Adventures in Home-Owning; Falling Ceilings Edition

Stuff Falling Out Of The Sky
Stuff Falling Out Of The Sky

So the other day a ceiling fell on me. It wasn’t much of a ceiling, as ceilings go. Only about a four-foot by five foot section of wet drywall and sixty year-old very wet rock-wool insulation. And the ceiling didn’t fall very far before it hit me as I was already standing on a chair, using both hands to hold it up while desperately looking for something else for support instead of me on a chair. But it did fall on me and now I understand “sky-is-falling” from a very personal experience.

It gave me a different perspective on life in general though. I discovered than once you’ve had a ceiling fall on you, the rest of the week is a lot better.

The Innocent Start

Winnie and I own a rental property that we purchased and completely remodeled about ten years ago. Between the year-long remodeling effort and being landlords I have several stories that will someday be written. But not today. Today’s story is about a ceiling falling on me.

It started innocently enough with our present tenants advising us that their air conditioning wasn’t working well. We had an A/C tech over to check it, do some work, and charge us an amazing amount of money for the service call. Afterwards, the 22 year-old A/C still didn’t work which confirmed that in fact we needed to replace it. 

I spent several weeks collecting estimates for new systems and gaining an education on A/C systems. Meanwhile, Winnie called around to her friends and found a couple of people who did A/C work, and were willing to install a system. After several more estimates we selected  Winnie’s Chinese friends’ company to do the work. 

The A/C for this house is a two-part system. We have the indoor unit (“air handler”) in the attic approximately located over the kitchen, with an outside unit (“heat exchange”). The air handler sits in a tray designed with a pipe leading outside to drain off all condensate water. I was very particular, when gaining estimates, to make sure the tray would be properly plumbed and had an overflow switch to shut down the A/C to prevent water damaging the ceiling below it. 

Our installation team came and installed the A/C as promised. They actually showed up on the day promised, about an hour earlier than promised. This seemed like a good start. The team worked quickly and finished the job in less time than promised. They were making points all around. They ran through the installation checks and everything worked . Once finished, we paid them, they loaded up all the trash and hauled it away. Winnie and I hi-fived each other for a big job done smoothly, and our tenants were happy. Life was good.

Indications Of A Problem

Two days later I received a call from our tenants late at night. Water was leaking from the kitchen ceiling and they knew that wasn’t supposed to happen. Winnie went over early next morning and determined that yes, water was leaking from the ceiling and it was coming from the air handler’s tray overflowing with water. She called her friends, who in turn promised to come out, then she scooped out the water. Her friends came that evening and quickly determined the causes of the leaking. They determined the reason water ran out of the tray was that the tray had not been properly leveled, and the lowest point was at the end of the tray opposite the cutoff switch and drain pipe, so water followed the lowest point. Winnie’s friends were apologetic and promised to pay for all damages. 

I decided to let the ceiling dry out then determine repairs. It was a plan.

However, not a good plan.

Not A Good Day

Several days later, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I received a panic call from our tenant. She told me that the kitchen ceiling looked like it was going to come down. Then she sent pictures showing a ceiling that in fact looked like it was about to come down. Winnie and I grabbed what tools we though we might need and quickly drove over to the house. We arrived to find the lady of the house on a chair in the middle of the kitchen trying to hold up the kitchen ceiling. I quickly changed places with her on the chair and was pushing up on the ceiling thinking how I could hold it in place when – a four-foot by five foot section of wet drywall literally dropped on my head. Followed by seemingly endless amounts of old and very wet rock wool insulation that I did not know was in the ceiling cavity. 

Holding Up The Ceiling
Holding Up The Ceiling

I think I heard women screaming, but it was hard to tell over the collapsing ceiling noise.

When everything stopped, we had mounds of rock wool insulation liberally covering every horizontal surface of the kitchen and areas beyond. Dust hung in the air, and the kitchen had the feel of a post-apocalyptic disaster site.  We all looked at each other for a minute, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or scream. Then I decided to save my energy for the clean-up. 

Fallen Ceiling
Fallen Ceiling

The Clean-up

Our tenants had been cooking dinner, so the lady of the house turned off the stove that was now buried in ceiling debris. I poked around in the ceiling hole, knocking down more rock wool insulation  every time I touched something. After a brief discussion, Winnie went up into the attic and pushed down all remaining insulation around the hole while I grabbed some large trash bags and started scooping up the mess.

We ultimately filled six bags. I ran to the local Lowe’s, bought a tarp, came back and covered the ceiling hole as a temporary fix.  We promised our tenants we’d be back the following weekend to start making repairs, and left for home. 

I had a really great rest of the week. 

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