Sudden ceiling collapse is a dangerous situation that can not only damage the contents of your room but can also cause serious injury or even death. This phenomenon should definitely be a concern for anyone whose house was built between 2005 – 2009 as outlined in an investigation carried out by the Building Commission. We have been seeing an ever-increasing number of ceilings that suddenly fail, sending hundreds of kilograms of plasterboard sheet, cornice, and insulation falling to the floor.  Not to mention live electrical cables. The following information explains why these ceilings are collapsing and how to tell if your ceilings are about to fail. You will also learn how it can be prevented and what it takes to repair them.

I personally have no doubt that one by one each and every one of these ceilings is a potential disaster just waiting to happen. You have two choices if you own one of these homes. You can either replace the ceiling when it fails or falls, or you can be proactive and get it assessed so that you can repair it before it falls. Homeowners who wait till they can see the ceiling is actually failing will be paying a lot more money than those who proactively prevent it.

Australian Home Inspections

Ceiling Collapse

A ceiling collapse can cause serious injury to anyone present at the time of collapse and it can also cause extensive damage to a room’s contents and structure. Repairing a ceiling costs less than doing nothing and fixing the results when it fails, so timely action is important.
Between December 2014 and November 2015, Consumer Protection received 129 inquiries and seven complaints regarding the partial or complete collapse of a ceiling.  Collapses may occur because of storm damage, water leaks, inappropriate use or access to roof space, inappropriate materials or poor workmanship. 
The Building Commission carried out an investigation after becoming aware of a number of unexplained ceiling collapses, particularly in homes constructed between 2005 and 2007.  The Building Commission found that a common occurrence at each home was the poor application of adhesive.
The amount and positioning of adhesive for fixing of gypsum plasterboard are well documented by manufacturers and forms a critical component of the ceiling sheeting fixing process. Any reduction in the amount or misplacement of the adhesive will affect the capacity of the sheeting to remain fixed to the ceiling framing.

What Are The Warning Signs?

Warning signs of the ceiling being under stress prior to collapse include:
• a loud cracking sound in your ceiling;
• a sagging or dropping of the plasterboard sheeting and/or the cornice; and/or
• visual cracking and/or small circles (nail pops) on your ceiling. If you can see small circles or blisters (about the size of a shirt button) scattered along a straight line it is a sign that your plasterboard sheeting is pulling away from the ceiling joists. 
As well as the warning signs, the Building Commission’s Spontaneous Ceilings Collapse fact sheet includes checks homeowners can carry out or have carried out, advice on what to do if they find a warning sign and ceiling care tips.

What Checks Can I Do?

If you have concerns about the stability of your plasterboard ceiling, there are checks you can do:
• Measure the height of your ceiling where it meets the wall and then measure the ceiling height in the middle of the room. A variation in heights of 12mm or more could indicate the plasterboard sheeting has detached from the ceiling joists.
• Place a straightedge or spirit level over an area of ceiling sheeting and see if there is unevenness anywhere in your ceiling. 
• Check to see if there is a gap between the ceiling sheeting and the joists. This can only be done by accessing the ceiling space. Accessing your ceiling space presents numerous hazards and it is strongly recommended that you engage a suitably qualified person to carry out this activity. Should you choose to enter your ceiling space make sure all power is isolated before doing so.

Homeowners who are concerned about their ceiling should talk to their builder in the first instance. It is the person named as the builder on the building permit who is responsible for ensuring any building work carried out complies with the applicable codes and standards.
If the homeowner does not get a satisfactory response from the builder, they should consider engaging the services of a qualified building inspector to identify the nature and extent of any problems.
The roof space has hidden dangers that include electrical wiring, overhead obstacles, and unstable underfoot conditions, so homeowners are advised against entering a roof or any confined space themselves.
If after writing to the builder the homeowner cannot resolve the issue, and the home was completed in the past six years, the homeowner can lodge a building service complaint with the Building Commission.
The Building Commission has also developed an Industry Bulletin and has acknowledged that since the plastering industry adopted the one-third system of fixing ceiling linings around 2007/08, the incidence of failure has been significantly mitigated. The Building Commission is working with the building industry to ensure trades involved in the installation of ceilings are aware of the applicable building standards.
What should you do if you find a warning sign? 
Should you note any of the warning signs listed above you can contact the builder as ceilings should be constructed to last the life of the building.
If you do not get a satisfactory response from the builder, you should consider engaging the services of a qualified building inspector (this could be a builder, building surveyor, architect or some other suitably qualified individual) in order to identify the nature or extent of any problems. 
If an inspection identifies issues of concern, you should put this in writing to the builder outlining what the problem is and giving a reasonable amount of time for the builder to respond or to fix the issue.
For homes built more than six years ago, information about civil claims can be found on the relevant court websites. Prior to pursuing any action, it is advisable that consumers seek their own independent legal advice. 
Homeowners who believe their ceiling is vulnerable to collapse should take immediate steps to secure the ceiling. It is recommended homeowners contact a suitably competent ceiling fixer who can brace the ceiling and refix the sheeting where the fastening systems have failed.

Key Summary On Ceiling Collapses

1.    The WA Building Commission has recognized that during a period of time in WA, the practices utilised to fix plasterboard sheets may have been insufficient. The position has been improved, however, homes constructed during a period of time may be more susceptible to ceiling failures because of the lack of fixings and adhesives used.
2.    Monitor your ceilings for any signs of movement. If there are inquiries, act early and decisively to have your ceilings checked.
3.    If you are buying a new home make sure your building inspector checks the ceilings. Checking ceilings is outside the REIWA building inspection clause and outside the definition of a structural defect so consider if you need to have the property inspected prior to submitting an offer.
4.    Building Inspectors can check ceilings to provide assurances as to the integrity of existing ceilings

Australian Home Inspections

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