Your Place Peeling, bubbling paint Go divining for moisture -

Your Place Peeling, bubbling paint Go divining for moisture -

Your Place: Peeling, bubbling paint? Go divining for moisture

By Alan J. Heavens, Inquirer Real Estate Writer

Posted: February 29, 2008

Question: How do you determine the reason for peeling paint on a bedroom ceiling?

The attic of my ranch house was built as two bedrooms and a bath with dormers. There is no attic or crawl space above the rooms on the second floor. I had a new roof put on in 2004. There was bubbling of the paint on the ceiling of one of the bedrooms, and we had also had a bad winter resulting in lots of ice dams and flood damage on the first floor.

I thought the bubbling and peeling would stop after the new roof was installed, but it has continued. I’m scraping the paint off the ceiling, but I don’t want to paint and have it peel again. I’ve scraped less than one-fourth of the ceiling, so I’m not sure if the entire ceiling is affected. The bubbles seem to be on the front side of the house where the ice dams occurred, but I have also been able to scrape the paint halfway down the ceiling facing the back of the house.

Moisture is the only reason that I know that would cause paint to peel. How can I tell if moisture in the roof or ceiling is causing the problem? Any suggestions? Would a bad paint job or bad choice of paint cause it to peel?

Answer: Certainly a bad paint job, involving poor surface preparation, might be one reason. If the ceiling were in a bathroom or kitchen with insufficient ventilation, then the paint would probably bubble and peel even if you used paint designed for high-moisture areas.

You didn’t tell me whether the old roof was removed down to the decking or whether any damage created by the ice dams was repaired. Once they start, leaks are often terribly difficult to stop, and if the roofers just added another layer, then the problem remains.

In my experience, peeling and bubbling paint is a moisture issue — and probably can be solved easily by having the roofer (or another one) take a look at ventilation requirements. If there isn’t enough fresh air circulating, moisture will continue to accumulate, and any repainting you do will be for naught.

Moisture meters are sold that check for water content in ceilings and other often-damp spaces. Some are as inexpensive as $25. That’s about the cost of another wasted gallon of paint.

Q: Since a general contractor finished an addition to our home, the crawl space underneath has had moisture and seepage issues on three sides of the addition’s foundation. Other contractors, masons and water experts who have seen the work say it does not meet township code. We have done everything inside that has been recommended to us, spending our own money, but to no avail.

The contractor agrees the job by his subcontractor was done poorly and wants to dig up around the foundation and wrap it with a rubber membrane. This would require that a slate patio, steps into the house and quite a bit of landscaping be torn up. The contractor says he is not responsible for the patio and landscaping. Is this true?

A: If the job didn’t meet the township’s requirements, why did it issue a certificate of occupancy? What the contractor proposes to do is OK, but he should have done it at the start. What did your contract say about who was responsible for what? Could it be that the landscaping is causing the drainage issues?

There is a very good reason the public is wary of contractors, and this is it: There are some really bad ones. Even remodelers groups recognize this and try very hard to establish standards for their members who do renovation work.

But half the blame is yours for not taking responsibility for this process. The fact that you don’t know your rights means you didn’t read the contract, if you had one. Here’s what I suggest: Get a lawyer. You should have had one draw up an iron-clad contract for such an expensive and important project. Maybe it isn’t too late.

Want Alan J. Heavens’ advice on a home-improvement project or purchase? E-mail him at or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.

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