The Do’s and Don’ts of Ceiling Repair

For various causes, cracks occur in drywall and plaster, from natural settling of the house to poor workmanship, roof truss uplift, or water leaks. While it is pretty easy to patch cracks on walls, it is a little more challenging with ceilings, which usually have some texture added and are overhead, making the repairs a (literal) neck pain. A savvy homeowner can often successfully repair cracks in ceilings without too much trouble following a few time-honoured techniques. The trick is knowing what to do first, what tools to use, and recognizing whether it’s time to call in the professionals.

DO pinpoint the cause of the crack

The cause of a ceiling crack, such as noticeable water stains on the ceiling, is often evident, suggesting that a leak caused the joint compound to weaken and crack. A delicate spider web of hairline cracks is often the result of too thickly applying joint compound, resulting in shrinkage and crack formation as it dries. Before tackling this ceiling repair, correct the cracks’ cause, such as fixing leaks to prevent cracks from recurring.

DON’T proceed without a plan.

Ceiling repairs can include removing some of the texture for the repair, depending on the type of ceiling texture and the crack’s size, and then patching the ceiling with a product that suits the rest of its surface. Instead of smearing some spackle with a finger into the crack (which often works!), consider whether retexturing or painting would be required after the crack repairs are complete to give the ceiling a finished look. Find all facets of the project and the expected outcome for the best performance.

DO consider popcorn ceiling removal

All the rage of the 1960s and 70s, dust and grime collectors are mostly popcorn ceilings that still exist today, and any form of crack repair is likely to stick out like a sore thumb. Since this form of the ceiling will potentially decrease the market value, this could be a perfect time to get rid of the texture or cover it with drywall panels or rigid foam panels. Popcorn ceilings built before 1978 can contain asbestos, so before making repairs, it is essential to find out what kind of popcorn texture is on your ceiling. It’s generally safer to have an asbestos-remediation specialist remove an asbestos-containing popcorn ceiling.

DON’T cheap out—buy the right tools for ceiling repair.

If the crack is a very thin hairline, and it has been there for a while, the chances are that you can only put a little spackling on a finger and gently smear it into the crack, taking care to brush away the surface residue. More frequently, though, the crack is bigger, or there are several cracks in the ceiling. Using the right equipment and materials would have the best outcomes, as this is the case. For the removal of loose ceiling texture and peeling paper, a 6-inch taping knife works well. For filling the cracks, a small tub of premixed drywall mud is required, and it is helpful to use mesh or paper drywall tape to strengthen the compound. After the mixture dries, a drywall sanding sponge comes in handy for smoothing the floor.

DO protect the walls and floor.

When you work overhead, the wet drywall compound has a way of dripping everywhere, so take precautions to protect the walls, the floor, and any other things in the place. Place a canvas tarp on the floor (plastic drop cloths can get damp and dangerously slippery) and cover lightweight plastic drop cloths with some furniture to avoid ruining them. If the ceiling crack is near a wall, consider covering the wall with a plastic drop cloth to keep splatters off.

DON’T shorten time for drying.

Ceiling crack repairs made with the compound of wet drywall should be fully dry before adding another coating. Here, the general rule of thumb is to add the mixture to the thinnest possible coat, ensuring that a taping knife removes the excess. The compound will turn a bright white colour when dry. It can be sanded down at that stage and recoated.

DO try a flexible patching compound.

If you’ve fixed a crack in ceiling drywall before, consider sealing the ceiling repair with a flexible product such as Elastopatch Smooth Flexible Patching Compound only to have the crack reappear a few weeks or months later (available from Amazon). Brush on a thin coat of Elastopatch with a small brush, directly over a crack that has been filled with compound or spackling and then sanded smooth, rather than adding regular paper or mesh drywall tape to the crack. All it takes to form a flexible seal over the repaired crack is one or two coats of Elastopatch.

DON’T forget to stay safe.

Sanding drywall compound can produce dust billows, and before tackling the job, a DIYer should wear a dust mask in addition to eye protection. Besides, only use a stable step ladder (no wobbly chairs or stools) to reach the ceiling while operating overhead.

DO add a finishing touch.

If the repairs do not fit the rest of the ceiling, repaired cracks will look almost as bad as the cracks themselves. Ceiling patch repair items are available for use with a sponge in sprays and semi-liquids. Make sure you get one that suits the texture of the ceiling. It is also an option to paint the ceiling, looking for a neutral colour of high-hiding ceiling paint.

DON’T skip other ceiling updates.

When the ceiling repair is completed, and the ceiling texture has been patched, the fresh look may be marred by a dated light fixture or a rusty return-air vent. Consider replacing an old light fixture with a new one and replacing an old vent or cleaning it and give it a new coat of paint, to give a fresh new look to the whole room.

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