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  1. #1
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    Default Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    This board must be a stop for the Karma train. Recently, Phillip L. started a few threads about ceiling collapse issues. I read the posts but did not post any reply. I thought the thread was interesting and informative. Due to my jaded outlook I didn't give the issue too much thought. I figured in 30+ years I have never actually seen a 'whole' ceiling collapse. Mind you we live in the land of plaster and lath. Sure it happens but ... so here comes the Karma train, all aboard.
    Got a call from a potential client to go look at a ceiling problem / collapse / something or other. 'Can you go check it out, let us know what's up and document conditions'.
    Scenario - 16x20 living room, the entire ceiling came down except for around a couple edges where the plaster crown mold is; 1950's building, 2x12 joists, original ceiling nailed to joists, subsequent layers mostly nailed or screwed into each other; Ceiling thickness 2.5"
    Tenant stated the whole thing came down at once, no warning. He mother had just left the room a few minutes ago. Tenant has two small children.
    Ceiling has original 1/2" copper radiant heat loops. Could be a contributing factor. No signs of leaks or moisture at the joists though.
    All indicators are the rusty 50 year old nails couldn't handle all the weight any longer. I'm posting a few pics. Phillip if you are still around and would like a few (since this seems to be your thing) let me know.

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Markus,

    Do you have higher resolution photos?

    Looks like 'too few fasteners' but cannot tell from the size and resolution of those photos.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Hi Jerry, maybe these are better. I will try to post bigger ones. There definitely aren't enough nails remaining in the joist to be sufficient. However I don't 'know' how many were pulled out with the plaster/drywall. Based on visible nail holes along the joists, my guess is that about 1/3 to 1/2 pulled out with the ceiling.

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  4. #4
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Better with those photos.

    Zooming in to 400% shows what looks like name holes, albeit the resolution starts to fuzz up a little at 400%.

    If you can, find and measure the nails which pulled out, then measure some still in place and pull them out to determine 'typical' nail penetration.

    Then look closely at the remaining nails and see if they were overdriven into the paper and into the gypsum, which reduces their holding power.

    You could also measure the 'typical' nail spacing.

    If there are other large ceiling areas in that building, I would check them very carefully to make sure they are tightly held up in place, and recommend re-nailing anyway - simply based on this ceiling collapse.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  5. #5
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    A few more at the biggest size I could upload.

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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    The last pic does show some rust and staining around the pipes. That certainly was a thick ceiling with the radiant heat pipes installed. A few questions I have:
    Were the radiant heat pipes still in use, full of water?
    Any cracks or stains before the collapse?
    Do you have a lot of radiant heat ceilings like that in your area?


  7. #7
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Merry Christmas Markus. Thanks for giving every HI who reads this board night mares instead of sugar plumbs . This is a good thing to be aware of and I really do appreciate the post.

    "Merry Christmas to all"


  8. #8
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    From last week. Not technically interesting, but exciting enough for me as it happend while I was at the property: gypsum board ceiling collapse due to water damage.

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  9. #9
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    John I can't remember the last time I saw a ceiling radiant system that was actually still being used. Pipes were full of water and in-use. A split occurred at one point along the pipe during collapse. Maintenance guy fixed it with rubber and hose clamps for now. These systems aren't very common at all around here. If I do see one it's usually while it's being torn out during a rehab. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the boiler room and see what kind of boiler, zones and manifolds they have set-up.
    Spoke with the tenant, she stated there were no warning signs, cracks or water stains that she noticed beforehand.
    I looked at the rest of the ceilings, signs of full room width cracks in every room. Based on visuals, the other ceilings are probably also 2.5" thick. I called client right away and told them to get their guy out to shoot screws with plaster washers everywhere.
    Michael that is a fine example of old world craftsmanship. New drywall falls, old stapled acoustical tile stays in place.

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  10. #10
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Keller View Post
    I called client right away and told them to get their guy out to shoot screws with plaster washers everywhere.

    Also telling them to infrared view and mark the ceiling where those radiant lines are, otherwise that repair person could very well make matter very much worse by penetrating the piping with one or more of those screws.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Darn good idea Jerry. I know who to recommend for the work.

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  12. #12
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Hi Markus,

    From the pics you provided, it looks as though this was a monolithic installation rather than multiple layers of ceiling.

    The extra base coat of plaster would have been required to provide cover for the heat pipes. There appears to be inadequate nailing as has been diagnosed, although at the time of installation I suspect what was done was considered adequate and appropriate.

    Installing the heat pipes in the plaster would add movement from temperature change of the pipes that could accelerate pull out or tear through. With the added weight of the thicker plaster and water along with movement and vibration from moving water, this looks like it was an accident waiting to happen.

    I agree with Jerry about mapping out remaining pipes prior to installing additional fasteners and your call to get plaster washers on the remaining ceilings to prevent more collapse.

    The larger the ceiling, the more likely pull out and tear through will be. Also, absent water issues, this should be an issue that starts in the center of a ceiling rather than around the walls. I don't know if rusty nails contributed unless they actually broke off at the joist line. More likely, you are just dealing with too much weight for the combination of fasteners and materials in use. If the pipes were attached to CJ's, they could have acted to hold the lath in place ....

    Ed


  13. #13
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Also telling them to infrared view and mark the ceiling where those radiant lines are, otherwise that repair person could very well make matter very much worse by penetrating the piping with one or more of those screws.
    For those following last weeks discussion on infrared cameras, here is a good example of a use for the infrared camera outside the scope of a home inspection.


  14. #14
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick McCaffery View Post
    For those following last weeks discussion on infrared cameras, here is a good example of a use for the infrared camera outside the scope of a home inspection.
    Markus' ENTIRE inspection was OUTSIDE the scope of a home inspection.

    Not sure why you wanted to make the point you did, but you should have also stated that the entire inspection was outside the scope of a home inspection, thus home inspection rules do not apply, thus the use of the infrared camera IS NOT outside the scope of Markus' inspection.

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  15. #15
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Is there an apartment above this room? Could have been age of fasteners along with 50 years of vibrations from unit above. If fasteners or fastener spacing was an issue that would have failed years ago.. The ceiling above has on long span and I bet there is bounce when someone walked across the floor upstairs.


  16. #16
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    For me this inspection comes under the heading of 'adverse inspection', not regular HI. All these odd inspections tend to be my bread and butter.
    Yes there is another apt above. Lots of things were probably contributing factors over the age of the ceiling. Overall though I think it comes down to weight. If I have time today or tomorrow I might make a 1x1x2.5" square to see how much it weighs a square foot.

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  17. #17
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Keller View Post
    If I have time today or tomorrow I might make a 1x1x2.5" square to see how much it weighs a square foot.

    Don't forget to add in the 1/2" copper pipe, capped at each end and filled with water.

    Although, the plaster ceiling would sink if set down into a bucket of water, meaning it would weigh more than the the water it is displacing, so that pipe filled with water would likely only lighten its weight.

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  18. #18
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    I suspect the only thing that's changed in 50 years would be the condition of the fasteners, rust, or the plaster around the nail heads, torn from vibration or weakened by moisture.

    I can't see how they would put the pipes up without strapping or clamps of some kind, at least until the plaster sets up. So there were straps and those straps were helping to support the load until ....?


  19. #19
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Keller View Post
    If I have time today or tomorrow I might make a 1x1x2.5" square to see how much it weighs a square foot.
    According to a couple of my charts on the weight of building materials, one inch of plaster is between 8 & 10 psf, 5/8" Type X is about 4 psf.


  20. #20
    Philip Lamachio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    I have been on a much needed vacation and just got back to see Markus' thread.

    I hope that this incident helps to illustrate the need to be able to identify plaster ceilings that are prone to this type of collapse and will result in a clear statement notifying the homeowner or potential homeowner of the concerns, and the possible need for further investigation and remediation.

    I would like to use the photos and some of the commentary on my website if you don't mind Markus, Jerry, etc.

    Philip LaMachio

    BTW- If I were there as a plaster restoration professional, I would suggest to the building owner that he consider having all the ceilings in the building re-secured. Unless they have already been replaced, they are likely the same construction and may suffer the same fate. A lawsuit could have resulted had anyone been injured.


  21. #21
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    No problem, Phillip. I did put in the report that they should have a qualified contractor secure all ceilings throughout the building.

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  22. #22
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    The resultant damage and cost of repairs should be covered under the standard homeowner or commercial policy for the additional coverage of 'COLLAPSE"
    William S Cook
    Public Adjuster
    in Olando


  23. #23
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    Old plaster ceilings due to their weight and age will eventually stop holding hands with the lath above especially when applied on a wood lath. Compounded with the installation of copper heating pipes it can be expected to fall at some time in its history. I have seen plaster ceilings which have spalled due to moisture; the surface breaks up like brick spalls when it freezes. The moisture adds weight to the material as well. (heat rises and with it moisture from heating the home) If plaster sheets are fastened to the ceiling structure then this moisture and the normal aging of the plaster material weeken the fastings and down comes the ceiling. Normally the entire ceiling dosen't falll but only a section at a time. If the entire ceiling as you describe falls at the same time I would look for an other contributing cause. Likely weight and the influences of a water leak from the heating pipes. Does look like there was a leak in one of your photos. Repair can involve laminating modern 1/4" wallboard to the damaged plaster ceiling material with approved fasteners which hold both the damged and new materials to the ceiling structure, this should be done by someone familiar with renovation; or there could be the need to replace the entire plaster ceiling with wallboard; both of which can involve a considerable expense and inconvenience to the residence. Aren't old houses fun.


  24. #24
    Philip Lamachio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ceiling collapse - it does happen now

    'Old plaster ceilings due to their weight and age will eventually....fall at some time in its history' Thomas McKay


    This is very true, Thomas. Like any other component of construction, they should be inspected for soundness by an inspector who is able to recognize potential problems and remediated as necessary.

    This is why I started posting about this issue. Not all inspectors are aware of the potential problems or how to recognize them. Much better to address the problem while the ceiling is still in place, rather than on the floor.

    I have specialized in saving these ceilings for years here in NC. since 1995. I do not add drywall over the orig. plaster because it is simpler and cleaner for me to re-secure the ceiling back to the joists and repair the plaster. Many times I have seen the 'drywall over plaster' repair fail because the installers did not use screws long enough to reach the joists, or didn't take the time to find the joists to begin with. This kind of repair can actually accellerate the problem if done improperly.

    I have much more information on my website at estate plaster if you are interested.

    Thanks for adding to the conversation!

    Philip LaMachio


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