Mysterious ceiling stain -- please help diagnose

mdagainMarch 21, 2014

This morning, I noticed bubbling paint (approximately six inch by six inch) patch on interior edge of room about six feet from closest exterior wall on our first floor living room plaster ceiling. Noticed a few more small blistering patches (none bigger than 3 inches by 3 inches, two in addition to big stain) and a few water drop stains another foot to three feet away towards center of room. No dripping water anywhere.

I checked attic (third floor ceiling) and second floor ceiling and both are dry/no stains. There are no water marks on walls, baseboards, or floor of room directly above stain or walls surrounding stain. Venting for air conditioning system (connecting second to first floor) does run one to two feet from biggest blistering area, but air conditioning has not been on, and central air unit in other side of attic. No water coming from any airconditioning vents.

We have hot water radiator system that runs along exterior walls of house -- closest radiator (built into wall) maybe four to six feet minimum from biggest blistering area. Big blistering area has no obvious water staining. A few scattered water drop stains towards center of ceiling.

Who should I call for help? what else should I check first myself?

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Paint bubbles up when there is water beneath it. Either there is a leaking pipe, or perhaps a lot of condensation, or a roof leak.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 2:13PM
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My issue is there really is no nearby pipes and roof is two stories away. No signs of any water in attic (3rd floor). All heating pipes run along exterior wall and stain is near interior wall, center of room. No other plumbing this side of house. What else could cause condensation?

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 2:21PM
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Is there a bathroom anywhere above? Might be a leaking supply line, or something in the bathroom (eg. toilet). Need to cut a hole in the ceiling and see what's what.

This post was edited by homebound on Fri, Mar 21, 14 at 15:16

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 3:15PM
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@mdagain: "My issue is there really is no nearby pipes and roof is two stories away. "

Water finds the 'natural path'. It could be a roof leak, or a leak from a bathroom

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 3:32PM
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No bathrooms on that side of the house, and like i said the roof is two stories higher and the attic is completely dry as is second floor ceiling. Not near exterior walls -- six to eight feet from air conditioning venting and nearest radiator and stain seems to radiate to/from center of room. I'm wondering if one of my kids had a big water spill -- fish tank spill previously caused similar damage.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 3:42PM
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I've marked the perimeter to see if affected area is growing. Wasn't there a week ago so it either was one spontaneous event or a continuing leak. I'll monitor over the weekend and go from there.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 5:18PM
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Does anyone think a moisture meter would help? Site of the leak is almost exactly where fish tank leaked last October, but the bubbling appears new (I may have painted over before totally dry then but then bubbling would have showed up immediately right?). My kids claim not to have spilled more than a glass of water. I just don't know how to proceed. Don't want to rip up ceiling if not necessary.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 8:05PM
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Check your furnace flue for condensation.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 9:20PM
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I had a water leak turn up some distance from the source of the water. The plumbing stack ran through a side wall to the roof. The caulk around the stack where it penetrated the roof was failing; water was seeping down, following the pipe inside the exterior wall, until it got to the 2nd story floor/1st story ceiling. Then for some reason it traveled toward the center of the room and appeared in the ceiling.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 9:35PM
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Thanks for the feedback.

I should mention there is not waterstaining--just bubbling paint. Roof is slate, house is brick, no plumbing other than radiator that side of house. I guess I just watch the stain for the next however long -- if it is is actively growing, maybe leaking radiator pipe? If it only gets bigger when it rains, maybe something with roof?

Furnace is in basement, flue runs through outside fireplace chimney.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 9:57PM
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Also, what type of professional would I call for help? I called both our HVAC and plumbing people today and both said it doesn't sound like their issue.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 10:07PM
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Scrape off the blistering paint and wait a bit.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 9:18PM
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Thanks, I will try that. Is not currently spreading so probably not a radiator pipe. I'm going to have the chimney guy out next week to check the furnace flue and flashings on the chimney. I've also purchased a moisture meter and will use that to see if the area gets more damp over time and/or if it rains.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 10:44PM
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It's drywall? Just open it up and look.

Side walls frequently leak. Especially old brick that hasn't been repointed..

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 10:24AM
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If the sheetrock is already stained, it may be sagging and/or deteriorated too which means that you have a sheetrock repair in your future. If that's already the case I would cut a hole big enough to stick my head through and look around. You'll have a hole to patch but if you already have sheetrock damage you have that problem already.

Is this a new house or new ceiling? How long ago was the ceiling painted? Could there have been a spot of something on the sheetrock before installation that is making the paint bubble? If the ceiling has been up for years, that's not it ... but thought I would ask.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 8:30AM
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House is about 80 years old, ceiling is plaster (not sagging),
roof is slate.

Had 2 incidents now, initial incident (same week as snow/ice) and a few water drop marks (about four weeks later after rain).

Still can't figure this out. Roofer says roof is good, attic is dry, no condensation in attic, chimney guy says chimney is good, gutter is clean. We've had days with several inches of rain and nothing happens.

Thinking it may be a window issue (thus only happens when icicles or rain hits in certain direction). Otherwise, out of ideas?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 5:44PM
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