Crack in ceiling drywall

Question Icon
Posted by: from Toronto
1/22/2012 at 6:33:35 PM

Just moved in 9 months ago to a newly 'flipped' house (gutted and new kitchen, 2nd floor bathroom, new main floor ceiling w. potlights and new hardwood). Don't have a lot of faith in previous owners renovation skills (uneven hardwood floors, baseboards don't meet floors, etc) - however they did hire a plumber and electrician for the bigger jobs.

Recently noticed a crack in the kitchen ceiling, about 2.5 feet long, parallel to the cabinets/wall. It is dry and hard, however looks a bit yellow at the edges. Not sure if this is a poorly installed drywall problem, something to do w. the ceiling joists contracting or expanding bc of the change in temperature this winter and doing something to the drywall (??), or if there is perhaps a leak in the bathroom sink above (directly below the sink in the upstaires bathroom - coincidental?).

I've attached a picture. Not sure if this is a big worry, or normal changes in a house first winter after a reno. Don't think things usually crack, but am crossing fingers its not some kind of leak etc.

Any advice is welcome - or things to look for to rule things out. Don't want to bring someone in to check it out unless it is serious/possibly a festering problem.

Thanks for your help!

User Icon
Date/Time1/22/2012 at 9:49:31 PM

HI Anna,

I think that you should be a little bit concerned. If it was just a yellowish stain without any cracking, I would say it was just not primed properly before painting and the existing stain finally bled through. The fact that the crack appeared with a stain tells me that there is probably something happening, especially if you have a washroom directly above. The location of the crack and stain is not necessarily where the leak is but may actually be the lowest part of the ceiling and the spot that the water is running to and pooling. It could be a leaking toilet, sink, shower, or tub surround.

The ultimate fix may be to open up the kitchen ceiling to have a look but you may be able to do some testing first without any major damage. You could test the stained area with a moisture meter and compare the readings to some other drywalled areas. If it significantly higher at the stain / crack, you probably have an active water problem. If it reads the same, you could probably just repair the crack and re paint the ceiling - hopefully it is not textured.

You should also do a visual check on all the accessible water pipes as well as using a dry paper towel to "wipe" any pipes that you can reach or see. The paper towel will immediately show even the slightest drip. This would include under your sink and toilet tank, where the incoming water connects. Visually inspect any caulking and ensure it is sealed to both surfaces. Check your tiles and grout for any cracking or deterioration. Make sure the toilet does not move at all - if it moves, the wax ring seal could be broken.

It may also be possible to have your drain system "scoped" through the opening for the toilet - it would have to be removed first but any company that does camera inspections should be capable of doing it. The toilet is usually the largest drain pipe and very often, the other fixtures connect to the same pipe before going to the main drain - no guarantees but way cheaper than tearing out a ceiling and replacing it.

Hopefully, others on the site can chip in with some suggestions that don't require immediate demolition.

Good Luck with it!!

Jim Kuzma

Kettleby Handyman Services

User Icon
Date/Time1/22/2012 at 9:56:43 PM

Hi Anna, I should have started my previous response by letting you know that the picture didn't come through.

Jim Kuzma

Kettleby Handyman Services

User Icon
Date/Time1/23/2012 at 11:02:14 AM

Hi Anna,

Jim gave some very good pointers above.

In my opinion, every water stain with or without cracks should be taken seriously. Any moisture trapped behind walls/ceiling may cause mold/rot growth.

Was the crack/stain already there when you moved in? Or did it just recently appear? If it was already there then there might be a chance that the previous owner fixed the issue and just did not fix the crack in the ceiling and the yellow stain. But based on your post above, it seems like it happened after you moved in.

The roof trust uplift because of the change in weather should not cause any crack in the ceiling and the stain.

It will be a good idea to get a thermal infrared inspection done to find out the extent of the damage. We can perform the inspection which is totally non-invasive and can confirm any water leaks / moisture intrusion with a moisture meter.

Hope that helps and yes, if you could re-attach the picture that would be great.

User Icon
Date/Time1/24/2012 at 7:27:56 PM

Open the ceiling at the point of the stain, a 2x2 about so you can see everything. Turn on the water in the bath tub and look for leak then the sink, and the toilet flush, have some one rock toilet to see from below if the floor moves. Fill tub with water and see if the floor sags, and also feel for ant cold air coming into the area.

User Icon
Date/Time3/1/2012 at 11:06:32 AM

Hi Anna,

I have to concur, great information has been provided above.

I am just seeing this now and don't know if you will see it now but there is another very important consideration, specifically the structural integrity of the home.

When I read your post the first thing that you should be concerned about is "the flip".

Although any crack and stain should be taken very seriously, "flips" by homeowners are often done incorrectly with the focus being to modernize the layout and freshen up the look as economically as possible. This leads to problems for the next owners when modernizing the layout usually means opening up the kitchen and main floor through the removal of walls and economically as possible usually translates to no permit and no trades. This combination can at lease cause mold and mildew issues and at most a structural collapse or failure.

I urge you to start by contacting the City and request a list of permits taken out on your new home. Do not be surprised by finding that none were Electrical is not handled through the City. You can contact the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) to inquire about those.

Next would be to throw a 4' spirit level (you can get cheap plastic ones at the box stores) on the floor above the crack. If there appears to be a sag (you can see light under the level when it is sitting on the floor) or there is a wall directly above the sag you should contact a Structural Engineer (P.Eng) to conduct a site visit and provide a stamped report.

Finally, go ahead and open up the ceiling to have a look. It is surprisingly common to find plumbing joints not glued which can lead to persistent leaks.

Although the yellow stain could indicate that there is a moisture / water problem it does not rule out other possibilities and "flips" often treated as applying the "lipstick and rouge" to make it as sellable as possible, they often open up previously existing problems that just aren't in the budget for the flip so a fresh coat of paint is all that is needed to make the sale.

Best to be safe and best of luck.


Jason Irving

The Cedarbrook Group

Search the TrustedPros directory and discover the best contractors in your area.

Find your home service pro
Great renovations start with a great contractor.

Since 2004, TrustedPros has been helping homeowners find the right contractor for their home improvements and repairs.

Post Your Project

Within hours you'll be comparing offers from top-rated professionals. It's free to post and you're under no obligation to hire.

Trustedpros Inc. does not warrant the accuracy, completeness, safety, legality or usefulness of any Content, or Whether Content is Current and up-to-date, and TrustedPros Inc. Shall have no liability whatsoever with respect to your use or reliance upon any content or for content being removed or otherwise ceasing to be available. Please refer to the terms and conditions of use of this websites for more details.

Get Free Estimates

Post your project and compare offers from top-rated pros.