Ceiling Collapse: Why and what to look out for?

Friday, April 12, 2019 2:36 pm
Reading Time: 4 minutes

About 10 ceiling collapses are reported to Building and Energy each year. Sandy Randall from Building and Energy (formerly the Building Commission) joins Rodney to discuss the issue.

As well as the ten reports of ceiling collapse a year, there are likely to be many more we don’t hear about because homeowners and builders resolve issues without our involvement. 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. Prevention is better than a cure in terms of the risks, costs and inconvenience associated with a ceiling collapse. Reinforcement and repairs will almost always be a more straightforward option compared to a full ceiling replacement. Where rental properties are concerned, additional costs may be incurred if tenants have to be supported in alternative accommodation during the time it takes to repair the property damage.

Why do ceilings collapse?

Collapses may occur because of storm damage, water leaks, inappropriate use or access to roof space, inappropriate materials or loads, or poor workmanship. In 2017, our colleagues at Building and Energy carried out an investigation after becoming aware of a number of unexplained ceiling collapses, particularly in homes constructed 2005-2007. Building and Energy found that a common occurrence at affected homes was the poor application of adhesive. The insufficient or misplaced adhesive will affect the capacity of the sheeting to remain fixed to the ceiling framing.

What are the telltale warning signs?

Homeowners, tenants, landlords and property managers should be aware of the signs of a potential ceiling collapse in homes of any age. A ceiling may be under stress or failing if you hear or see:

  • a cracking sound in the ceiling;
  • sagging or dropping of the plasterboard sheeting and/or the cornice; and
  • visual cracking; and/or
  • small circles or blisters (nail pops) in a line on the ceiling, which are a sign the plasterboard sheeting may be pulling away from the joist (beam) above it.
  • Property managers should note that it may be a good business practice to include a quick scan of the ceilings during property inspections to identify new sagging, cracking or blisters.

What checks can you 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 12 mm 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 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, which presents numerous hazards so it is strongly recommended that you engage a suitably qualified person to do this. If you choose to enter your ceiling space make sure all power is isolated before doing so.

 If warning signs are present, what then?

Owners need to be proactive and arrange inspection and repair of the affected areas. If you see signs of failure, contact the builder in the first instance. Or you are not satisfied with the builder’s response, you should consider engaging the services of a qualified building inspector 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 the problem and giving a reasonable amount of time for the builder to respond or to fix the issue.

If the issue still cannot be resolved:

For homes less than six years old:

  • The Building Services (Complaint Resolution and Administration) Act 2011 includes general entitlements that allow a person to make a complaint about defective building work within six years of practical completion.
  • The process for determining when the six-year time limit is reached is prescribed by the Building Services (Complaint Resolution and Administration) Regulations 2011.
  • Within this time period, complaints can be lodged with the Building Commissioner about a regulated building service not being carried out in a proper and proficient manner, or for being faulty or unsatisfactory.
  • There’s more information about ‘Regulated’ building services on the Building and Energy website (www.dmirs.wa.gov.au)

For homes more than six years old:

  •  A building service complaint cannot be made more than six years after completion of the work, although a builder can still undertake remediation work on defects outside this time period if they wish to resolve the issue.
  • In fact, Building and Energy have found that most reputable builders will sort out the ceiling even the property is older than six years.
  • Owners of homes more than six years old may consider seeking independent legal advice in relation to a civil claim.

 Good ceiling care – general tips

Avoid accessing your ceiling space or storing items there – this is potentially hazardous and heavy loads can damage the ceiling framing or sheeting. Arrange for roof leaks to be repaired and any moisture-damaged insulation or plasterboard to be replaced. Check that exhaust fans and air conditioning outlets are discharging to the outside, not into the ceiling space.

Where to get more info…

 The Department has guides for homeowners that provide more tips and information about preventing damage, signs of instability and what action can be taken.

  • Find the helpful Spontaneous Ceiling Collapse fact sheet on the Building and Energy website (www.dmirs.wa.gov.au).
  • There’s also a Building Complaint resolution – a guide for consumers.
  • Or you can phone Building and Energy on 1300 489 099.


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