Drywall Ceiling Repair After a Water Leak

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It’s clear now that I’ve mastered procrastination. When I noticed a loose shingle on the roof I waited several months to replace it. Water found its way into the attic showing up as water stains on a ceiling at which point I finally decided to risk my (and my friend’s) life to get the roof in order. You’d think that’d be enough to motivate me to address any water-related issues promptly but… not so fast. When a toilet wax ring developed a small leak I ignored tiny puddles of water on a tile floor until this small issue became a much bigger problem.

After dealing with water leaks and their aftermath I think I finally learned the lesson. All leaks must be addressed right away. If you can’t do it yourself or don’t have the time – get a plumber out there ASAP, or just go to ProFormance Roofing. Do whatever is necessary to avoid what I’m about to describe now. It’s certainly doable but messy and most importantly – preventable.

Luckily with the roof leak I was able to just put some stainblocking ceiling paint and then paint over it with some matching paint. “Lucky” is an understatement too because if it required Sheetrock patching or replacing it would not be a DIY job. We have a 2-story foyer and the leak was right over the opening 20 feet up in the air. I was barely able to reach the spot with an extension pole. Patching the drywall ceiling in that area would require some sort of scaffolding which is not something I’d want to tackle. Side note: two-story foyers look nice but whenever we move to a different place I won’t be looking for this “feature” again.

The toilet leak on the other hand did more damage more quickly, in part because there’s no insulation to absorb some of the dripping water before it gets on the ceiling. The leaky master bathroom toilet happens to be over the family room i.e. the place where we spend the most time. Soon enough there was a 30 inch crack in the ceiling directly over the couch. It was ugly and I wanted it gone but knowing the mess it entails I procrastinated once more waiting for a day when I could get the family out of the house.

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Recently I had time off for the holidays so there were no more excuses. I moved all the furniture out of the room and let the fun begin. In a picture below you see the main tools I used on this project.

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A good ladder is essential with our 9 foot ceilings. I use this ladder and it’s a jack of all trades since it’s extendable, can be used against a wall, on the stairs or as an A-frame stepladder, or as a mini scaffolding or as a pair of sawhorses. The oscillating saw cuts Sheetrock like butter and my trusty Dremel made it easy to cut any stubborn nails flat with the joists. A good flashlight is a must to take a peak between the ceiling joists for any hidden issues. A bottle of Concrobium is an excellent insurance against any potential mold problems – now or later. The last thing I want is to do all this work and then discover later that everything needs to be ripped out again because of black mold! You can read my experience with Concrobium in this detailed post here.

Aside from that, you’ll need a claw hammer, a drill, joint compound, tape, putty knife, sander, sandpaper, tarps and a vacuum for cleanup.

First I cut a piece of drywall a bit larger than the damaged area. Once I could see what was behind there I measured an area 48” by 9” which would allow me to have a joist at each end for attaching a piece of new drywall.

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Being that this was a toilet leak I was mentally preparing for all kinds of nasty stuff on top of the ceiling. Luckily the area was clean without any signs of black mold. It was dry too which means that the new wax ring was holding up just fine. Actually one of the reasons I procrastinated this long to fix the ceiling damage was exactly because of this. I wanted to make sure that the DIY repair I did was holding up. Relieved to find it all nice and dry I went ahead and sprayed Concrobium around just enough to prevent any future surprises. This stuff really works as I’ve explained in a previous post.

While Concrobium was drying I took a piece of the old Sheetrock to Lowe’s where they matched it up with a new piece. Of course a 4’x8’ sheet of drywall doesn’t fit in my Mini Cooper so I just asked them to cut it up making sure there is a piece that will be at least 48”x9”. Back home I cut it to the exact dimensions with a utility knife and went to work on the opening.

The tricky part is to get the opening and the new piece to fit well without big gaps. Since my new piece was straight and exactly 48”x9”, I used masking tape to mark straight lines on the ceiling and then cleaned it all up with the oscillating saw and the utility knife. 

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After lots of climbing up and down the ladder the pieces finally fit like a good jigsaw puzzle. I secured the new Sheetrock to the joists with 8 drywall screws and put another 8 screws into the existing ceiling to support the weight instead of the nails that came out with old drywall. If you don’t do this a nice big crack is likely to appear at some point down the road as the old/new sheetrock settles in place. It also makes the new and the old drywall more level requiring less joint compound to make it all look even and flat.

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It was time to tape the seams. I usually use the sticky mesh tape which makes it pretty painless. Here is how it looks with a first layer of mud and tape:

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Mud – Wait to Dry – Sand – Repeat.

This cycle must repeat until you can’t tell where the old ceiling ends and the new one begins when running your hand over the area. Just to give you an idea – it took me 3 lbs of wallboard joint compound to get it all leveled. I’m sure a pro could do it with much less but the end result is the same – a nice smooth ceiling!

If it all sounds like a lot of work – it is! This stage took a couple of days with all the waiting and mudding and sanding… Dust was everywhere despite my best efforts with tarps. Yet, my least favorite step was still ahead.

I don’t have the ceiling paint that the builder used. I could try matching it at Lowe’s with their color matching machine but every time I’ve tried it before it never looked good on the ceiling. On the walls – yes, but never on the ceiling. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so the only option was to repaint the whole thing.

The family room is rather large with 2 big windows that highlight any imperfections on the ceiling. It took me 3 coats and multiple touch ups to get it looking smooth and consistent. I decided to go with this paint from Home Depot and think it came out better than a similar grade paint from Lowe’s that I’ve used in another room:

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Cleanup was pretty intense. Drywall dust managed to travel all over the house which is one of the reasons I wanted the family out as much as possible during this project.

Family room is finally looking presentable again:

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Overall I must say that this is not something I wanna do again. Of course I know it’ll happen again but this is definitely one of the more annoying DIY projects I’ve ever tackled. One thing for certain – I’m on the lookout for any leaks and ready to shut off the water to the whole house if it means I don’t have to open up a ceiling anytime soon!

 

6 thoughts on “Drywall Ceiling Repair After a Water Leak

  1. As always, I am in awe of your DIY ability! This is something I would just get someone in to do (although if it took you 3 days to do it I dread to think what it would take me!). I know I am no good at DIY and I accept it 🙂 That said, its great to see step by step how to do it, and If/when I get FI then I will have the time to do it, maybe I will give it a go!
    London Rob

    • Hey London Rob! There’s nothing particularly difficult about this job at all. It did take 3 days but most of the time was spent waiting around for the joint compound to set and watching the paint dry. And cleaning up the mess afterwards! You can definitely tackle it but I agree – finding the time is the hardest part. All the more reason to get to FI as soon as you can!

      • Believe me I am working on getting to FI but a long way to go sadly! I think part of it is also confidence and a willingness – I suspect I am partly in a loop of knowing I am not great, knowing it will take time and not wanting to risk it and then having to pay a “professional” to come and fix my muck up!

        One day I will get the guts up to try it, or I need to save enough to be FI and pay someone else to do it for me 😉

  2. Pingback: DIY Mold Remediation and Concrobium Review | Insourcelife

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