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Water Damage Ceilings (What to Do and Who to Call) in 2020

Everything you need to know about ceiling leaks, ceiling repair water damage, and when you should call in a professional.

water damage ceiling

If you’ve recently experienced a hurricane, tropical storm, flooding, ice damming, or even just excessive rain, you may have noticed some water damage on your property, particularly on the roof and ceilings.

In some cases, the water damage is simply cosmetic – while it may be unattractive, the structure of the ceiling or roof itself is still sound and you don’t need to replace the entire ceiling.

Rather, you can repair the unsightly damage yourself or hire a contractor that understands how to best repair water damage – and will be honest with you about whether or not the ceiling actually needs to be replaced.

It’s important that you know your home – and have it inspected before you buy or move in – and be aware of potential issues, especially if you live on a floodplain or a place that gets major storms.

It is all important to know what type of roof you have and how long that type of roof will last.

You should also check with an insurance agent or perhaps a public adjuster to see if you need flood insurance, sewage backup insurance, or similar coverage.

water leaks from the ceiling

What Causes Water Damage to a Ceiling?

Unfortunately for most homeowners, there are lots of ways that a ceiling can be water damaged, ranging from major catastrophes like hurricanes and tropical storms to more minor things like leaky pipes, clogged gutters, or even pests like squirrels or raccoons.

A whole home humidifier or similar water leaking appliances installed in your attic can also cause water damage to the ceiling, as well as leaking bathroom, failed bathroom waterproofing, fridges, or other kitchen appliances on higher floors.

Older roofs may also leak and cause water damage, especially during major downpours or storms.

If you have a leaky roof that is causing the water damage, there are definitely ways to fix the roof leaks yourself if you’re a little handy around the house and have some practice with DIY projects.
However, if you are unsure that you can safely repair the water damage to your ceilings or elsewhere, then it is time to call in contractors who specialize in water damage repair.

Read on to learn more…

What Signs Should You Look for if You Think Your Ceiling is Water Damaged?

On the inside of your home or other property, you should look for dark spots, sagging or bulging, and even places where light from the outside shines through.

On the outside, then keep an eye out for missing, warped, blistered, peeling, or buckling shingles.

This goes doubly so if you’ve recently experienced a major storm, torrential rain showers, or similar weather event.

You should also check things out if you know there are pests like raccoons or squirrels around your property if you’ve been noticing some signs of water damage.

If you’ve noticed that your gutters are clogged or slow to drain or if you’ve noticed loose roofing materials around your chimneys and vents you may also have water damage that needs to be repaired.

ceiling repair water damage

Does My Water Damaged Ceiling Need to be Replaced?

There’s a good chance that the water damage on your ceiling could be merely cosmetic, which means that you can potentially fix the problem yourself, or hire a contractor to do the work at a lower cost than replacing the whole ceiling.

You should know that it’s almost always best to repair a water damaged ceiling in general unless the damage is so extensive that it is unsafe to inhabit the property.

Moreover, replacing a section of a ceiling or the entire ceiling room is complicated, messy, and fairly time-consuming unless you’re dealing with water damaged ceiling tiles.

And it might be hard to make the new ceiling coordinate or match with the rest of the ceilings in your house.

Whether the water damage is the result of a broken pipe, torrential rain showers, or simply an older roof, it’s almost always necessary to repair water damage to your ceilings, since over time it can cause mold and an overall weakened structure.

It’s important for the health and safety of your property to keep the ceilings and other elements in good repair, of course, and it’s better to repair the water damage to your ceiling early when it is less significant and possibly even possible to do yourself.

Depending on the cause of the damage, you may be able to get the repair work covered by your insurance as well.

You should also keep in mind that insurance policies do not always cover water damage depending on the cause unless you have flood insurance or sewage backup insurance.

Some causes of water damage to the ceiling that are covered include “sudden or accidental” causes, like burst pipes or a pool overflow.

Sudden and accidental water damage means there are no long term circumstances that have lead up to your insurance claim.

Note that even if the actual repair work isn’t covered, damage to your belongings from flooding or water damage may still be covered by your homeowners insurance.

water damage ceiling tiles

Can I Repair My Water Damaged Ceiling Myself?

If you’re a little handy and willing to do some research, then you can most likely repair your water damaged ceiling.

Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable there are plenty of contractors who are more than capable of fixing a water damaged ceiling.

You should be aware that there are multiple types of water damage that can affect drywall.

These include Category 1 water or clean water (water from clean faucet lines that is considered suitable to drink), Category 2 water or gray water (water that was previously from a clean source, but has been potentially contaminated by appliances like dishwashers or washing machines), and Category 3 water or unsanitary (water that may contain sewage or backup from outdoor flooding, including potential dangerous contaminants like E. Coli or other bacteria).

Category 3 water may also contain pesticides, fuels like gasoline, or other chemicals that make it a significant health hazard, so if you suspect your water damaged ceiling involves Category 3 water, you should consult a professional right away.

types of water damage by category

Critical Concerns If You’re Repairing a Water Damaged Ceiling

While minor or cosmetic water damage is fairly easy to repair yourself (but if it’s Category 3 damage we do recommend calling professional water damage recovery specialists), there are some issues you should be aware of before you get on that step ladder.

Electrical outlets may still be active even after extensive water damage, so you should have an electrician check everything out before you start a DIY ceiling water damage project – or if you hire someone, they will likely have their own expertise or electrician that they work with.

What’s more, you should not shut off the electricity at the main power point or panel if it is wet, or trust that everything is safe if the power is out due to a storm or similar weather event.

You never know when the power will come back on and put you in danger.

Structural issues are also another problem to consider, especially if you’ve experienced major leaks or flooding.

Drywall is especially likely to collapse, but other materials can be quite dangerous too. Water damaged ceiling panels can and will fall without warning, which is why that you should repair them quickly and also consult professionals if you are worried about the stability of your house or other property.

Contaminated water is also a significant problem; if you suspect that your ceiling’s water damage has been caused by Category 3 water (see the above chart) then you should consult a contractor who specializes in water damage recovery.

Finally, slip and fall injuries are a real hazard when you’re repairing water damage to ceilings and elsewhere, so if you’re concerned or don’t have the proper equipment to DIY a water damaged ceiling repair, call a professional contractor who can.

If you aren’t aware of water damage specialists in your area, a public adjuster can help.

Read on to learn how…

water leaking from ceiling

Repairing Water Damage on a Plaster Ceiling

If you’re a little handy and enjoy DIY projects, it’s definitely possible for a ceiling leak repair for minor water damage to a plaster ceiling yourself.

You should start by letting the ceiling dry completely, and then use a putty knife or similar tool to scrape off all the damaged material.

Next, clean the area with a damp cloth, and again let it dry completely before the next steps.

Finally, apply several coats of stain-sealing primer or primer sealer – and make sure it’s designed to be applied to plaster before you start painting.

You can also seal small cracks with fiberglass mesh tape (which is easy to find at most hardware stores) and then add more plaster over the tape (again, easy to find at most hardware stores).

Larger cracks can be more complicated to fix, but you can repair water damage in plaster ceilings with plaster buttons and drywall screws, as long as the cracks are less than four inches.

More significant damage usually calls for a professional or perhaps even the replacement of the entire ceiling.

Sometimes, older lath and plaster ceilings can stand up relatively well to water damage (maybe they really do don’t make them like they used to), and even smaller cracks that are under ¼ inch can easily be repaired.

That said, if the ceiling looks bulging or swollen or even cracked, you may want to reach out to a professional contractor who has experience repairing water damaged ceilings.

ceiling leak repair

Repairing Water Damage on a Drywall Ceiling

Water damage to a drywall ceiling like Gyprock is a bit more complicated to fix than water damage to a plaster ceiling.

Since drywall is essentially thick layers of paper or cardboard, it can be soaked through much more easily than plaster and is much more absorbent and breaks down quickly when wet.

Minor water damage to a drywall ceiling can often be fixed with a putty knife and some ceiling paint.

The putty knife is for scraping off the damaged surface, and the ceiling paint will restore the original color. Keep in mind that you only want to scrape the actual surface since drywall is essentially very dense cardboard.

What’s more, acquiring paint that is meant for ceilings (not just walls or other surfaces) is essential, since ceiling paint is specifically formulated to adhere to ceilings and hide imperfections there, and not to drip like wall paint or other forms of paint could.

If your drywall ceiling leak is bubbling or shows signs of mold growth, it is most likely best to consult a professional and possibly replace the ceiling – the water damage could become more extensive in the long run.

That said, if your drywall has been affected by category 3 water damage – or unsanitary water – you will most likely need to replace the drywall even if the damage doesn’t appear to be that unsightly.

What’s more, if drywall is clearly bulging or sagging, or shows signs of pulling loose from the mounting screws at the studs or ceiling joists, then the material is unsafe and should be removed, because a soaked and water damaged drywall ceiling is actually dangerous.

water damaged ceiling mold

Mold growth is also likely to occur if the drywall feels mushy or squishy to the touch, or has been wet for more than 48 hours.

Water damaged ceiling mold will most likely require mold removal specialists to fix the water damage in your drywall ceiling if things have gotten to this point.

Any insulation behind the drywall may also need to be removed.

water damage ceiling how to fix

When Should You Get a Professional to Repair Your Water Damaged Ceiling?

If you’re not a DIY type of person – and there’s no problem with that – then it is perhaps time to hire a contractor who has experience fixing water damaged ceilings.

It’s also important to hire a contractor who specializes in these types of repairs if you suspect the water damage is caused by Category 3 or unsanitary water.

Moreover, water damage professionals will also have moisture meters and therefore the ability to measure the moisture content inside the drywall or plaster ceiling, and determine whether the water damage is superficial and can be fixed relatively easily, or if it is too saturated and needs to be replaced.

They also have other specialized equipment like powerful extractors that pull water out of various materials (including ceilings, carpets, and flooring), high volume pumps that can remove standing water in attics, rooftops, and other areas, industrial dehumidifiers, and other tools that most homeowners don’t have just hanging around in their garage or sheds.

Or the technical skills to use!

Be aware that water damage tends to be persistent and leaks will keep reoccurring until they are actually fixed, so you are experiencing ongoing water damage or cannot find the source of the leak, it’s definitely time to call in the professionals.

If you are concerned about the cost or even where to find a water damage specialist, then a public adjuster will be able to help you not only find a team that can do the work, but also make a claim with your insurance company and ensure you get the maximum payout possible.

ceiling water damage

When is Water Damage Not Covered by Insurance?

While there are many instances or events when water damage to your ceiling and elsewhere is covered, there are also numerous other circumstances when they are not.

This includes flooding unless you carry additional flood insurance – flooding is not usually covered under most homeowners insurance, but as always, check your policy and perhaps with your public adjuster if you’re unsure.

Sewage backups, water damage as the result of unrelated home improvements or home repairs, a roof leak that occurs after a rainstorm due to poor maintenance of said roof, or slow dripping leaks may also not be covered.

Anything that is not considered sudden or accidental will be difficult to get covered by insurance – but as long as you can show that you have made an effort to show that you made an effort to fix things as soon as you noticed the leak, you’ll be more likely to get the repair costs covered.

This is why documentation is so important! If you notice a leak, document everything during the repair process.

And hopefully you have photo and video documentation of the original state of the ceiling and the rest of your property.

leak in ceiling who to call

How Can a Public Adjuster Help You Repair Your Water Damaged Ceiling?

Depending on the source of damage to your ceiling, roof damage may be able to have the repairs covered by a roof insurance claim.

If you have a water damaged ceiling, then one of the first things that you should do is look for the cause of the damage and remove the problem and fix the damage yourself, if you feel comfortable doing so and the damage is cosmetic or superficial, and not the result of Category 3 or unsanitary water.

However, if you can’t find the cause or are otherwise not super handy, then there is no shame in calling professional contractors.

But what about paying for the repairs or knowing how to claim the costs with your insurance company or even how to bill your contractors?

water damage ceiling repair cost

That’s when you should call your public adjuster. They are there to be your advocate and they are always on your side, as opposed to the insurance company which is seeking to pay out the least amount possible.

Water damaged ceilings can be a sign of a larger problem, which is why you should look into repairing your ceilings as soon as you notice the issue.

This goes doubly so if you’ve recently experienced a major storm, torrential rains, or even if you know you have a pests like raccoons or squirrels in your area.

Like many other household fixes, water damage can often be a sign of a greater structural issue and it can be more complicated and expensive to repair if you let things wait, so be sure to check things out, consult with professionals when necessary, and talk to your public adjuster if you have concerns about your insurance company covering all or some of the costs.


  1. Tina

    I need help I need a professional advice I had gotten help with replacing my roof and my gutters but they replace the gutters first before the roof it started leaking in my bedroom when it had heavy snow on the roof drip behind my walls and on my rug so I put a fan on it and dried it as much as I can but I’m still smelling moldy on my rug and I’m worried that it got Behind the Walls but everybody says just to paint it and wash the walls or should I replace the paneling.

  2. Carolyn

    We had a severe rain storm and wind driven rain went up under the roof vent and water was dripping in between where the 2 houses comes together. Both on the main floor and basement. How do I know how bad the insulation is to keep it from getting mold.

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