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Attic Water Damage? Here’s What to Do Right Now

Because attics often contain essential plumbing and heating lines, and because they tend to be more exposed to the elements than the main living space, they’re vulnerable to frozen, burst pipes, moisture buildup, and ice dams.

When these things occur, they can cause attic water damage.

Fixing water damage in the attic can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, you’re not alone in the process.

In this guide, we’ll help you learn how to identify, fix and prevent attic water damage and get your space back to normal as quickly as possible.

Let’s start now.

What Causes Water Damage in Attics?

ice dam water damage in attic

Here are a few of the most common causes of water damage in the attic:

1. Damaged roof components, including shingles, ridge caps, and underlayment.

2. Warped or cracked flashing around vents and chimneys.

3. Ice dams that push melting snow under shingles and down into wall voids.

4. Roof valley leaks caused by temperature extremes or improper sealing.

5. Gutter and downspout failure due to clogs, sags, and broken hangers.

6. Condensation resulting from attic ventilation problems that allow excessive moisture to accumulate.

7. Frost buildup inside attic space due to old, inadequate, or poor-quality insulation.

8. Failures in your air conditioner condenser, which may be housed in the attic.

9. Other plumbing or HVAC system problems including burst pipes.

What Does Attic Water Damage Look Like?

what attic water damage looks like

To identify water damage in the attic, use a powerful flashlight or headlamp to look for these signs:

  • Damp, flat, or moldy insulation.
  • Cracks in the attic ceiling, under roof joints.
  • Discoloration or streaking on attic walls.
  • Wet rafters, joists, and beams.
  • Damp areas or puddles that appear after it rains.
  • Mold growing on attic interiors.
  • Water stains on downstairs ceilings.

As you look for visual signs, remember that mold growing in a water-damaged attic isn’t always easy to spot. 

Attic air may not smell as fresh as the rooms downstairs, but it shouldn’t be filled with musty odors.

The fungus can hide in dark corners, underneath insulation and around soffit vents. 

Trust your nose. 

If you detect a moldy smell in the attic, it’s another sure sign of water damage.

Remember that water damage in the attic can cause various issues, including structural damage to your attic and roof, health hazards caused by mold and mildew, reduced indoor air quality, and increased energy bills due to wet or compromised insulation.

With this in mind, it’s essential to fix the attic leak as quickly as possible and move on to repairing the damage.

How Do I Fix Water Damage in My Attic?

repairing attic water damage

Sometimes, repairing water damage in the attic is a straightforward DIY job.

As a general rule, though, we recommend working with a professional water damage restoration company to inspect and repair the area and prevent mold and mildew problems down the road.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to addressing and repairing water damage in your attic:

1. Stop the leak

Where is the water damage coming from?

If a leak caused water damage in your attic, your first step is to stop more water from entering the space.

Depending on the source of the water damage, this may mean patching a hole in the roof or shutting off water lines to pipes or appliances.

It can be difficult to determine exactly where the water is coming from. It may enter the attic in one area and drip some distance from the source.

To find the source of the leak, follow the drips upward and remember that water flows downhill. 

Once you’ve determined the source of the leak, you’ll need to assess the extent of the issue.

If you can’t identify where the water is coming from, contact a restoration team immediately.

Power Tip: Streaks on insulation, dampness between adjacent roof plates and wet areas around roof vents can serve as clues. Use them to navigate your way to the leak source.

2. Assess the damage

Next, determine how widespread the damage is and whether there are apparent hazards, like pooling water affecting electrical wiring or appliances.

The more information you can gather, the more prepared you’ll be to tackle the damage in the following steps.

As you assess the damage, take photos to document it. This will make filing a homeowner’s insurance claim easier, which we’ll cover in the next step.

Power Tip: Items stored in a water-damaged attic may seem ruined, but don’t throw anything away yet. You want the insurance claims adjuster to see the full extent of your losses. Also, restoration pros can often salvage and clean water-damaged contents.

3. Contact your homeowner’s insurance

Next, you’ll need to notify your homeowner’s insurance about the damage.

To do this, contact your policyholder to get a claim number. They may also ask for photos of the damage and any other documentation you can provide.

Power Tip: If you don’t already have a restoration professional on call, ask your insurance agent to recommend a water damage specialist. For example, our restoration teams here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore in Chicago work with local and national insurance companies every day. We can help you with the paperwork and filing your claim.

4. Clean up the water

Once you’ve stopped the leak and assessed the extent of the water damage, you’ll need to start removing moisture.

Here are our top tips:

  • Use towels, mops, and wet-dry vacuums to remove standing water.
  • Open all attic vents or windows (if present) to promote airflow.
  • Place standing fans and dehumidifiers in the area to remove lingering moisture.
  • Remove wet insulation or personal items from the attic to allow the area under and around them to dry.

Remember that drying a water-damaged attic can take as long as two weeks.

You may want to contact restoration professionals who speed up the process with structural drying services.

5. Clean the affected area

Once you’ve dried the area, you’ll need to clean it thoroughly.

We recommend using EPA-approved cleaners that kill mold and mildew spores and removing any items that have gotten wet since they can be a source of mold growth in the future.

Power Tip: Not all cleaning products are safe for use on porous surfaces. Be sure to check manufacturer’s recommendations before you start cleaning, and follow all product directions.

6. Make needed repairs in the attic

Once the attic is dry, start making needed repairs. Depending on the extent of the water damage, you may need to make the following repairs and replacements:

  • Electrical repairs in the attic. In most homes, parts of the electrical system run through the attic space. Wiring is usually well-insulated, but any contact with water can create a fire hazard. Damaged electrical components are also a concern, including lights in ceilings and outlets in walls below the attic. Don’t take any chances with wet attic wiring or compromised fixtures. Shut down your home’s electric supply at the breaker box, and contact a licensed electrician immediately.
  • Attic plumbing replacements. If a bad plumbing connection caused the attic leak, take the damaged part to your home improvement center. Use it as a guide to buying the correct replacement for repairs. Check the product’s online site for how-to tips. Some attic plumbing leaks need more than a DIY fix. For example, when an attic pipe bursts, it needs to be cut out and a replacement length soldered into place.

7. Contact a professional restoration company

While you may be able to DIY minor attic repairs, other jobs require the help of a skilled professional.

If you’re in the Chicago area, our technicians here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore in Chicago can handle jobs ranging from small pipe repairs to major attic overhauls, and we work with an extensive network of licensed plumbers to help ensure comprehensive service.

Power Tip: Our teams are ready to help seven days a week, and we respond to emergency situations too. We can be on the scene within 90 minutes of your call.

How Can I Prevent Attic Water Damage?

Any situation that creates excessive moisture in the attic sets the stage for water damage. Reduce the chances of repairs and replacements by adding a few routines to your regular home maintenance schedule.

We recommend these simple steps to keep water out of the attic:

  • Inspect the Roof. Ignoring your roof is easy since you don’t see or interact with it daily. Unfortunately, your roof is the main barrier between moisture and your attic, so keeping it in good condition is critical. With this in mind, inspect your roof every few months, looking for loose or damaged shingles and flashing. If you don’t feel comfortable inspecting your roof, work with an experienced roofing contractor who can provide regular roof inspections to help you identify and repair any problems before they become major issues.
  • Keep your Gutters Clean. When gutters work correctly, they catch water and direct it away from your home. Unfortunately, buildup of leaves and debris can create blockages that cause water overflow and other drainage issues. To prevent this, clean your gutters at least twice a year and repair any damage promptly.
  • Ventilate the Attic. Sometimes, attic water damage results from structural failures in the roof or gutters. Other times, it’s caused by poor ventilation, which allows warm, moist air to get trapped in the attic, causing excess moisture and leading to mold and mildew growth. To prevent this, keep attic vents clean and in good condition and ensure all vent fans are working correctly.
  • Vent Appliances Outside. Appliances that have vents, like clothes dryers, should always be vented outside, not into the attic. When appliances vent into the attic, they cause moisture to gather in the space, leading to water damage and mold problems.
  • Upgrade Attic Insulation. If your home is older, consider installing energy-efficient insulation in the attic. Combined with a good vapor barrier, the upgrade controls the temperature in your attic and prevents excess moisture from entering the area.
  • Get Rid of Ice Dams. Stay ahead of wintertime water damage in the attic by preventing ice dams. 
  • Trim Trees. If you have trees near your home, trim them regularly. Remove twigs, broken limbs, and other debris that could damage your roof or contribute to moisture entering your attic.
  • Install a leak detector. These special sensors can help minimize water damage in the attic. They range from professionally installed systems to DIY units, and most integrate with smart-home technologies.

Dealing with Attic Water Damage in Chicago, IL, or Suburbs? We Can Help!

detecting water damage in the attic

Water damage in the attic needs attention right away before it seeps into ceilings and walls, spreading mold and wood rot. Cleanup and repairs aren’t easy, but we’re here to help.

Our certified water damage services cover attics in Chicago homes, condos, businesses, municipal facilities and industrial sites. 

From structural drying and tear-outs to repairs and replacements, you can count on ServiceMaster of Lake Shore. We’re ready for your call: 312-707-8597.


Can water damage in the attic be dangerous?

In our experience restoring water-damaged attics, we’ve dealt with hazardous situations.

Recently, a Chicago homeowner called us to clean his attic after a pipe burst.

He’d been out of town, so the damage was extensive.

During the initial assessment, our teams quickly realized the entire attic was soaked. A close inspection revealed several dangerous issues.

First, the flooring was badly buckled. We had to be very careful as we worked. Second, the water had ruined the ceiling below, causing it to collapse.

We were concerned about the home’s electrical system too. A licensed electrician confirmed that wiring inside and adjacent to the attic needed immediate repairs.

Water damage doesn’t usually turn an attic into a hazardous space, but we’ve experienced it firsthand.

Keep this in mind, and always put your personal safety first. If you plan on fixing the attic yourself, please be careful.

How much does it cost to repair attic water damage?

Repairing and restoring a water-damaged attic can cost between $1,300 and $5,000. It depends on the extent of emergency repairs, structural damage and content loss. Homeowners insurance usually covers the cost.

Who do I call for a water leak in the attic?

Our teams here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore can take care of small leaks. However, we recommend calling a licensed plumber for large or complicated jobs.

How do you get moisture out of the attic?

Run fans and a dehumidifier 24/7. Make sure vents are clear. If possible, leave the attic access door open. We dry out water-damaged attics with industrial-grade air moving equipment that significantly speeds up the drying process.