Ceilings generally don’t need much in the way of repairs and maintenance. However, there are a few situations that will require some “how to” expertise to get a damaged ceiling back in tip-top shape.
The good news is that the average homeowner with limited experience and expertise in this area can fix most ceiling problems. The following article, while not a comprehensive treatment of the subject, will arm you with the basic techniques to successfully repair and rehabilitate ceiling problems.
In a multi-level home, there is the potential risk of ceiling damage to a drywall ceiling from water leaks usually originating in an upstairs bathroom. These water leaks work their way through the floor treatment and rest on the top of the ceiling drywall. The result is a discolored, stained area. The first step, of course, is to stop the water leak by closing the valve that is supplying the leaking fixture. Get rid of any standing water in the area using the traditional method of mops or a dry/wet vacuum. Use plastic sheets or other waterproof material to cover the floor area beneath the damaged ceiling. Place buckets or other containers on the floor to catch the released water. Start at the center of the damaged area and make a hole in the ceiling using an awl or a large screwdriver.
CAUTION: do not use an electric drill or any other electric tool to create the holes because water and electricity are a deadly combination.
Use your own judgment in terms of the number of holes you think are needed to completely drain the damaged area. When the water has stopped dripping and the ceiling area is completely dry, you can proceed to the repair phase of the project. It is important that you allow plenty of time for the ceiling area to dry completely. This will sometimes require a day or two of waiting before finishing the job.
Unfortunately, if the water damage was heavy, the affected area of the ceiling drywall may need to be replaced because the drywall will have become soft and bloated. If this is the case, the existing drywall is really not subject to repairs. Locate the floor joists (the wooden beams to which the drywall was nailed or glued to. Use a straightedge to draw a line that will guide you when you cut out the damaged drywall. Make the cut so that half the joist is exposed and can be used to support the new drywall. Cut out the damaged drywall making sure that the piece that you remove is as rectangle as you can make it. This will make it easier to cut a replacement section from a new piece of drywall.
Nail or glue the new section to the open area and then, using joint compound and drywall tape, finish the edges. Even for professionals, this is a difficult job and you may have to settle for a patch that isn’t “invisible.” After applying a primer coat to the patch, repainting the entire ceiling with several thick coats of paint may solve the “patched-look” problem.
Going back to the scenario where the damaged areas are fairly small and the drywall is still in pretty good shape, after the ceiling has drained and dried completely (see above), use fine or extra fine sandpaper to level the areas where the holes were drilled. Using a small putty knife or your finger, apply joint compound to the holes and scrape off the excess. You may have to apply more than one coat of joint compound to make the filled holes level with the rest of the ceiling. When the joint compound has dried completely, use fine or extra fine sandpaper to finish the area. Run your fingers over the area to insure that the repaired area is completely smooth. If it’s not, sand it some more or fill any dimples, etc. with more joint compound and continue the process until the area is completely smooth. After wiping the excess dust from the sanded area, finish the job by painting the area to match the ceiling. Since paint fades over time, it may be necessary to paint the entire ceiling so that the color is consistent throughout.
On occasion, a stained area is a result of a water leak that has dried over time. If this is the case, it won’t be necessary to drill any holes, etc. because there is no residual water on top of the drywall. Before going through the process of scraping the discolored area and refinishing it with joint compound, you can try an easier method of rehabilitating the area.
Make sure that the floor, furniture and any other items are covered with some type of waterproof covering. Then, using a spray bottle with a mixed solution of six parts of water to one part of bleach, spray (but do not soak) the discolored area. A light spray coat may need to be applied several times. If this does the trick, you’ve solved the problem. Touch-up the area or repaint the entire ceiling. If the stain persists, you can purchase a stain-killing primer, spray the area with the primer with a light coat. It may be necessary to do this several times. When the primer has dried, finish the job with ceiling paint covering the repaired area or paint the entire ceiling.