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Old 06-06-2014, 09:18 AM   #1
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


Hi Folks! Here's my situation. This February, I noticed some bubbling/peeling paint on my ceiling; at that time, I sc****d it all off to reveal a damp spot. The damp spot was approximately 3 feet wide starting from the outer wall, then it narrowed (funneled out) from that point to about a one foot. Now, as to what caused it? We had a tough winter. There was a significant ice damn on the roof in that area, and the gutters were NOT cleaned out. Another possibility, directly under the damp footprint above the ceiling is a radiator. We found out that the radiator's valve was not working properly and the packing nut was also loose. That radiator was super hot and hissing continuously throughout the cold months. When I say it was super hot, I do mean SUPER HOT...steamy, hissing, lots of knocking. Add to that, the room above the damp spot is a bathroom -- so, there is the possibility of plumbing issues to take into account. Anyway, it is now June, and the weather has finally started to warm up. The damp spot has not increased in size at all, the edge of the perimeter has turned dark/brown (not mold) and appears to be drying; however, most of the effected area is cold to the touch and still feels damp. In fact, I have been periodically scraping off white powder/crystals that are appearing on the spot (I heard this was common with old plaster when wet). There is no water dripping and the ceiling does not feel "soft" as it would if it were saturated with water. I took care of the gutter problem and was just waiting for the spot to dry before fixing it...but it has been over 3 months now! Like I said, no water dripping, ceiling is cold to the touch, feels damp...area has not increased in size. Should I just continue to wait this out? Could there be some other problem? If it were a plumbing leak of some sort, wouldn't the situation be getting worse with water eventually dripping from my ceiling by now? I'm kind of stuck on what to do next...any suggestions? It's a 100-year old ceiling, and I would hate to rip any of it up if I don't have to.

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Old 06-06-2014, 11:04 AM   #2
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


You seem to have a grasp of the possible causes and have already answered your own questions. My vote goes to "ice dam".

Is there in fact still moisture in the plaster or are you thinking the cool to the touch condition indicates moisture?

I would sit on it for the summer.

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Old 06-06-2014, 11:11 AM   #3
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


Ice dam is the best guess. But I would crawl in the attic to find the problem and fix it. I would also fix any Ice dam problems too summer is the best time to fix a roof.
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Old 06-06-2014, 11:23 AM   #4
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


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Ice dam is the best guess. But I would crawl in the attic to find the problem and fix it. I would also fix any Ice dam problems too summer is the best time to fix a roof.
I agree but the trouble with ice-dams is they don't necessarily re-occur every year and at the same location. Ice dams are sorta freaks of nature with minds of their own. It takes a special set of circumstances to create ice dams.
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Old 06-06-2014, 11:23 AM   #5
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


Thanks for the quick reply, guys! Bud Cline, I do think that there is still moisture in the plaster. I have one of those cheap moisture meters that indicates that something is up... I say it is cheap, because if I take that meter and put it on a cold surface with no water, it lights up! However, it does help in showing me where the problem spots are. So, yes, it feels cold in spots -- I do think it is because of moisture. My only question is why would it feel cold in the summer? I was thinking of drilling a small pilot hole into the ceiling to see if there is any standing water up there...but I'm afraid I may hit one of the copper plumbing lines or pvc drain pipe. Nailbags, no attic above -- a second floor bathroom is directly above the spot. Since I see no water dripping, I was thinking of waiting it out -- as per Bud Cline's suggestion. It may take the whole summer to dry out?
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Old 06-06-2014, 12:52 PM   #6
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


Does the moisture meter light up on any other part of the ceiling? Try metering a spot away from the supposed damp area and then sweep closer until you in the damp area. See if your meter changes. If it doesn't then it's probably just stained. If it does change.... well you know what that means. Hard to think that you would still have residual moisture from an ice dam after this amount of time.
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Old 06-06-2014, 12:57 PM   #7
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


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Does the moisture meter light up on any other part of the ceiling? Try metering a spot away from the supposed damp area and then sweep closer until you in the damp area. See if your meter changes. If it doesn't then it's probably just stained. If it does change.... well you know what that means. Hard to think that you would still have residual moisture from an ice dam after this amount of time.
I agree, but my thinking is along the lines of the OP in that: If it were a plumbing leak it would likely be expanding.
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Old 06-06-2014, 01:39 PM   #8
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


Maintenance 6, I did sweep the entire area with the meter -- the only time it lights up, is when it is over the area I designated as the damp spot...that area has not spread now in 3 months. If it is some kind of plumbing leak, it would have to be super tiny...even still, I would still think it would be expanding, and eventually get to the point where it saturates the plaster to the point it begins to crumble. Only way to find that out now is to break open the ceiling -- ugh. I'm going to monitor it over the summer -- if I see expansion, then I have to assume the worst. My gut is telling me that this is from an ice dam, or the radiator problem (both have been fixed). Nevertheless, I cannot fix the ceiling until the damp dries up...paint would probably just peel right off now if I just went ahead and tried to repaint.

Last edited by hockeyp21; 06-06-2014 at 01:42 PM. Reason: more info
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Old 06-06-2014, 01:49 PM   #9
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


Its a tile or tub leak in the shower above. I can feel it in my gut.

Last edited by Robpo; 06-06-2014 at 01:52 PM.
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Old 06-06-2014, 03:18 PM   #10
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


You won't find the leak on the internet and it's unrealistic to fix the ceiling before fixing the issue with the moisture.If you can't find the issue call a contractor that can.
Just to many variables to find a solution here IMHO.Or you can wait for another winter and watch it get worse.Maybe?
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Old 06-06-2014, 03:26 PM   #11
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


100% sure it is not a tile or tub leak. I agree that I won't find the leak on the internet -- that's pretty obvious.... I'm just posting to this forum for suggestions based on the facts that I do know. I have already called one contractor, a plumber, and a roofer. They could not offer up anything concrete either -- hence, I thought I'd take advantage of technology and reach out to the world for thoughts. Thanks all for your replies!
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Old 06-06-2014, 04:06 PM   #12
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


Maintenance 6, yes -- the amount of time (3 months now) is concerning. If it was a significant amount of water (and it probably was) then I guess it is possible that some water still could be trapped -- or absorbed by the plaster and insulation. With no real ventilation, I "guess" it could take quite some time to fully dry out. That's why I was thinking of drilling a couple of pilot holes into the ceiling (1, to help air it out; and 2, to see if there is any trapped water just laying in that spot.
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Old 06-06-2014, 06:01 PM   #13
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


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Maintenance 6, yes -- the amount of time (3 months now) is concerning. If it was a significant amount of water (and it probably was) then I guess it is possible that some water still could be trapped -- or absorbed by the plaster and insulation. With no real ventilation, I "guess" it could take quite some time to fully dry out. That's why I was thinking of drilling a couple of pilot holes into the ceiling (1, to help air it out; and 2, to see if there is any trapped water just laying in that spot.
I agree with you. Only one way to really find out and you have already suggested it. Drywall is not that hard to patch, and repaint. Of course in your situation, you would have to paint the whole ceiling for it to match. But you would diffinately find out the cause. Just my thoughts.

Also check your homeowners insurance. I had ice dams/plumbing problems one year and it was covered. Repaired the roof and also covered the drywall and plumbing. I couldn't believe it. I have statefarm, btw, an adjuster came out took a couple pictures submitted the claim and done.

Last edited by jmon; 06-06-2014 at 06:07 PM.
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Old 06-06-2014, 06:28 PM   #14
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


I really think you still have a small leak in the bathroom above. I think you had more than 1 problem, you fixed the large problem the Ice dam so it is drying around the edges but after 3 months if it hasn't dryer up then there is likely more water getting in.

And yes I know a plaster ceiling is not easy to fix but I think to open up an inspection hole is the only way to be sure what is happening.
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Old 06-06-2014, 06:51 PM   #15
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What to do about a damp spot on ceiling?


ToolSeeker, do you think that the radiator issue I described could also have been a problem? The stain pattern on the ceiling is 3 feet from adjacent outside wall -- then funnels about a foot extending from that point...it's adjacent to a roof where the ice dam was.

...and, to complicate things more, the radiator on the bathroom floor is directly above this stain, adjacent to the outside wall of course where the loose packing nut was. Plenty of steam was going pumping through this radiator up until the end of February -- and even early March.


Last edited by hockeyp21; 06-06-2014 at 07:12 PM.
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