Whether it is due to a severe rain storm and a leaky roof, or from a burst pipe, water damage to your ceiling is a serious problem. Taking the right steps as soon as possible will go a long way to containing the extent of the repair and its cost. It will also ensure that that you are likely to have additional problems down the road.
You will probably first notice the problem on the ceiling below the source of the leak, but maybe not right underneath it. The water will run downward from its source spot and collect on top of the ceiling drywall or plaster. Eventually it weaken the seem between drywall panels or pour right through plaster.
A water stained ceiling can also be an indication of a condensation problem. If that is the case instead of a one big stain you will see multiple little discolored circles with white centers. These are typically found close to an outside wall and likely in a corner. They can form even without a rain storm.
When the stain is from a leaking roof it could be located anywhere on the ceiling. It is characterized by rings that get lighter and lighter ans the stain moves outward. The center stain is the first occurrence of the leak and will be the darkest while each additional stain is a subsequent leak. A large stain with lots of rings means you’ve had the problem for a while.
You need to find out how the water got to there to begin with before you can start repairing the ceiling water damage. Turn the power off to the ceiling fixtures right away. Water and electricity don’t mix.
Try to get at the area somehow. You can cut away the damaged area or remove the water soaked ceiling tiles. Whenever there is a build up of water damage over time you run the very probable risk of mold forming. Any indication of mold needs to be dealt with right away, because it is a very serious health risk if left alone. Unless you are certain you possess the necessary skills to handle a mold issue properly, you are well advised to call in a professional. It can be very challenging to remove completely once it has formed and it is better to get rid of it now then run into further problems later.
Finding the source of the leak in the roof can often be a bit of a challenge. It would be nice if it was located right above the water damage on the ceiling, but that is seldom the case. You will have to carefully inspect the roof until you find the hole and don’t be surprise if it is not near where you thought it would be. Also be sure to check for loose shingles and the flashing for small gaps.
The vents can also be the source of the problem. Check them all including the furnace and hot water tank vent, dryer vents and bathroom vents. If water gets into a vent, it will run along it until it eventually drips through a seam and onto the top of your ceiling.
If the water as penetrated a sheetrock or drywall seam then you will notice the tape beginning to come away. The tape will need to be removed and replaced. If the ceiling is textured it of course will have to be redone.
All in all, repairing ceiling water damage can be a difficult job. Because of the angles you have to work at and the areas you need to get into like the attic and the roof, you may want to consult with a water damage specialist to evaluate the scope of the restoration. At least after you have their opinion you will be better equipped to decide if you want to tackle the job yourself or not.