How To See if Your ’50s Ranch Ceiling Might Have a 'Massive Failure'

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As many of you recall, my living room ceiling collapsed in July. In the aftermath, we discovered that we either had to replace the den ceiling or never go in there again — at least until it also fell, as it seemed sure to do.

Now that I'm once again in a house full of safe ceilings — knock on wood — I wanted to share with you how to check to see if your ’50s ranch ceilings are in danger of coming down on their own.

The best way is to hire a contractor to get in your attic and see if he can stick his hand between your ceiling joists and your ceiling. If he can, you need to get him to deal with it immediately. He can either take the ceiling down safely — and this may be the only option if it's already severely cracked — or he can at least brace it with two-by-fours screwed into the joists from below.

But I know times are tough and you may not want to hire a contractor unless you already know there's a problem. OK, then here's an easy way to judge if it's time to bring in a contractor. Measure the distance from your floor to the ceiling at the wall. (If you don't have a tape measure that can reach, you can always use a piece of string or yarn.) Then measure the height of the floor to the ceiling in the middle of the room. If you have a half inch or more variance, you need to get someone in your attic to check.

Keep in mind that if your room has a light fixture in the middle of the ceiling, your biggest sag may not be in the center. In my den, for instance, the light fixture was holding the center of the ceiling up. So, we had a sag that was more doughnut-shaped. So, take a few measurements.

I can't say that this will be a problem in every ’50s ranch. Even in my own house, we had two rooms with ceilings that either collapsed or were on the verge of collapse, and three ceilings that look like they'll be in place for another 60 years. But I will say that every contractor who came to my house to give me a bid took one look at what had gone wrong and said, "Hmm, I bet we start seeing a lot more of this."

And believe me, Nashville, if your ceiling has to come down, it's much better if it comes down when you've decided it should, and not when it decides to surprise you.

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