4 Steps to Sealing a Ceiling
Sure, it’s not uncommon to hear a dripping sound outdoors all throughout winter, but what if that drip-drip-drip is coming from inside your home?
Ceiling and roof leaks can dampen even the most inviting interiors. Here are a few expert tips on how to find, fix and prevent leaks.
First, how do you spot a leak? Wet spots and dripping water are the obvious signs, says Michael Jones, president of AmeriWest, a roofing company based in Austin, Texas. “But you could have a very slight drip” that’s not noticeable.
Circular stains on the ceiling that expand over time also signal water damage. “Most of the time homeowners are pretty good at spotting stains on the ceiling or bubbling in the sheetrock,” he says.
If the leak is coming from your roof, you might see other signs, depending on the type of roof you have. Excess granules will wash out of your downspouts if you have an asphalt shingle roof, and the paint on flat roofs can start to bubble or blister, says Scott Siegal, president of Maggio Roofing, which serves the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., areas. “It’s not really rocket science,” he says. “It’s pretty evident.”
The tricky part is figuring out where the leak originates. A stain on the ceiling in one room doesn’t mean the water source is flowing from directly above. “Number one, you have to investigate,” says Frank de Silva, a general contractor and owner of Construction by Silva in Massachusetts. Typically, that means checking the roof, but de Silva says he’s discovered leaks emanating anywhere from sprinkler systems to improperly insulated ductwork.
If you suspect the leak is coming from your roof, it’s best to call a professional. Unless you have experience being on roofs, it can be dangerous work.
The most common reason for roof leaks is an issue with the fireplace, Jones says. The caps and the flashing on the fireplace, and the flashing around vent pipes are often the source of leaks.
After that, Jones says, the most common problems are air conditioning coils and water heaters mounted in the attic.
“Small leaks can be fixed rather easily, but when people let it go so long, things start to rot,” Siegal says. Leaks can damage sheetrock, attic insulation, paint, walls, ceiling and carpets if they’re not corrected in time.
If a leaky roof is caught early enough, typical repairs might include installing new pipe collars, reflashing skylights or fireplaces, replacing shingles or recaulking, depending on the origin of the leak.
Of course, it’s also important to fix the interior damage of the leak. “Then you have to address the damage that the water caused,” Jones says. “Strip back the ceiling to the bare sheetrock and then determine if the sheetrock is still usable. Most of the time it still is.”
Then it’s time to address the aesthetics. Jones says, “Generally you have to repaint the entire room, unless the homeowner has a can of the original paint.” Otherwise the newly painted area is likely to stick out like a sore thumb.
Consider a roof inspection at least once a year if you want to prevent water damage. “It’s a much less expensive way to go than to forget about it and one day find you have leaks,” Siegal says. “It’s sort of like having a car. You’re supposed to take it in to have the oil changed. The people that don’t, sometimes the engine blows.”
In both cases, he says, regular maintenance is the key to preventing a disaster.