How To Do An Emergency Repair On A Roof (Tarp/Dry In)

by Jun 27, 2023

If you have had recent damage and have leaks coming into your home, this will show you how to properly tarp your roof.

After a storm, discovering a leak, or following any damage to a roofing system, there is often a need for temporarily protecting the inside of the building from water until a permanent repair can be made. This “dry-in” of the building may be needed because more rain/snow is in the forecast, or in extreme cases, also works to keep debris or pests out of the home.

You may need to make the temporary/emergency roof repairs yourself in the event of consecutive weather events, or after a single storm has impacted a large area and professional help is not able to come out before more weather is expected.

It is important to understand how to properly perform emergency repairs without causing more damage, especially nailing through the surface of the roof and introducing more holes)

Safety Considerations When Performing Temporary Repairs

Property can be fixed; injuries can be permanent. Take safety seriously and do not make hasty or reckless decisions in a rush.

Wait until the rain stops!

Do not get on a roof, especially a sloped roof, during any rain or lightning. If it is still raining and water is coming into the building, try to capture what you can with buckets or tubs. If water is running down a sloped surface rather than dripping/flowing from a single point, you can try using towels or fabric to wick water from the wet surface and direct it into a bucket.

Do not step on a wet tarp.

Any amount of water will make plastic or synthetic materials extremely slippery.

Power lines

Any storm strong enough to damage a roof or take down branches can take down overhead power lines. Report any downed powerlines immediately to your local utility provider or 911, and do not approach.

Ladder safety.

Ladders can be very dangerous. At a minimum, some very basic safety guidelines include: use both hands – any tools or materials should get in a belt, lifted with a bucket and rope, or handed up by someone on the ground. Extend the ladder 3 rungs above the roof line to assist transferring. The safest angle (75 degrees) is approximately the angle where you can stand vertically at the base and hold a rung with your arms outstretched – If you have to lean forward, the ladder is too shallow. If your arms are bent to reach the rung, it’s too steep. Never climb on a wet ladder (or with wet shoes).

Do not get on a roof at all if you are not comfortable.

Remember that transferring on and off the ladder is often the most dangerous part. Transferring out of a window onto the roof (if possible) may be a much safer way to access the roof.

Don’t work alone.

Have a second person on-site to assist with holding a ladder, handing tools, or in case of emergency.


What is a “Dry-in” on a Roof?

The roofing industry uses the phrase “dry in” as both a verb and a stage on construction or preparation during a roofing project. A roofing system is more than just shingles; it is the combination of layers that create a water-shedding protective system on top of a building. A roof is ‘dried in’ if it is in a condition where it can sustain light to moderate rain in the short term. On new construction (or a roof replacement), the roof is considered dried in when the underlayment is all set. Most (or at least modern synthetic underlayments) are rated to hold up for 90 days on their own against the elements. The shingles (or other roofing material) that goes on top is designed to shed water, plus protect the underlayment membrane from UV radiation, impact damage, or debris.

On a temporary repair, as in the case with storm damage or a leak, a dry in should also be able to last ~90 days, or until a permanent repair is able to be scheduled and completed.

Tarp vs Underlayment

In emergency situations, such as a storm, most home and building owners will use plastic tarps to protect from water intrusion. When roofing professionals perform temporary repairs, they will usually use synthetic underlayment, which is a water-shedding membrane that comes in rolls and is rated for ~90 days of weather exposure. Both tarps and synthetic roofing underlayment, if used properly, can create an effective water shedding layer to protect a home or building when needed. However, the rolled underlayment is easier to work with and is easier to custom size to a damage/leak area so that nails are not getting put into good roofing and introducing holes where there are none currently.

Common Mistakes When Tarping a Roof

1. Nailing through good roofing and putting more holes over a larger area.

Nails may hold dry while installed, but as soon as the tarp is removed, the additional holes in the roof surface introduce dozens of leak sites across the whole area under a tarp. This can escalate small repairs such as a branch falling through a single point in the roof and require that the entire slope gets replaced. Roofers use special “plastic cap” nails that create a partial seal when attaching underlayment – but remember that even those will still just be a hole if removed. You can (and often have to) use nails in the area immediately around the leak site, but know that anything that gets nailed will need to be replaced during the permanent repair.

2. Failing to tuck underneath a course of shingles.

Merely laying a tarp on top of a hole will prevent raindrops from falling into a hole or leaking area. However, most of the water at any single point on a roof is the runoff from all the area above where other water has fallen. Therefore, simply laying a tarp on top of a hole/leak site on a roof is like using an umbrella in a river; it will fail to prevent the majority of the water from accessing the same area.

3. Overlapping tarps or underlayment the wrong way.

All roofing materials should be laid from the bottom of the slope first and overlapped moving up the slope. This allows water to run off the edge of one sheet (tarp, underlayment, shingle, etc.) and onto the top surface of the next.

4. Not wrapping the edge.

This is less important for creating a dry surface as it is for protecting the tarp or membrane from catching wind and blowing away or folding back. If more storms are on the way before permanent repairs are made, count on strong winds and make sure everything is properly secure. One other advantage of wrapping the edge is that the lower edge can be tied (with rope) or nailed into a vertical surface without putting holes in the water-shedding roof system surface.

What to Do Immediately After a Storm or Roof Leak is Discovered?

We have a main article and video on this topic at What to Do if a Storm Damages Your Roof. Depending on how widespread the storm is or how many in your community are affected, temporary/emergency dry-ins may be required before scheduling allows for permanent repairs. Some reputable companies in your area (and in the greater Wichita area, Rhoden Roofing) may offer free temporary dry-in services as scheduling allows until they can complete permanent repairs. Rhoden Roofing offers free inspections and estimates or the greater Wichita community.


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