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Question DetailsAsked on 2/5/2018

need someone to tell me why ceiling collapsed

lawyer wants to know what caused ceiling to collapse

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2 Answers


You need to get a licensed Structural Engineer with experience in residential structure design and evaluation - and if snow/ice may be involved, ASAP before any ice/snow can melt away because he will need to be able to measure accumulations to determine weight. A letter report detailing the cause probably around $300-1000 depending on how simple the cause is and how much damage was done - design of repairs typically in same range again unless the structural damage extends below the attic/top floor ceiling level.

Structural Engineer is a Search the List category, to let you find well-rated and reviewed ones. Architect is another - many larger Architecture/Architect-Engineer firms have structural engineers on staff, plus the architect would be able to also prepare drawing for bidders to bid to and for the successful contraxtor to build to, if architectrual elements or electrical/plumbing/HVAC also suffered significant damage.

Of course, presumably (maybe this is the lawyer you mean) this is likely to involve an insurance claim, though if due to long-term rot or insect damage that generally is not covered under a homeowner's policy.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD


I lacked time before to address the possible "why's" of a ceiling collapse - now presented below with ceiling drywall/plaster failure mode only, then structural failure bringing the ceiling down causes in that order, but in no particular order within those two listings:

Ceiling only - but overlying structure (floor above or attic) OK

1) water leak (roof or piping or A/C drain or humidifier or water heater source) overloading the drywall or plaster ceiling - generally only if no light fixture near center of ceiling to act as a drain unless someone did a very good job sealing that penetration up

2) very heavy frost buildup in attic due to a LOT of warm interior air leakage, causing progressive frost buildup (I have seen many feet build up in the worst cases, in areas with true long winters). Can cause collapse due to increasing ice weight, but more commonly because the ice is bonded to the framing, if only the ceiling comes down commonly occurs as the ice starts softening and melting and saturating the insulation when ambient temperatures rise, which then weighs down the drywall ceiling and causes it to come down.

3) Can also occur from interior fans (bathroom, kitchen, etc) being vented directly into the attic, causing mass frosting/icing or wetting of insulation from the condensation going into the attic rather than outdoors as it should.

4) improper nailing pattern on the sheets, fasteners too short, or a lot of misses with the fasteners - or using UltraLight drywall pattern or fastener length on standard or heavy-weight sheets

5) using concrete backer board or some heavier brands of water resistant drywall instead of UltraLight or FireX and not adjusting the fastener spacing to account for the greater weight

6) use of excessively thick drywall in ceiling (rare) - but anything over 1/2" can come down if nails are used at designated screw spacing instead of screws, and the framing they are going into is a very soft wood like southern pine. Commonly if thick ceiling drywall is needed (rarely over 1/2" is required), two layers are used - which also gives better joint fire burn-through protection by using staggered joints.

7) someone in the attic walking on the top of the ceiling rather than the joists/truss lower chords

8) stacking stored items so their weight bears on the top of the ceiling rather than on decking bearing on the joists or truss framing

9) excessive air overpressure in the attic, or major negative pressure in the house, during tornado or similar extreme wind pressure wind, "popping" the drywall or plaster off the ceiling

10) very rarely - weight of massive bee hive with heavy honey load can fall through a drywalled ceiling - I guess potentially could with a plastered one too.

11) rarely - poor quality or wet drywall which the fasteners pull through, allowing the sheet to fall free while leaving the fasteners in the framing

12) even rarer but more common these days - very poor quality drywall screws or nail quality, so the heads are damaged during installation to the point the heads eventually pop off

13) also very rare but can happen with damp attics over many years - rust-through of the drywall or plaster fasteners (and mesh with plaster) allowing it to drop free

14) rare except less so in areas with true winters or extreme wet/dry alternating seasons, but even then usually only results in popouts at the fasteners and loose ceiling, not falling - freeze-thaw or wetting-drying jacking of the fasteners out of the wood (usually only with nails but can happen with drywall screws on rare occasions), causing the fastenrs to back out of the framing


Overlying floor/attic joist framing failure along with ceiling:

15) excessive live (furniture + people + stored items) weight on overlying floor or joists- usually things like concentrated stacks of file boxes, very heavy full-ceiling height bookcases, water bed, large aquarium or rock-filled terrarium or indoor large planter or rock garden or Zen sand art (yes, I have seen those done full-size indoors), etc

16) icing in the attic per 2) above

17) excessive roof weight causing attic framing collapse - from snow load, glaciering, ice damming, very rarely heavy storm winds (usually latter only if framing was already weakened anyway, unless it tears the roof framing free of the house)

18) storm wind loading (usually combined with partial tearoff of sheathing, causing direct wind access to attic and/or failure/tilting over of attic framing

19) rot or insect damaged framing

20) external impact from blowing debris (like house piece or branch or car in a major storm), falling tree or power pole, etc

21) inadequate original structural design, or current use significantly exceeds original design loads

22) failure unrelated to the ceiling but ultimately causing ceiling failure - like rusted out truss joiner plates, or joists falling off walls in storm or earthquake or extreme long-term age creep sagging because of lack of hurricane clips or equal, or load-bearing wall failure causing overlying framing support failure

23) grossly wet framing losing strength and stretching out to the point of structural failure of framing system (very rare)

24) house reroofed with a heavier roofing which significantly exceeds its design dead load - usually only possible if reroofing with stone or clay tiles on a roof designed for shingles or metal roofing. Reroofing with 2-3 layers of shingles or with metal instead of shingles may technically exceed design load at times, but generally unless combined with a near design-load wind or snow load will not cause a failure because the design live load allowance and safety factor provide enough reserve capacity to prevent gross failure.

25) rare but I have seen it to many times, especially with trusses pickup up and handled the wrong way - inadequate truss/joist/rafter bracing fastener plate design or size, missing plates or failure to nail/screw on plate or strap fasteners needing such, or ones that came loose due to improper handling in installation. (Most common latter causes is box stores and lumber yards delivering trusses with a boom truck and lifting them into place in a horizontal - flat - position rather than upright, so it pops fastener plates loose.


Probably one or two more which are slipping my mind at the moment - but usually the cause is pretty simple and straight-forward to see.

Good Luck

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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