How to repair sagging ceilings yourself

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Look up. Is your ceiling sagging? A sagging ceiling is on its way towards collapsing, so it's best to deal with it before it happens. If the ceiling comes down, it can cause serious injury and even death, so the cost of replacing the ceiling and paying for new furniture may turn out to be the least of your issues. So if you have a sagging ceiling, get in touch with a licensed contractor as soon as possible.

While you're waiting for the contractor to arrive, let's figure out what caused your ceiling to sag.

First Reason is The Foundation
When the house was built, if the land wasn't graded properly or the foundation was poorly constructed, the long term effects that can have on the house can be devastating. Other factors, like whether the soil was too wet or too sandy, also play a role. Basically, anything that causes the ground to expand or contract will burden the foundation. Over time, a house will naturally "settle" into the earth it was built on and the foundation may shift or sink. This can cause cracks to appear in your walls, and, among other things, your ceilings may start sagging as well - especially if the original builder did a shoddy job.

Take a walk around your basement. If you see cracks, dampness, or bugs, your foundation is the issue and you should talk to a professional about it.

The Drywall
If the ceiling is sagging and there aren't any telltale stains that would suggest water damage, then there's a good chance the drywall wasn't installed properly. Most drywall ceilings require 4" screws spaced 12" apart from each other. The builder may have gotten lazy and cut corners. If he skimped on the screws and spaced them too far apart, the ceiling will sag.

Another idea is that he used the wrong drywall. While 1/2" thick drywall is the most popular size, it's very light (one of the reasons for its popularity) and isn't as sturdy as, say, 5/8" thick drywall. 1/2" drywall is more likely to sag, especially if there's a lot of space between the support beams. Most professionals recommend using 5/8" drywall for ceilings because it's a lot stronger.

Have a contractor come in to see what he has to say. He'll either be able to reinforce the existing drywall, or he may decide you need the drywall replaced altogether.

Water Damage
A undetected water leak can cause all sorts of household problems. For ceilings in particular, water can accumulate inside the ceiling, weakening the drywall or plaster. If enough water is allowed to build, the ceiling will sag and collapse. Water can also cause support beams to warp and rot which will lead to eventual ceiling collapse as well.

Once you've diagnosed the root of your sagging ceiling as a water leak, call a plumber and make sure your plumbing is fixed before you begin repairing your ceiling.

Isoptera
Isoptera is the scientific name for termites. Hopefully, the word "Isoptera" strikes less fear in the hearts of homeowners than the word "termites" does. Termites look like white ants and their favorite food is wood. If your home is infested with termites,  there's a good chance they've already caused lots of damage to the wooden support beams in your ceilings and throughout your house.

If you suspect you may be dealing with a termite issue, call an exterminator immediately.

 

If you live in an older home with sagging plaster on your walls and ceilings, you can fix it. Many older houses have plaster walls and ceilings with wood lath for a base. The wood lath was installed with gaps, called keys, between each piece of lath. The plaster was forced between spaced lath, and this keying action held the plaster in place.

As plaster ages, these keys may break away from the lath, and the plaster coating can come loose and sag away from the lath. Sagging is usually obvious. If you have sags in a plaster ceiling, press upward on the area with the flat of your hand. If the plaster feels spongy or gives under your hand pressure, it’s a sign that the key strength has been lost. If it’s not repaired, the plaster ceiling can collapse.

Whether you patch or replace the sagging plaster depends on the extent of the damage:

If the sagging is severe, meaning that it’s hanging an inch or more away from the lath base, or if it covers a large portion of the ceiling, your best bet is to remove the old plaster and replaster the ceiling, or cover it with wallboard. Not an easy do-it-yourself project.

If the sagging is slight, or covers a small area, you can reattach the plaster to the wood lath by using long drywall screws fitted with plaster washers. A plaster washer is a thin metal disk that increases the size of the head of a drywall screw so that it doesn’t pull through the plaster. You thread the drywall screw through a plaster washer and then drive it through the plaster and into the ceiling joists, wall studs, or wood lath. The screw and washer pull the loose plaster tight against the framing, restoring the ceiling. By surrounding the area with plaster washers, you can stabilize the plaster so that it doesn’t sag any further.

To reattach the sagging plaster to the lath, drive the washer with a power screwdriver or drill so that it penetrates the wood lath, wall studs, or ceiling joists. To avoid cracking the plaster and creating an even bigger repair job, don’t pull the plaster tight to the lath in a single motion. Instead, start a few washers around or across the sagged area and drive them snug against the plaster face. Then tighten each of them slowly, moving from one to another, so that the plaster gradually pulls tight against the lath.

To repair large sags, we follow these steps:

Remove the loose plaster.
Install drywall screws and plaster washers around the perimeter of the loose area.

From a piece of scrap drywall, cut a patch that completely covers the hole in the wall.
Save yourself time and trouble — make the patch a square or rectangle, even though the hole may be a different shape.
Place the patch over the hole and trace around it with a pencil.
Use a straightedge to guide your knife as you cut the wallboard along these layout lines.
If the patch is large, you can make the project go much faster by using a drywall saw. Just be careful to avoid wiring and pipes that may be hidden behind the walls.

Be sure to cut away any protruding paper facing or crumbled gypsum core from the perimeter of the patch area.
Install wallboard clips on the edges of the damaged wall by using the screws supplied with the clips.
Space the clips no farther than 12 inches apart.
Insert the wallboard patch into the hole and drive screws through the wallboard patch into each wallboard repair clip.
Snap off the temporary tabs from the repair clips.
Apply wallboard tape and wallboard compound to all four sides of the patch.
When the tape and first coat are dry, apply a second, smoothing coat.
This application is intended to smooth and conceal the tape. Don’t pile taping compound in a thick coat over the tape. Otherwise, the repair will be as obvious as the hole was.
Use a sanding block to smooth the repair area so that it blends with the surface of the surrounding wall.
Apply primer and a coat of paint.
Wallboard compound absorbs a lot of paint, so plan to give the patched area several coats to make it blend with the rest of the wall.

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