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What's the best way to repair a ceiling with water damage?

Answered by Jeffrey ~ January 16, 2012 ~ No Comments » | Respond to this question

What is the best way to repair a ceiling that has water damage due to a leaky radiator in the room above? The drywall on the ceiling is wet and rotten, but isolated in a small spot. Do I need to hire a contractor? Do I need to replace the entire ceiling?

Jim T. ~ Boston, MA

Jeffrey Anderson

Hi Jim. If the water damage is confined to one small area of the ceiling, I don't see any reason why you can't handle the repair yourself. Of course the first issue is making sure the radiator or whatever else might be causing the leak is fixed. There is not much sense in doing the drywall repair if you are just going to have the same problem in several weeks or next winter when you start using the heat once again. When you have made your repair, follow these steps to fix the ceiling:

  1. Locate where the ceiling joists are adjacent to the bad spot in the ceiling and using a straight edge and utility knife, make a cut down the sheetrock about the center of each of the two joists. Don't try to cut through the entire thickness of sheetrock with one cut -- several small cuts work better. Be careful as utility knifes have very sharp blades.
  2. Then cut between the two joists to remove the section of damaged sheetrock. It's a good idea to have a drop cloth or plastic sheeting down to protect your floor. If there is any insulation in the exposed cavity, remove it and throw it away.
  3. Use a flashlight to determine the extent of the moisture on the ceiling framing. If you have to expand the hole to expose all the wetness, do it now to eliminate the chance of future mold.
  4. Leave the hole open so all moisture can completely dry.
  5. Use common household bleach to coat all wood that was wet and allow that to dry.
  6. If there was insulation in the cavity, replace it with a new piece.
You are now ready to patch the hole. The sheetrock will probably be 1/2 inch, but double check as it could also be 5/8 inch thick. Most home improvement stores sell sheetrock, but if you just need a very small piece, check with a local builder who may have some scraps after drywalling a home.

Wood blocks should be installed flush with the bottom of the floor joists so there is solid support on all four sides of the hole. Cut your new sheetrock to size and screw it in place. Use drywall tape and compound to patch all four sides and then sand and paint. It normally takes three coats of compound including the first that holds the tape in place. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly prior to proceeding.

I'm not sure what type of mesh would have been recommended for the repair. There are metal mesh ceiling tiles available, but I wouldn't think they would be appropriate for this application. There is also fiberglass mesh drywall tape that can be substituted for traditional paper tape, but in my opinion, it doesn't work as well when used on ceilings.

If you hire a contractor, the primary expense would probably be the trip charges for each coat of drywall compound as the repair itself is fairly simple. If you decide to hire a Boston contractor, ask them about using quick dry compound to reduce the number of trips necessary and you may be able to reduce the drywall repair cost.

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