Worried about roof damage after a major storm? Maybe your building got lashed with wind-driven rain for hours on end. Maybe hail tore into the shingles and then it started raining on top of everything else. Maybe it was the wind alone, ripping off shingles and causing damage that gives water a way to get in.

The importance of a roof cannot be overstated. There is no greater defense against the elements. When the roof suffers damage, the rest of the home quickly follows. Here are a few key signs to watch out for:

1. Exterior water spots

When water spots begin to show up as darkening and discoloration on the exterior walls of a home, it can mean that the flashing got damaged. It may be too loose. It may have rusted out or broken. In some fashion, it opened a gap so that water could get through, and now it's eating into the walls below.

2. Interior water spots

Perhaps the most common sign of water issues is simply a discolored spot on the ceiling. This happens when water drips through and starts to soak into drywall and plaster. Keep in mind that the discoloration only indicates a small portion of the real issue. Rain could also have soaked other materials, like studs, beams and sheeting. They're just hidden.

Generally speaking, this type of water damage means you have a leak. Shingles may have torn off or ripped. Wind-driven rain may have pushed in through the shingles. Remember that leaks are not always directly above the place where the water damage shows up inside the home. Water could run down a truss and hit the drywall yards away from where it got in.

3. Dark spots on the roof

A lot of things cause discoloration on the roof itself, including mildew and mold. If you see distinct dark patches with a roughly rectangular shape, though, that likely means that a shingle tore off. Shingles overlap one another, with a darker portion below. If the lighter exterior portion rips away, it exposes these lower surfaces and potentially opens the home up to some serious interior damage.

Experts note that algae can also grow on your roof, leaving dark patches. These patches are often long and irregular in shape, though, whereas a missing shingle has more defined edges.

Storm damage

If your home does suffer significant storm damage, the costs can soar. Make sure you know exactly what steps to take and what legal options you have as you sort your way through this process.

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