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Question DetailsAsked on 1/8/2013

Two yellow stains appearing on living room ceiling

I will try to be concise (if I can!). The problem was noticed a few weeks ago, on our living room ceiling, when the stains were very light with light brownish borders - and hardly visible.

Fast forward a few weeks, and while the length of these stains has not appeared to have grown, one of the stains (refer to this as stain #1) is growing more yellow, and is definitely visible (see images attached). Also, there is another stain, but this remains quite faint and hardly visible (stain #2).

Both of these stains run parallel, with stain #1 being approx. 3-5 feet, meanwhile stain #2 is under a foot in length. Stains start several feet from the nearest wall and are several feet apart. While there is a bedroom directly above the living room, and a bathtub/shower, there is no indication that there is water leaking (all caulking is in great shape with no cracks or separations, the floor is ceramic with good grout and the bathroom it self is about 4 feet from where the stains on the LR ceilin

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5 Answers

Voted Best Answer

There are so many other things it could be. The only way to know is to do as Vern recommended and remove the damaged drywall. Then trace the water path to the source. I've repaired leaks originating over 10 feet from the point of evidence. Water will travel to the lowest point before it pools and eventually works it's way through the drywall. Be prepared for anything and understand any contractor you hire won't be able to give you a firm price until they discover what all will have to be done to fix the leak and then repair the damage caused to find the leak. If you are up for getting a little dirty you can do most of the investigative work yourself and then gets bids to make the repairs. Either way research your contractor and make sure they have a good reputation. People in your case are often screwed by contractors who know the customer is bent over a barrel and has to have it done. When it's a need and not a want these guys often raise their rates needlessly.

2 things to bear in mind:
First, in response to your post, grout is not water proof. You need to seal and reseal it as needed to shed the water. An easy check is to put a little water (large drop) on the grout and watch to see if it soaks in within a few minutes. If it does you need to reseal it. If it just sits in a bead on the surface you are in good shape. It's somewhat unlikely this is your problem but it is a possibility. Also are the corners of the shower caulked or grouted. The corners are the point of flex and movement in walls and grout often develops hair line cracks there. They should always be caulked with coordinating caulk to match the grout used between the tiles.

Second, mold spores can begin to develop microscopically in as little as 24 hours. I'm not trying to scare you and it doesn't mean you will have mold but don't let it wait too long. Also, insects are attracted to the moist wood and drywall, especially in extreme hot and cold temperatures.

Todd Shell
Todd's Home Services
San Antonio, TX


Answered 7 years ago by Todd's Home Services


I'm interested to see what our experts have to think. And, yes, you can attach pictures.

Answered 7 years ago by HughV


It sounds like you have a small leak traveling down a joist. The leak could be from the bathroom drain or possibly from the outside wall and running across. The liquid is probably running into a drywall joint and soaking into the joint compound. The only way to know for sure is to remove the affected drywall and have a look around. A really good drywall guy can match the texture of your ceiling when it gets replaced. You might also look on that end of the house to see if any of your siding or mortar joints are cracked and letting water in.
In any event, there is moisture in the ceiling and that is a good place for mold to grow so it needs to be remedied. Don't panic though, you have plenty of time to get several estimates from the excellent contractors on Angie's List.

Answered 7 years ago by Vern


Hi, thank you for all the responses. Very close to diagnosing the issue (given it's all remote).

After a visible inspection from a friend of my fathers (very handy fellow), he noted it's likely the bathroom upstairs from the ceiling (where stains are forming).
He believed it to be related to the loose toilets, that need to be refitted by a plumber (quick 1 hr job he stated), and also, advised to caulk the surroundings of the shower to prevent any leaks.

the test suggested by one of the responses, ie to put a drop of water on the grout and observe it's absorption rate, is a good one and to be tested.

Yellow stains will likely be painted over with white on the popcorn ceiling. Don't know what to do with mold, if any has formed in the ceiling. Any suggestions? How do i know if mold has formed?

Answered 7 years ago by garysh


Also, the steaming hot showers are not balanced out through use of fan during showers. this clears up the steam, and does not contribute to letting steam settle into liquids, which would then escape through any space where caulking may have gaps, or under the toilet. this way, it further prevents leaks from taking place.

as well, hot showers are limited in time, so that the pipes do form condensation, as this could also well be the reason for the leaks.
basically it's a test on each one to eliminate and id the problem.
thank you everyone.
hope that helps.

Answered 7 years ago by garysh


Clearly water stains, UNLESS they are honey - I saw this twice, where a bees nest leaked down (although in an upstairs ceiling, not downstairs). If it is honey, you should be able to hear the bees humming through the ceiling in the daytime, and also see them coming and going through some outside hole on sunny days.

If you are all home handy, I would suggest using a fiber optic scope or camera, or carefully taking a utility knife and cutting out a bit of the drywall (be careful not to cut so deep you could nick electric wires) - enough so you can see up into the area above with a bright flashlight (or preferably, a 6V hand lantern). You should be able to see wetness, or at least water staining in the subfloor, and track it back to near its source area. Track carefully, because it might be coming direct down from its source, or it might be running along a pipe or wall or joist, then maybe dropping on the top of the ceiling drywall, running a few feet on top of the drywall, then pooling in a low spot along the side of the sheet or along a joist, and finally weeping through the drywall ceiling. I recently tracked a heating pipe leak over 7 feet from the source of the leak to where is was finally pooling in a low spot on the drywall and making a mold stain.

Unless the stains are right next to a wall, it is unlikely to be from a roof leak - when they show up in a downstairs area it is usually either right at the top corner of wall and ceiling after it has run down inside a wall, or at the very bottom of a wall after it has run all the wall down inside the wall. In either case, you will almost always see staining on upstairs ceiling and/or wall also, unless it is running down a pipe from a leaking roof seal.

Leakage through not obviously deteriorated tile grout, either in a shower-tub or the floor, is VERY unlikely to show up downstairs, unless you are dripping a LOT of water on the floor when washing it or getting out of a bath or shower and not wiping it up. Grout openings would have to be pretty wide open or porous to let that much water through. Grout joint leakage is usually confined to the immediate wall or floor area, and can cause rot in those area but is rarely enough to drip down through a downstairs ceiling.

However, having a shower curtain outside rather than inside a tub (common with kids), or seriously leaking sliding shower door track caulk can dump enough water on the floor to cause such leakage staining. Also - be sure you are using the shower doors correctly - the one closest to the shower head should be on the inside track, because if you have the outside one closest to the shower head then you have an open gap between the doors that the water can go straight through, rather than the protective ovelap you should have.

If not one of those, I would say 95%+ chance it is a leaking toilet or pipe. Run toilet paper (shows water best) all around the drain and water pipes under your sink (also looking for any signs of wetness or mold), and all around the outside of the tank and bowl of the toilet, and the floor around the base of the bowl. Also around the toilet shutoff valve and the flex or copper tubing leading to toilet.

Also, after making sure there is no water running anywhere in the house or outside, listen (easiest with a stethoscope, but not necessary) with your ear tight to the wall near the sink, above the toilet, and near the tub/shower valve. If you have a water leak in the pipes in the wall there you will hear a faint hiss or sound of water running in the pipes. (Do not mistake the sound of a steam or baseboard heating unit circulating pump - if in doubt, shut off power to the furnace while doing this). Also, you can hear the gas flowing into heaters or appliances, and the hot water heater and boiler heating, so if you hear a sound check to be sure they are not heating at the time you are checking. If you turn a faucet on so it just barely slowly drips then listen to the wall above that, you will learn what sound you are listening for.

If all those are ruled out, then almost sure to be leakage from bad toilet bowl wax seal - like the plumber said, typically minimum service call fee of about $100-150.

In any event, I would recommend opening up the drywall (or borrow or rent a fiber optic scanner or camera from someone - tool rental shops and some auto supply stores rent them out) to track the leak because this is going to have to be done eventually anyway, soo why pay someone else to do it. This will also show you how much mold or dry rot you have to deal with, which will tell you whether you just need a plumber, or if you are going to have to repair damaged flooring and/or joists too.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD

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