How to Repair a Tile Roof Leak

How to Repair a Tile Roof Leak

We’ve all seen the movie and TV stereotype of the response to a leaky roof. A sleep-deprived homeowner scuttling around their home during a thunderstorm to position buckets pans to collect the drops. In reality, things are rarely that simple. Leaks can be positioned in areas that aren’t so easily reached, and the damage caused may well be far more severe than a few unsightly puddles after a storm. For the longevity of your home and the health of your family, it is imperative that leaks are taken care of correctly. 

When it comes to tiled roofs, this can be a relatively straightforward matter. When fitted by professionals, your clay, concrete, or slate tiles should give you some longevity. Similarly, whenever a leak occurs, your best first response is to call in the experts. That said, it’s always worth knowing a little about the process — this helps you make more informed decisions should the worst occur. 

Assess the Damage

You first need to understand that there could be various reasons why your tile roof is leaking. It’s not always going to be the case that there is a clear hole in your roof through which water is directly running. There are various materials and layers to a contemporary tile roof, and one or more faults could be contributing to the leak. Not to mention that in the case of a serious or long-term issue, there may be other forms of damage to your home that need to be addressed. So, your first step is to get a full and accurate assessment of the problem.

If it’s a very simple leak, you may be able to find the source during a rainy day using a flashlight to reflect the trail of water on the internal part of your roof and trace it to the ingress. However, an accurate damage assessment isn’t something that most people are able to take care of themselves. This is especially the case for tiled roofs, as there may be elements of the surface to inspect, and an untrained person walking around on roof tiles could lead to breakages and further leaks.

Once you contact a professional, they’ll employ a combination of years of expertise and professional equipment to pinpoint the cause of the leak. They may utilize infrared or thermal imaging or ELD (Electronic Leak Detection) meters if the source isn’t immediately clear. Most importantly they’ll also be able to confirm what elements along the way — underlayment, flashing, the tiles themselves — need to be fixed in order to both stop the leak and mitigate further issues.

Repairing the Damage

Contrary to popular belief, repairing any find of roof leak is never as simple as plugging a hole. Knowing how to repair a tile roof leak will usually depend on the cause. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common repair needs for tile roofs. 

Flashing Issues

When we talk about tile roof flashing, we’re referring to the metal material that would have been installed in order to direct the flow of falling rain water away from areas of your roof that are the most vulnerable to leaks. While it is certainly possible for flashing to become damaged over time, one of the more common causes in the first several years of life span is incorrect initial installation. 

If it turns out that your older flashing has developed some cracking or damage due to weather, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can just seal it yourself. Silicone or other kinds of waterproof sealant might be effective for a temporary patch. But these will tend to dry out over time, crack, and leave you having to deal with the same leak all over again. As such, whether your flashing is old or incorrectly installed, you need a roofer to undertake a replacement. 

This takes skill and patience, as the tiles need to be removed around the problematic area of flashing. Then any debris that has collected beneath needs to be cleared. Indeed, if tar was used to seal the flashing originally, this needs to be removed as much as possible. One of the reasons for making sure professionals take care of this is there are hazards involved — aside from the height aspect, there is danger of injury from sharp metal edges. After removing the old flashing, your roofer will usually install copper subflashing as a support system, before laying the new flashing on top and replacing the tiles. It’s a challenging process, and must be done correctly to avoid further leaks.   


One of the other common types of roof damage to be repaired will be in respect of cracked tiles. People tend to choose tile roofing because of its relative longevity. Tiles can last upwards of 50 years and can withstand wind gusts of around 125mph. But that’s not to say that they’re completely invulnerable. When they crack due to extreme weather or impact damage, this can see rainwater getting through to the underlay and leaking into your home. 

Firstly, if you are a confident DIY enthusiast, there are steps you can take. For a quick temporary fix, you can remove debris around the crack and seal it with silicone caulking or repair cement. However, this is not a long-term solution, not to mention that it can be unsightly. Your best approach here is replacement of the problematic tile. 

Replacing a roof tile is deceptively simple. In essence, you need to remove the old tile, clean the area, insert the new tile so that the one above overlaps, and secure it with a nail. However, as simple as this sounds, there are things that can go wrong. If you don’t know how to walk on tiles you could cause further cracks or displacements. You can incorrectly align the replacement tiles, leaving potential for further leaks. You might inadvertently damage the underlay while replacing the tile. As such, if you’re not confident of your skills it is worth the time and investment to bring in a professional roofer.

Commit to Prevention

As with so many aspects of your home, prevention is better than repair. While you can’t predict every stray football that might crack a tile, or all extreme weather phenomena, you’re not entirely powerless. You should be vigilant of anything about your roof that looks out of place — particularly after hurricanes or heavy hailstones. In addition, it’s important to have your tile roof inspected by a professional once a year. This will help you to get advance warning of any problems that are starting to arise, and you can arrange for them to be taken care of before more costly leaks start to occur. 

Wrapping Up

Knowing how to repair a tile roof leak comes down to a combination of factors. In essence, it comes down to the following: 

  • Assess the cause and extent of the leak and the damage that has been caused. 
  • If necessary, temporary repairs may be made using sealant, but this isn’t a long-term solution. 
  • The most common causes of tile roof leaks are cracked tiles or damaged flashing. To achieve longevity it is best to have a professional replace these, rather than enact repeated temporary repairs yourself. 
  • Commit to regular inspections in order to get advance warning of potential damage. This allows you to act quickly and reduce potential costs.

Above all else, be cognizant of your abilities to take care of a leak yourself. Nobody wants to incur additional costs when it comes to their home. But teaming up with a professional — even just to get some informed advice — is always the most sensible course of action when it comes to your roof.   

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