Say! You, there!
Has this ever happened to you?
You’re at home trying to live or rest or hobby or whatever other normal things you do when you’re not working, unless you work from home and every day is an existential struggle over the Duality of Man, and then suddenly one day you realize you have a hole in your ceiling. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you’re present in the room when the hole is punched and you know exactly what to blame and how to swear vengeance properly. Most of the time, it’s a gradual process that may or may not have begun with a water stain that turned malignant. Still other times, you’d swear that hole wasn’t there when you left for work that morning, but now there’s a surprise ceiling hole and an innocent-looking family holding a football with everyone’s fingerprints on it. Whatever the cause, no two ceiling holes are the same, but the heartbreak is universal.
If you’re a renter, ceiling hole repair is as easy as 1-2-3:
1. Call landlord.
2. Complain about hole.
3. Watch your stories till hole is gone.
If you’re a homeowner with a home-improvement skill set, it’s not so simple, but you’ve probably got it covered. If you’re a homeowner without a clue like me, it’s a conscientious burden, it’s a drain on your heating bills, it’s an eyesore that has to be hidden from guests, and it might as well be a geotechnical engineering project for all you know. What do you do?
There’s the highway (i.e., abandon the house)…or my way.
How to fix your ceiling if you’re me, in lots and lots of steps:
1. Stare at the hole for a while, anywhere from five minutes to a year. As head of household you’re in charge of timetables, and if that’s how much staring you think the problem requires, then where’s their staring experience and research to say otherwise? In fact, you can preempt their arguments by telling them up front that the Wikipedia entry for “staring” doesn’t mention timetables, either. And that is one to grow on.
In my own case, long-term staring yielded curious results. Our hole didn’t leak when it rained. I once sat in our attic for ten minutes watching and waiting for leaks to appear in the roof during a severe thunderstorm. None did. The hole also didn’t leak when temperatures were steady outside — hot, cold, warm, didn’t matter. As long as temps stayed even, nothing happened. In fact, the only time it seemed to drip was when temperatures rose from freezing to not-freezing. Whoever was doing this to us, they were using chemistry. Or maybe even physics. You can never tell how clever these house-damage bandits might be. If drug dealers like The Wire‘s Stringer Bell can attend community college classes, it’s not too far a leap to wonder if villains and convicts in other felonious career tracks are doing likewise.
2. While you’re busy pontificating and/or procrastinating, Heavens to Murgatroid, at least put a bucket under the hole to catch water or crumbs or insulation or falling bugs or whatever.
3. Wait and see if the hole repairs itself. You just never know. If there can be shoe-cobbling elves and cookie elves and Toys R Us Christmas-merchandise elves, it stands to reason there might be other industrious species standing by to benefit our kind.
4. Alternatively, wait for a super-hero fight and/or a Kool-Aid Man tantrum to bust down the entire room so you can have it all remodeled at once, instead of renovating it piecemeal over the course of decades.
5. If steps 3 and 4 never happen and the hole is finally starting to worry you, it might be time for the self-taught home improvement route. Several websites including but not limited to YouTube have drywall ceiling repair FAQs, walkthroughs, cheat codes, and DIY let’s-fix videos you can watch and imitate. Some might require more caffeine than others to finish watching all the way through. Strangely, for some home-repair teachers and role models, entertainment is not always their top priority. You can always tell those earnest, hard-working, knowledgeable, fully trained and licensed stars are the ones who didn’t bother reading up about YouTube on Wikipedia before buying into it. Sometimes they don’t even have their hair done or finagle a guest spot on Smosh’s channel first. I don’t get them.
6. Buy all the tools your new guru told you might come in handy. Keep them in the store bag(s) until you’re absolutely certain that steps 3 and 4 are dead ends. This can take anywhere from ten minutes to another year. Again: it’s your house and they’re your shopping purchases. If you want them to stay in the bag and rot in a corner while that hole expands into an indoor skylight, it’s your call. If that’s what you have in mind, might I suggest next time you skip the tools and buy a firehouse pole instead? Because those are so cool and soon you’ll have just the right space for it, unless the entire ceiling collapses, in which case you’ll have just given your formerly cozy home a new cathedral ceiling with rustic barnyard ambiance.
7. When at long last you agree with your sensible family that it’s time to Do Something, spread a large blanket, tarpaulin, or thick road map on the floor under the hole to catch anything that might ruin the carpet and create yet another home improvement project to line up immediately after this one.
8. Place a tall chair, step-stool, ladder, vehicle jack, steady muscleman with large hands clasped together, or Super Mario springboard beneath the hole. Ascend.
9. Using your shiny new drywall knife, stab the hole really hard like you mean it and want it to pay for its crimes against your peace of mind. Dodge the falling hazardous insulation. Strongly discourage your dog from nibbling on it.
There’s a method behind this exhilarating moment of madness: most of that dead area around the hole will also have to be taken out sooner or later. Exploratory stabbing lets you see further into the ceiling and get a better idea of the extent of the damage, possibly even the source. And destruction is much more fun when it’s on purpose.
10. Look closely, panic, and stop what you’re doing. This is the point where you’ll realize this hole looks nothing like any of the holes you watched on YouTube that had less than a hundred thousand hits each. It might not even be drywall; it could be thin plaster, the insulation behind it looks like scary Halloween decor, and who knows how many (or how few) treacherous layers still stand between you and the attic airspace. Your dream home is a LIE.
11. Descend your climbing device and retreat from the room. Don’t cry, or else the hole might see it as a sign of weakness and laugh at you.
12. This step is the hardest of all: admit you need help, you stupid stubborn mule.
13. Contact your homeowners’ insurance agent. If they’re a pro, they will not contact your insurance company yet, because using your homeowners’ insurance will cause your homeowners’ insurance premiums to go up, and the more they go up, the less likely you’ll be able to afford them, and the less likely your agent will earn commissions on premiums you don’t pay. If your agent is a decent human, they’ll also want to save you money in general.
14. Your agent will contact a contractor for an estimate. That means you’ll need to let them inside your house and you’ll have to let them see your home’s gaping wound. It’s okay. They’ve seen worse. And they should be a trustworthy contractor since your agent presumably doesn’t want to be known far and wide on the internet for consorting with burglars and ripoff artists. Your Mileage May Vary, but this was pleasantly and thankfully the case with us.
15. If the damage was extensive, prepare to activate Homeowners’ Insurance Powers. If you’re fortunate, the damage will cost less than your deductible and you can leave the insurance company out of all remaining steps, thereby leaving your premiums as eminently payable as usual.
In our case, the culprit turned out to be none other than my old arch-nemesis, the dryer vent duct. It had clogged once again, this time so thoroughly that the duct pipes had separated at the joints — at which, in our last showdown I apparently had sealed them with all the efficiency of a fourth-grader with Scotch tape — and the escaping dryer exhaust was causing the temperature variances that produced condensation, followed by frozen layers, followed by ceiling holes. Plural. Surprise! Our ceiling hole had a small apprentice in our laundry room that might’ve someday become the master if the contractor hadn’t caught it as well.
The contractor’s total estimate to handle all of this was below our deductible. We had a deal and we thanked our agent for hooking us up.
16. Arrange a day or two for the contractor to come do the job. Be cordial. Let them do whatever they need to do, even if it means stabbing the hole harder and more deeply than you did.
Do not panic again. Just the one panic attack at step 10 was enough. Yes, your hole is now a pit and you really can see your rafters and any woodland squatters you didn’t know about. That’s temporary. Like a surgeon, contractors have to cut in order to cure. Breathe deeply and wave farewell to your firehouse-pole rationalization.
After an hour or three, your hole may look like this:
This is not a trick. The contractor is not installing a Hollywood green-screen and preparing to cover the hole with CGI graphics that look and sound like a real ceiling at six times the price. This is your new ceiling’s foundational understuff, or whatever. If I knew the technical term, you’d see photos of me fixing this myself, not photos taken by me with childlike wonderment.
Given more time, the hole might transform into this:
Now it looks like a fake trapdoor, which might be a cool way to fool burglars and invading pirates into thinking they’ve found the secret access panel to your most worldly treasures. Those FOOLS. Alas, this handy decoy feature is another temporary step. This is, I think, the new ceiling’s intermediate subdural support-system stratum. Hey, don’t look at me funny like you know. (On second thought, odds are more in your favor than in mine. Carry on.)
Your contractor may need to pause after several hours and come back a different day to complete the painting process. Procedures, durations, and hours may vary. Remember patience is a virtue and you’re more than welcome to try doing this part yourself if you’re willing to risk damaging your carpets, books, and other collections you forgot to remove from the room. While the pros are on the job anyway, why not let them see it to completion instead of trying to save the day and take more credit than you deserve?
If all goes well, your new ceiling will look exactly like the old one, and few will be able to tell that any humiliating calamities ever occurred here.
17. Pay the contractor what they’re owed. DO IT.
And there you have it! Your ceiling will be restored to its original, reliable, drab, ignorable old form that you can go back to taking for granted thanks to these seventeen steps, even though the sixteenth step was basically you hanging out and desperately wishing you felt anything but useless.
The next time this happens and our ceiling betrays us, now I’ve got my procedures all written up and ready to consult from the get-go, in three incredibly easier steps:
1. Call the contractor now.
2. Complain about the hole.
3. Watch my stories till the hole is gone.