Chances are high that you need a new roof if you are catching a drop – or more – in a bucket – or buckets, but most of the time, the signs of an aging roof are not quite so obvious.

Water travels in many directions, so the drip location may not be directly below the leak. One quick fix is to caulk all the seams or cold press tar, which is akin to spreading peanut butter, except it will never wash out of your clothes. You hope you seal the leak, but you never find out where it is. If you did not correct the problem, more than rain water might be coming in, like bugs, small creatures and creepy crawlies. And, a quick fix is just that: a fast, short-term remedy that may or may not resolve the issue.

Other signs include sagging, moss growth and shingle wear outside, along with water spots, mildew or mold and bubbling paint inside. If you see a section where the roof appears to be depressed or indented, this can point to a breakdown of materials or some structure compromise. Any dent in roofing is a gathering spot for water, snow melt, wet leaves, critters and myriad things which sit there and erode and penetrate roofing materials.

Mildew or moss growth can occur when branches rest for a long time on shingles or the home is in the shade during an especially wet season. If you are thinking of homes with intentional growth on the roof, understand that they are constructed with a special drainage system, which, in your case, could ruin family heirlooms in the attic. Light, unwanted vegetation growth can be washed way, especially if you do an inspection every year and nip it in the bud with a high pressure nozzle or washer.

Shingles are made to last a couple of decades or more, and their breakdown usually occurs in a couple of ways. They can become loose and break or fly off in a strong wind, and they can lose their coating and along with it, their ability to serve as a solid barrier between your framing and weather elements. The best way to determine the latter is to inspect your gutters for little granules released from the shingles. Bare, smooth shingles no longer have the capacity to repel moisture reliably.

Inside your house, water spots, mildew or bubbling paint on a wall or ceiling can point to roof issues. Again, the water leak may not even be near the room with the evidence. For inside water damage, also consider bathroom and kitchen pipe leaks or the aquarium your teenager had to have in an upstairs bedroom.

Water can leak at flashing – that thin, sheet metal layer around chimneys, pipes and anything poking through the roof. The flashing should be sealed tightly around the extrusion, then blend into the rest of the roof construction.

Even if you live in a newly constructed house, it’s wise to inspect your roof annually. When considering buying an older model of home, look carefully at the roof from the side. If you see multiple layers of tar paper and/or shingles, be aware. This roof has most likely been patched over the years, and a “built-up” roof is neither safe nor secure. Factor the cost of a new roof into your offer!

To find a roof leak, run your hose on the top of the house in different sections while someone inside stands by with a bucket. Another way is to ascend to the attic or crawlspace in the dark on a sunny day and see if light comes through at any point. You can examine interior structures with a flashlight, looking for signs of water, wet or dry.

Whether or not you pinpoint the problem, get a professional to do an inspection and give you a quote. Connect with friends and neighbors for roofing contractor recommendations and get three quotes. A roofing system installed with good materials and excellent labor, albeit not a drop in the bucket for your bank account, is designed to last decades and give value to your home. The roof over your head is important, and it’s not a place from which you want to experience a drop in the bucket.