Form. Over. Function.

So there’s only one way I’m finding this sucker.


No it’s not a guy in a tapout shirt with a ed hardy hat on sideways. This tool is something I just picked up at Harbor Freight cause it went on sale and I used another 20% off coupon. My new 2.4” Color LCD inspection camera was perfect to poke around in the ceiling. And I normally stay way from anything with a motor or electronics at Harbor Freight, but the price was right, the online reviews were good and the closest thing I could find to it was at least double the price (and still made with Chinese lead). Oh, and the Mom-Doppler didn't go off.

I needed to drill a hole to drain the water, and figured I’d make it large enough to fit the inspection camera for a look-see.

Out comes the bucket. ¾” hole saw.

Mess ensues.

Result is three holes as the first one hit a rafter. Second and third on either side of the rafter.

Three holes from a hole saw. I got about 1/8" of water in the bucket.

I figured there’d be a rafter pretty close by, and was hoping maybe a nail popped outside and I had a little water running down the rafter ultimately pooling at the low point.

I jammed the inspection camera in one of the holes and spent about 15 minutes just looking around. It worked pretty good. I could see really well anywhere from 3” to about 16” away from the camera lens. I saw wet sheetrock.

I’d like to show a picture of the LCD display here, but I couldn’t hold that thing and take a picture, and I didn’t read the manual on how to do a screen capture. Yet.

Anyway, no dead animals. No Bugs.

But I saw a dark area about 5-6 feet away. Figured that could be water.

Knowing I’d have to replace a good portion of the ceiling area, I decided to widen the hole and poke my head up there.

I started small and kept jamming my hand in to feel around for water.

Editor’s note: I rewrote that sentence above about six times for it to sound less filthy.

I deleted the following words:

  • wet
  • moist
  • poke
  • felt
  • probed
  • caress

Nah, not caress. But it still sounds kinda filthy.

It turned out the water only soaked the sheetrock about 8” to either side of the rafter. So I cleaned up the opening to span to the rafter on either side, and about 16” deep.

Big enough to get my head up in there…and all dry drywall is left.

Flashlight in hand, I spotted the dark area the camera revealed about 6 feet away and sure enough, there was a little drip, coming in from the seam of the 1”x10” tongue and groove roof decking.

There's the water, to the left of the bird blocking.

The water came in on both sides of the rafter, but traveled down on top of the vapor barrier, saving most of the drywall, until it puddled at the top plate on the interior wall and snuck under the vapor barrier there.

I measured the distance to the leak from the interior wall and the exterior wall to give me some reference when I hike it up on the roof sometime this week to do the roof leak repair, as soon as it stops raining.

For the meantime, I cut a masonite panel to cover the hole in the ceiling, mostly so the kids won’t worry about some kind of creature crawling out of the hole. But mostly, so I won’t worry about one of the kids crawling into it.

So it was bad news that wasn’t that bad. The leak was caught early and kinda…minimal.

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