Ceiling Water Damage? Here’s What to Do to Fix It

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: January 12, 2024

Do you notice stains on the ceiling when you glance up? Is water suddenly dripping through the light fixtures overhead?

In either case, you’re looking at ceiling water damage.

For more than 85 years, ServiceMaster by Zaba has taken care of homeowners in your situation.

Learn how to solve this overhead headache before it spreads and causes more damage.

Before You Get Started

  • Turn off your home’s water supply.
  • Move furniture and belongings out of the way.
  • Cover the floor with plastic sheets or a tarp.
  • Set buckets underneath any dripping ceiling leaks.
  • Make sure your ladder is in good condition.

Important Note: If water is dripping through light fixtures, shut down electricity to the affected area.

How to Fix Water Damage on the Ceiling

water damage on the ceiling

1. Locate and Fix the Leak

Start by locating the source of the water coming through the ceiling. It may be a leaky pipe directly overhead or a plumbing problem in the walls upstairs.

If you can access the pipe, repair the leak with a patch kit, pipe tape or epoxy putty. If you can’t find or fix the leak, call a licensed plumber right away.

Power Tip: Think of your DIY fix as temporary until the plumber can inspect the work and make permanent repairs.

2. Remove Water-Damaged Materials

Remove wet ceiling materials using a long, narrow keyhole saw. As you open up the ceiling drywall, check the insulation backing. If it’s damaged or damp, replace it before patching the ceiling.

Power Tip: Stay on the lookout for mold inside the ceiling and wall interiors.

3. Dry and Prep the Ceiling

Set up fans in the room so that they circulate fresh air upward and through the hole in the ceiling drywall. Let the materials dry completely before finishing repairs. This may take several days, so be patient.

Check the progress with a moisture meter. When the ceiling is dry, cut a square opening in the existing material around the area that needs to be replaced.

Be sure to expose a ceiling joist so that you’ll have a secure surface to work with. You may need to bridge between two joists with a 2-inch by 4-inch board.

Power Tip: Make the opening several inches larger than the original damaged area. This minimizes the chance of residual moisture seeping into your repair work.

4. Replace Water-Damaged Materials

Replace insulation above the ceiling as needed. While you’re up on the ladder, double-check the measurements you’ll need to cut the ceiling patch.

Make sure the new piece of ceiling drywall is the same thickness as the existing ceiling material. Use a framing square to draw a cutting guide around the replacement so that it matches your measurements, and trim to fit.

Attach the new ceiling drywall to the exposed joists or the bridge you installed. Secure the new piece firmly into place using a power drill and drywall screws.

Power Tip: If the replacement piece is large, bring in an extra ladder and a helping hand to lift it into place.

5. Tape, Sand and Paint the Repaired Ceiling

Finish the ceiling repair by applying a thin layer of drywall compound over the patch. Using a putty knife, smooth paper tape over the edges, and then sand the area.

Apply two more coats of compound, sanding between each application. Clean up with a damp cloth, prime the patched ceiling, and finish with paint formulated for ceilings.

Power Tip: Restoration expert Diana Rodriguez-Zaba explains, “Ceiling paint is thicker than other interior paints, so it doesn’t splatter as easily. It’s stain- and mold-resistant and usually gets the job done with one coat.”

When to Call Water Damage Professionals for Ceiling Repair

water damage professionals ceiling repair

Fixing a water-damaged ceiling can challenge your best handyperson skills. If the job involves any of the following factors, leave the work to restoration professionals, like ServiceMaster by Zaba.

  • Joists inside the ceiling appear damp or rotted.
  • The ceiling is sagging, or areas have already collapsed.
  • Adjacent walls and floors are water-damaged.
  • Mold is growing in ceiling drywall and insulation.
  • The water damage affected ceiling light fixtures.

How to Prevent Ceiling Water Damage

  • Never ignore small stains or discoloration on the ceiling.
  • Make sure pipes inside ceilings are well insulated.
  • Routinely check your home’s plumbing system.
  • Maintain AC drain lines and the drip pan with regular inspections.
  • Keep gutters running clear and the roof in good condition.

Dealing With Water Damage in Chicago or Suburbs? We Can Help!

Whether it’s overhead, in the walls or underfoot, you can depend on us here at ServiceMaster by Zaba for professional water damage cleanup and restoration.

If you have second thoughts about climbing the ladder and repairing your water-damaged ceiling, we’re here to help.

Our teams are ready for your call: 312-707-8597.

Helpful Resources

Ladder Safety Guidelines – OSHA

Fixing Household Leaks – EPA

Health Impacts of Mold Exposure – National Institute of Health

Is water damage to the ceiling serious?

A water-damaged ceiling can create serious hazards, including: unhealthy mold growth in damp materials; rotted ceiling joists; compromised electrical wiring; ceiling light fixture damage; and ceiling collapse.

What are the signs of water damage on the ceiling?

Uneven, circular stains on the ceiling are signs of water damage. Be on the lookout for warped baseboards. Swollen door frames and stains on adjacent walls. Pervasive musty odors are often indicators of mold growing in wet ceiling materials.

Can you paint over a water-damaged ceiling?

It depends on how badly the ceiling was damaged. In most cases, it’s better to replace water-damaged portions of the ceiling, and then prime and paint using products formulated for ceilings.

Does homeowners insurance cover ceiling leaks?

In most situations, yes, homeowners insurance covers the damage caused by a ceiling leak. You should be covered for the cost of hiring a professional restoration company to replace the damaged ceiling. Check with your insurance agent for policy details.