It’s nice when the roof over your head doesn’t leak or blow away. This Fix-It Guide on roof repair tells how a roof works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a roof problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to repair a roofing tab, how to replace damaged roof shingles, how to replace wood roof shakes, how to repair a flat roof, how to repair a tile roof, how to patch a metal roof, how to seal roof flashing joints, and how to repair roof flashing. Gutter repair may also be needed. Roof repair instructions may also help with porch repair, deck repair, outdoor structure repair, skylight repair, and more.
How Does a Roof Work?
A roof is the outside top covering of a home or other structure. Typically it’s made up of lumber called rafters covered by plywood or planks, roofing felt, and roofing shingles. The roof rafters are supported by ceiling joists. The shingles are made of asphalt, fiberglass, wood, tile, or metal. Galvanized metal flashing is installed anywhere that water might seep through, such as at the edges or where two roofs meet, called valleys.
What Can Go Wrong with a Roof?
Roofs leak. It’s their most common problem and can cause lots of damage to things under the roof, like ceilings and home contents. So if your roof leaks, repair it immediately. Even better, inspect your roof periodically and repair or replace damaged areas before leaks occur. Flashing can also develop holes and joints can come open. If there’s a problem with gutters or downspouts, see gutter repair.
How Can I Identify a Roof Problem?
- If an asphalt shingle roof leaks, you can repair a single tab (see below) or replace one or more damaged shingles (see below).
- If a wood shingle or shake roof has damaged shingles or shakes, you can replace them (see below).
What’s the difference between a shingle and a shake? A shake is a piece of wood, split for use as a roofing material. A shingle is a man-made roofing material (asphalt, fiberglass, or tile). A tab is a single shingle; many asphalt roofing shingles have three tabs per sheet.
- If a flat roof shows damage, you may be able to repair it rather than replace it (see below).
- If a clay tile or concrete tile roof suffers damage, you can repair it (see below).
- If a metal roof has a hole, you can patch it (see below).
- If flashing joints are damaged, you can repair them (see below) and if there are small holes in the flashing itself, you can fill them (see below).
What Do I Need for Roof Repair?
Replacement roofing materials are available through building material suppliers, often sold in bundles. The tools you will need to fix a roof include these:
Working on a ladder to check or repair roofing? Make sure you’re working safely. Be sure the ladder is solid and that rungs (steps) aren’t loose. Also make sure that you have a sufficient lean to an extension ladder, typically about one-fourth the length. That is, move the base of a 12-foot ladder about 3 feet from the point directly below where the top of the ladder touches. And never climb above the third rung from the top.
- Roofing cement
- Pry bar or nail ripper
- Caulking gun
- Silicone caulk
- Nail puller
- Galvanized roofing nails
- Flat spade
- Utility knife
- Roof patch
- Tile clips or masonry nails
- Scrap wood
- Wire brush
- Soldering gun
- Medium-grit sandpaper
- Clean rags
- Safety glasses
- Metal shears
- Soldering gun
- Work gloves
What Are the Steps to Roof Repair?
Repair a roofing tab:
- Carefully lift the tab to expose the damaged area.
- Apply roofing cement on the bottom side of the tab to liberally cover the damaged area.
- Firmly press the tab down with a weight to ensure a good bond.
- As needed, apply roofing cement on the top of the tab over the damaged area, removing any excess cement.
Replace damaged roof shingles:
- Remove all damaged shingles, being careful to not damage adjacent shingles.
- Remove nails using a pry bar.
- Fasten the new shingles in place from the bottom row to the row before the top.
- Spread roofing cement on the underside final row or course of shingles.
- Carefully insert the final shingle into place, pressing down to make sure that the cement firmly sets.
How can you tell if asphalt shingles are going bad? Minute gravel in the gutters indicates that the surface gravel on shingles has been worn away by the elements–or the shingles were very cheap. Also look for obvious damage such as missing tabs or debris (pine cones, leaves) wedged under tabs. The worst condition is when old asphalt shingles dry up and begin to curl, lifting off the roof.
Replace wood roof shakes:
- Use a wood chisel to split and remove the damaged shake.
- Remove nails using a pry bar or nail ripper.
- Cut the replacement shake(s) to size.
- Install the replacement shake(s) using galvanized roofing nails or screws.
- Cover the exposed nail heads with roofing cement.
Repair a flat roof:
- Remove surface gravel from the damaged area with a flat spade.
- Cut away a rectangular piece around the damaged section of roofing with a utility knife.
- Fill the area to be patched with roofing cement.
- Lay the patch material (roofing or fiberglass mesh) in place over the patched area.
- Spread additional roofing cement over the mesh with a trowel and smooth the surface.
- By hand, spread fine gravel over the patch to protect the surface.
Repair a tile roof:
Wearing safety glasses, use a large hammer to break up the tile to be removed.
Remove nails using a pry bar or nail ripper.
Select the replacement tile and set it in place.
Attach the tile with tile clips or masonry nails, depending on how the other tiles were installed.
Patch a metal roof:
- Measure and mark the location for the metal patch.
- Use metal shears to cut a piece of metal identical to the roofing material (type, thickness, and shape). As needed, file the edges.
- Place the patch in position, then use a soldering iron or gun and flux to seal the patch to the roof.
Seal roof flashing joints:
- Remove old sealant with a putty knife and a wire brush.
- Wipe the area with a clean cloth and, as needed, a cleaner to remove all debris.
- Use a caulking gun to apply silicone caulk along the joint.
- Use a putty knife to force the caulk into the joint.
- Smooth the caulk line with an edge of the putty knife.
Repair roof flashing:
Remove loose rust, dirt, and old finish on the flashing with a wire brush, then clean the area with a rag.
Remove any remaining rust with medium-grit sandpaper and clean with a dry rag.
Fill any small holes in the flashing with roofing cement.
Cover any areas that may cause future problems with roofing cement.