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5 Ways to Fix a Leaky Ceiling

5 Ways to Fix a Leaky Ceiling

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It starts with a little patter in the hallway, making its way through the noise of the TV. You quickly rule out dancing mice, and are pretty sure it isn’t a ghost, so you go investigate. You look at the ground, and see water splashing on the floor, and, with dread, look up at the ceiling. There, trickling down in an increasing stream, is a steady beat of water. There is already some discoloration, and the faint hint of a bulge being born in your drywall. Whether through rain or a damaged pipe, you have a leak. After laying out pots and pans, there are several options. If you are a renter, you call your landlord and turn up the television, occasionally taking worried but ultimately unconcerned glances in the general direction. You could also choose to ignore it, on the theory that it will stop raining at some point, but that is short-sighted at best. If you own, or you are the landlord who gets the call, you have to fix it. Luckily, this isn’t as difficult as it seems. Here are five ways to fix a ceiling leak.

Determine the Cause of the Leak

While this seems obvious, this is a hugely important step. The water may not be coming from a pipe directly above where it is leaking. Water is lazy and flows in the path of least resistance, which means it may have taken some twists and turns before the spot where it comes out. It is most likely directly over the spot, but you don’t want to tear up your whole ceiling. If the leak isn’t on the top floor, it is probably a pipe. You should be able to tell if it is coming in from the roof, depending on your floor.

Pipe Repair

If the leak is coming from a pipe, determine exactly where in the pipe the leak has sprung. It might not be at the point of drips, as small, almost imperceptible shifts could have the water running down the pipe after it comes out. Dry the pipe and identify the spot. If it is a joint, you can tighten the joint. If it is in the middle, you have to take out that section of pipe and replace it. This isn’t terribly easy, especially if you have a copper pipe or a threaded joint (unscrewing one end tends to make the other side tighter). A qualified plumbing professional can help you with this step. If the hole is small enough, you may be able to get away with a pipe patch or plug, but these are not permanent solutions, and can degrade depending on the amount of water that goes through the pipe.

Roof Repair

This is slightly more fun, as you get to be outside. Strap on your tool belt, climb your ladder, and get on the roof. Careful, though- before you go outside you want to determine how much wood has been weakened. There might be an area larger than the hole that can’t support your weight. When on the roof, use a circular saw to cut a square area around the hole, after measuring an equally-sized replacement board. If the section is not directly adjacent to the rafters, you will have to apply a brace to hold it up. Replace the shingles in an overlapping pattern so that rain won’t be able to get in anymore. If the section is too big, you may want to look for a roofing service in your area.

Avoiding Mold

So you’ve fixed the leak, but you still have water damage to your drywall. You want to replace it, but before you do you have to make sure the whole area is completely dry. This isn’t just toweling off the pipe. Water could have collected all around, not just the parts you need to replace. This could be a long process, using a blow dryer or a fan for several days. Water can seep into the drywall, and has to be completely dry, or you will get mold. Beside the smell and sight, this will also weaken the walls and ceiling and ensure more expensive work in the future. This is a tedious and thankless step, but one that can’t be avoided.

Drywall Replacement

You may have to replace a section of the ceiling or the wall, or both. Minor damage can be repaired with putty, then sanded and painted. You may have to cut out a hole. If the hole is small, you can get a repair kit. Basically, what you will need is a backboard that goes inside the hole and rests there. From there, you can attach a new sheet of drywall, cut to fit, to the backboard. If there is extensive damage, you may have to replace whole sections of the drywall. This isn’t the most complicated procedure, but it is possible to enlist an expert in drywall installation and repair.

So those are the steps. It is unfortunate that such a minor tapping noise one night can lead to such a headache, but a leak is one of the most common and potentially hazardous problems a home-owner will face. If it is ignored it can lead to at best an ugly discoloration, or health problems due to mold, all the way to catastrophic roof failure. If you have any more questions, seek a qualified contractor to help you out. Don’t let a drip turn into a deluge.

--Mitch Logan

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