Common Ceiling Issues and What to Do About Them

Common Ceiling Issues and What to Do About Them

Appraisal and Home Inspection
By Dikran Seferian May 20, 2024

From plumbing to moisture, foundational problems, and improper installation, a lot can contribute to ceiling damage. Regardless of the severity of the issue, getting your ceiling repaired on time is crucial for not only safety reasons but also aesthetics. That ghastly-looking ceiling could — in extreme cases — come crashing down.

Even if it doesn't, no homeowner would normally like to live under one that’s faulty. Whether or not you're handy with tools, every type of ceiling damage has a solution. While some solutions tend to be on the expensive side, it's nevertheless a fair price to pay for the wellbeing of your home and your family. Getting your ceiling repaired soon enough might even save you from further expenses. 

Cracks in the Ceiling

Cracks in the ceiling could be due to several different reasons. The severity of the issue depends on the appearance of the cracks themselves. While some cracks can be patched up easily, others may warrant professional intervention.

Hairline Cracks

If you notice very thin hairline cracks along with your ceiling, the problem most likely has to do with the plaster that’s over the drywall. This can be due to fluctuations in humidity and temperature, which causes the plaster to swell and contract — leading to small cracks. Such cracks are barely an issue and a simple paint touch-up can solve the problem.

You can use leftover paint if you have any from your previous paint job. Otherwise, consider buying touch-up paint cups ($18) from your local home improvement store. Alternatively, you can cover the cracks with drywall patches (up to $7 a pack) and paint over them.

Straight Cracks

Straight cracks across the ceiling are the result of inadequate taping or mudding during the installation. Basically, the tape pulls away from the joints, causing the plaster to crack. Other causes include excess humidity and settling of the house. Such cracks are normally superficial and nothing to worry about. You can fix the issue by applying drywall compound ($7 to $15 a bucket) to the tape and sticking it back to the joints.

If the tape needs to be replaced, remove it with a razor and sand the surface under it. Apply the new tape and spread a thin coat of compound on the area. Wait for it to dry and sand the surface once more until it's smooth. If you’re not sure how to go about the repair, you could hire a professional — in which case you can expect to pay $60 an hour on average.

Spiderweb Cracks

If the cracks look like a spiderweb, then you might be looking at foundational settling. Unless the cracks are thicker than 1/16th of an inch, it shouldn’t be concerning. Otherwise, the structural integrity could be compromised. In most cases, however, the drywall is probably applied too thickly and has shrunk after drying, leading to web-shaped cracks. A quick and simple repair involves sanding off the old compound and applying a fresh layer.

Deep Cracks

Huge cracks in the center of the ceiling are actually a sign of structural damage. These are mainly due to excessive weight from the floor above or extreme water damage. Your first course of action should be to remove everything on the floors above and below the crack before the ceiling potentially collapses. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much you can do in this case except hire a contractor to repair your ceiling.

How to Handle Different Types of Ceiling Cracks

How to Handle Different Types of Ceiling Cracks

The Ceiling is Sagging and Warping

Unlike most cracks, a ceiling that is sagging or warping is cause for concern. Addressing the issue early on will prevent further damage. A sagging ceiling could be due to one of four common reasons: shifts in the foundation, roof leaks, age, or termites. In the first case, the structure of your house moves, expands, and shrinks due to fluctuations in the temperature.

This causes the plasterboard, ceiling, and cornices to move, which in turn leads to sagging and warping. Similarly, as buildings age so do the fixtures and adhesives, causing the same issue. Consider calling a professional to assess and issue and to carry out the necessary repairs.

Roof leaks are another reason that causes a ceiling to sag and warp. Only a few liters of water soaked into the insulation is enough to push the plasterboard towards its breaking point. This could pose a serious threat to your home and your family. To prevent a potential disaster, call in a plumbing expert to fix the leak and its resulting damage. Depending on the scope of work, you could be paying up to $800 — which is much less than what you may end up paying should the ceiling collapse. Termites are yet another force to be reckoned with.

They are known to cause significant structural damage, resulting in cracked or sagging ceilings. If you notice any signs of termites (fecal matter, mud tubes, etc…), hire an expert to handle the situation. You can prevent termite infestation by painting, staining, and treating exposed timber structures outside your house. Another way to repel termites is by spraying the suspected area with white vinegar.

Water Dripping From Ceiling

If you notice water dripping from your ceiling, it could be due to anything from a leaking toilet, sink, shower, to even a leaking roof. You may want to deal with the situation as soon as possible in order to keep it from escalating. Water can do a lot of damage to a ceiling, causing structural issues as well as a buildup of mold. First and foremost, clear the area underneath the leak and place a bucket to catch the dripping water.

To prevent further damage to your ceiling, shut off the main water supply. Once the situation is under control, call a professional plumber to diagnose and fix the issue. Plumbers may charge between $45 to $200 an hour on average. In most cases — especially if the leak is detected early on — the ceiling can dry by itself if the source of the leak is fixed soon enough. And if you’re handy with tools, you won’t even have to touch your wallet.

Ceiling Leaks and How to Deal With Them

Ceiling Leaks and How to Deal With Them

Ceiling Paint is Chipping and Peeling

The main reason why your ceiling paint might be chipping or peeling is a faulty paint job — such as not applying primer properly or painting above an unclean surface. This problem is especially common in bathrooms where the humidity penetrates the paint, which then peels. Essentially, you will have to repaint the ceiling — mainly for aesthetic reasons.

While you could take on the paint job yourself, a professional painter might get it done faster. The latter might involve an average total cost of $350 compared to $100 on average for painting the ceiling yourself (cost of materials). If you're taking the issue into your own hands, make sure to wear gloves and a face mask to protect yourself from the dust produced by the scraping and sanding.

You can prevent your ceiling paint from peeling by using high-quality paint, especially for high moisture areas like bathrooms and kitchens. Moreover, you may want to allow adequate time for the paint to dry between coatings. Proper ventilation also helps the paint to dry faster while reducing humidity.

What to Do If Your Ceiling Paint Is Peeling

What to Do If Your Ceiling Paint Is Peeling

Brown Stains in the Ceiling

A brown stain in the ceiling is often the first indication of a leak. Fortunately, in this case, odds are that the damage is so far minimal, and fixing it may be relatively easy and inexpensive. You essentially caught the issue at its earlier stages; fixing it on the spot will prevent the later stages. First, you’ll need to determine the source of the problem — which is most likely a loose pipe.

After fixing the leak, drill a hole in the center of the stain to release any remaining water. In many cases, the damage may be minimal and you can scrape off the flaking before patching it up, applying stain sealer, and repainting the affected area. Any further damage may warrant professional intervention. An expert will charge anywhere between $60 to $90 an hour, depending on the scope of work involved. This quota usually includes the cost of materials needed — which means that taking care of minor damages yourself would cost less.

What Causes Brown Stains in the Ceiling

What Causes Brown Stains in the Ceiling

Black Mold on Ceiling

One unsightly problem you may come across is black mold growing on your ceiling. Mainly caused by excessive humidity, this issue is especially common in bathrooms. If left untreated, the mold can cause several respiratory problems, eye and skin irritations, and in severe cases, lung infections.

Luckily, getting rid of ceiling mold is fairly easy and inexpensive. With a few household materials, you can eliminate the spores in no time. Using a mixture of dish soap and water, wash the area and let it dry. Next, spray pure white vinegar on the mold and wait for an hour before wiping it down. As an alternative, you could use commercial mold cleaner instead of soap and water, and bleach instead of vinegar — make sure to open the windows when using the latter.

Getting Rid of Black Mold on the Ceiling

Getting Rid of Black Mold on the Ceiling

Ceiling Puffing Up

A bulge in the ceiling could be a sign of either faulty construction or a leak that has gone unnoticed for a while — the latter being more serious. A puffed ceiling due to faulty construction happens when the second coat of plaster is applied before the first one has completely dried. This causes the bulging effect in ceilings that are built by applying plaster over gypsum lath. In other ceiling types such as drywall, this issue could be due to anything from heavy insulation to excessive humidity.

Fixing a bulging ceiling involves replacing the material in the affected area with another layer of plaster or board. Unless you know your way around fixing the issue, consider calling in a ceiling repair contractor. Getting the puff fixed without delay will prevent it from spreading across the ceiling.

A bulge may also indicate a leak from a damaged pipe. In this case, the water makes its way to the ceiling without being noticed until the bulge appears. By then, the structural integrity of the ceiling might be at risk. Acting fast could save you from an absolute catastrophe. Move everything from the room and contact a professional to examine the situation. Chances are you'll need a plumber to fix the leak and a ceiling contractor to handle the ensuing damage.

Who to Call When Your Ceiling Is Puffing Up

Who to Call When Your Ceiling Is Puffing Up


Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian