Spring Leaks

What to expect and how to fix

Every springtime, especially in colder climates, homeowners will be treated to leaks from your roof or foundation. This unfortunately is the nature of a harsh winter, which causes the build-up of ice and snow on the roof, as well as the presence of frost and ice along the foundation walls.

The colder weather will cause repeated freezing and thawing, as well as expansion and contraction. Both of these reactions to the winter weather could cause shingles to crack, lift or simply deteriorate and foundations to crack. I am always made acutely aware of the difference in how construction materials react within the colder northern weather, when I visit some of the southern states. The ability for concrete pavement to remain without cracks and movement in the southern states reflects the minimization of deterioration, if the weather remains above freezing. Frost and ice are incredibly strong forces that can cause extensive damage to roofs, pavement and foundation walls.

What can occur to cause your roof to leak?

The most efficient method of solving a problem is to understand the issue causing the problem first. In most cases, the method of correction, will offer itself as a common sense solution, if you understand how the problem occurred.

  • Simple expansion and contraction of the roofing materials, whether single ply roofing or roof shingles can cause leaking. When a material, especially a roofing material is subjected to extremes in temperature, the material will become brittle and non-conforming. Once this occurs, any wind or heavy rain or snow, could cause the shingle or other roofing material to simply crack and fail. If the material is brittle, it does not take a lot of stress to break the bonds that hold the material together.

Solution / there is no real solution to this issue. The newer materials that are used for more modern roofs have been created to withstand the constant expansion and contraction of the winter months, much more efficiently than the older materials. In addition the newer roof will have a life expectancy much longer than an older roof. This means the material is fresher, more resilient and will remain intact over more cycles of freeze and thaw. Aside from simply replacing the entire old roof, if leaks occur due to this issue an alternative is to replace all of the compromised areas. A more detailed description of this repair has been illustrated in roof repair articles within this website.

  • Driving wind and rain will potentially force water under the shingles or flashings. A constant driving rain, directed in the right direction can funnel water under the shingles and cause a leak. Once this pathway for water is established, the passage of the water is easier, every time the incident occurs. Water will always have a tendency to find a way under the shingle or flashings, if it has the opportunity.

Solution / as with the expansion and contraction of the roof, there is no real solution to the driving wind and rain issue that causes a leak in the roof. As with the expansion and the contraction, a newer roof will withstand the driving wind and rain. Obviously this can only be accomplished by a full roof replacement. A driving wind and rain can even compromise the newest of roofs. The only method of trying to protect your roof from this situation is to walk the roof, and make sure all flashings are secure. In addition, it is also recommended that each shingle that has been compromised be either replaced, or secured with roofing tar. A common method of correction is that a full impenetrable layer of roofing membrane is installed beneath a new roof material. In this manner, the entire roof is wrapped with a membrane to provide a second layer of protection to the roof. Unfortunately this is a costly option and can only be performed when a new roof is installed on the structure.


  • Build-up of ice dams. There is a separate article within this website that discusses the creation of ice dams, and the damage that can be attributable to the build-up of ice dams. Ice dams restrict the flow of water off the roof, or can also cause the distribution of the water in a direction that is conducive to leaks and failures.

Solution / the build- up of ice dams is basically due to the accumulation of melting water, that is held up from draining off the roof or elsewhere, until the temperature drops below freezing. Once this occurs, the build- up of the freezing water causes the ice dam. We have devoted an entire article on ice dams and the prevention of these destructive barriers. However, for this topic of springtime leaks, they can be one of the principal reasons for water leaks into the structure.


  • Constant wind in the same direction. The winter months especially in a colder climate, can cause constant wind velocity to occur over days on end. If the roof is subject to a constant pressure from the wind, failure can occur, simply due to the constant push and force on the shingles, flashings or other roofing materials.

Solution / this one is a difficult problem to solve, due to the general orientation of problematic winds. In most instances, for example in the northeast, a winter storm known as a northeaster will subject a structure to the same wind direction each time. If there are multiple leaks that occur, each time a specific type of storm occurs, a review of the roof and structure to identify any possible leaks along this elevation being subjected to the wind is one of the options, as you try to solve this problem. You are obviously not going to move the home or change the prevailing winds. However, knowing that the blowing of the rain, ice and snow is in a specific direction, could offer the opportunity to locate the areas of leaking. Once the areas of water penetration are located, the normal re-nailing, application of roofing material, correction of flashings, etc. can be attempted. One of the difficulties of trying to solve a prevailing wind induced leak, is you have to wait until the next storm to determine if the leak has been solved.


  • Snow build-up. The weight that is attributable to a heavy layer of snow on a roof deck can cause the deck to deflect (sag) or buckle. Either situation could cause a differential settlement that will cause the flashings to fail, or even the actual support structure of the roof to fail.

Solution / if this is occurring an expert should be called in to consult and propose a solution. Any structural weakening of the roof due to a snow load should be considered dangerous. This is the typical initial problem that could preclude a roof collapse. Snow loading that will cause deflections, or other structural issues, should not occur on a roof that has been properly engineered. Even the drifting of snow and the accumulation of excessive water should not cause the structure to be compromised. The leaks caused by this type of issue, are only the small and insignificant problems that a structurally deficient roof could cause. Collapse is the ultimate in dangerous situations that can have life threatening consequences. Any sagging, buckling, ripping or movement of the roof structure, due to snow load is a dangerous situation.


  • Cold weather brittleness and roof material compromise are common reasons for the roof to leak in the winter months. In most situations, the ability of the sun to heat the roof shingles or asphalt materials, and basically glue them together, is an important aspect of the integrity of a roof. What occurs when the temperatures are so cold, that the sun is incapable of heating the roofing materials to a temperature that will allow the shingles to adhere to one another and conform in shape, to produce a tight and waterproof membrane? The roof will leak.

Solution / this one is extremely difficult to correct. If the roofing materials become stiff and rigid, and cannot perform the function they have been engineered to perform, the roof will leak. The best alternative to correcting this situation is a new roof. However, this new roof should be installed in temperatures suggested by the manufacturer of the roofing material. Too cold and the material will simply crack and fail again.

In summary, the winter months are difficult on all northern roofs. The lack of warm sunshine and moderate conditions will result in the possibility of roof leaks. It is the allure of the north, to withstand the harshness of the environment and to correct all of the issues that the cold weather as well as the snow and ice will cause.

Aside from moving to a southern climate, there is no method of eliminating all of the possible occurrences that a cold and harsh climate could create, to cause your roof or foundation to leak.

However, the beauty of the north, as well as the wonderful summer months, is reason to deal with a few minor roof or foundation leaks.

It is recommended that any roof that is being installed in the northern climates should include an underlayment of heavy material, which will offer a full membrane of protection on its own. Such products as snow and ice shield over the entire substrate will basically eliminate the issues caused by the northern wind, ice, and snow.

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