On a nice quiet afternoon in Stafford, Virginia you sit back and relax. Looking up, you notice a water stain on the ceiling, thinking that’s never been there before, and all kinds of possibilities go through your mind. Is there a roof leak, or could it be something else?

What to Look For

The first thing you want to do is to see if the water stain is wet, damp, or dry. Where the water is coming from might depend on what is above the ceiling. Is the attic above you or is there an upper level. If there is a bathroom above the stain, it is a good bet that a pipe or shower drain could be leaking.

Check the water stain for color and smell. This could also help determine where the water might be coming from. If the water is still dripping and clear, without any smell, it could be from a pipe that supplies clean water. If it is dirty water or has a smell, it could be from a drain or the roofing.

If it is just a single water spot with no discoloration around it, it is a fairly new leak. If the water stain has discolored rings around it, this can indicate an older water stain that has become wet and dried several times.

If there is a bathroom above the ceiling, try to remember when the last time the shower was turned on or the upstairs toilet was flushed. Run the shower and see if the water stain becomes damp or starts to drip. If so, you found the problem.

Common Causes of Water Stains

There are some uncommon causes of water stains like a leaking air conditioner, an upstairs waterbed slowly leaking, or water entering through a vent stack on the roof. Here are the more common causes.

Leaking Pipes

As mentioned, an upstairs bathroom is one possible source of water stains in the ceiling. A leaking pipe not directly above the water stain could still be the cause even though it is quite a ways away.

It could be a bend in the pipe, a leak in the pipe, or condensation or sweating from the pipe with old or improperly installed insulation. Water can run along beams or the pipe itself before it starts dripping leading to the water stain.

Roofing Problem

Water stains on the ceiling of the top floor of a home are most commonly caused by roofing problems. If the leak is near the edge of the roof and you feel comfortable, you can use a ladder and take a look. For multiple story houses or where climbing onto the roof is necessary, call a professional roofing company, like Fletcher Construction of Stafford Virginia to look for you.

There are several ways a roof can cause leaks and water stains on the ceiling. Problems on the roof that can cause water to leak into the interior of a home include:

  • Old or cracked waterproofing membranes
  • Missing or torn shingles
  • Gaps between the roof and flashing
  • Missing or cracked caulking around flashing
  • Improperly insulated ducts
  • An actual hole in your roof

Water that leaks through from the roof can accumulate almost anywhere. As the water accumulates, it can pass through various materials until it reaches the ceiling, causing the stain. Water stains from roofing leaks are usually dirty or brownish in color.


Leaking gutters caused by winter snow melt and ice dams can leak into the interior of your home and cause water stains. These types of stains are usually on the ceiling in corners or where the outer wall meets a ceiling, but not always since water can travel.

Fixing a Water Stain

A water stain cannot be repaired until the leak that is causing it is fixed, and you should not let this problem go too long. A water stain means that there is water leaking somewhere. If the leak continues, it can cause wood to rot, the ceiling to sag, or even collapse.

Even if the leak appears to have stopped, there could be water in the ceiling causing further damage. Water can also cause mold to grow, and none of us want mold growing in our home.

It is best to call a professional to help find the source of the leak. If you think the leak might be coming from your roof, contact Fletcher Construction of Stafford, VA to inspect your roof.