“I informed the management at my condo that I was experiencing a leak in my ceiling and they notified the upper-floor neighbour.
He was advised to replace his water supply pipes in his master bathroom. However, a month after he replaced the pipes, the leak still remains. What should I do?“, asked a Home and Decor reader back in 2017.
Ceiling leaks plague all Singaporean homeowners – whether you live in a HDB, condominium, or landed property alike. Most recently on 31 January 2023, a 69-year-old man came into the media’s spotlight for the 10 stalactites that formed on his HDB flat’s ceiling, giving rise to a Little Guilin house.
If you have any form of ceiling water leakage and concrete spalling – you should immediately inform your neighbour about the situation. For our Home and Decor reader (above) who previously worked with his neighbour and rectified the water supply pipes before but to no avail, you should speak to your neighbour again.
- HDB Ceiling Leaking Water
- Landed, Condo Ceiling Leaking Water
- Ceiling Cracking
- HDB Ceiling Spalling
- What causes Ceiling Spalling?
- Sagging Ceilings
HDB Ceiling Leak Water
If you live in a HDB flat and your ceiling is leaking water, know that you’re not alone. Ceiling leak is pretty common, so much so that HDB has official guidelines on what you can do to deal with ceiling problems in your flat.
Brown water stains on ceilings
Coffee-coloured stains are often the first sign that water is leaking through your ceiling. Find the source of the leak and fix it – it can be from a damaged pipe upstairs or a roof hole.
Before cutting and replacing the damaged area, drill a hole in the centre of the stained area to drain any standing water.
If water leak is minimal, you can DIY ceiling repairs
If the damage is minimal, you may be able to remove flaking with a putty knife before patching. Then apply stain sealer before repainting. If the ceiling is more severely damaged, then you will need to cut away the damage to the point where the ceiling material is sound. Replace it with a new piece of drywall.
Seal joints with drywall compound, sand down and repaint. When in doubt, get a professional HDB-approved contractor to repair the water damaged ceiling.
What causes HDB ceiling leaks?
Your ceiling is leaking likely because the waterproof membrane in the floor slab in-between levels has eroded, causing leaks. The floor slab is known as a “party structure”, and under the HDB’s terms of lease, both HDB flat owners (you and your neighbour) are responsible for the repair.
Unfortunately, that means you will have to collaborate with your neighbour, call a HDB-approved contractor and share the repair cost.
HDB Ceiling Leak Repair Hotline
If you’d like to speak to HDB to request for minor repairs, you can call the HDB Repair Hotline at 1800 463 4948.
HDB Ceiling Leak Repair Contractors
If both you and your neighbour are agreeable to repair the flooring, pipes, and relay a waterproof screed layer, you can contact one of the HDB-approved contractors:
- North, West of Singapore: EC Builders Pte Ltd, Contact Kevin Zuo at 9126 8198
- East of Singapore: Jacob General Contractors Pte Ltd, Contact James Tan 9027 7206
- Central, South of Singapore: Success Forever Construction & Maintenance Pte Ltd, Contact Jack Oei 9236 8822
HDB Ceiling Leaks (Topmost Floor)
Living on the topmost floor of your HDB block and your ceiling is leaking? Well, then it couldn’t be caused by another neighbour, could it? If there is ceiling leakage, then it tells you that there is damage at the roof of the block.
As the roof of the block is part of the common property maintained by your town council, tihs leakage will not be your responsibility. You will need contact your town council to get it repaired.
Likewise, if you and your neighbours noticed that concrete is spalling at the void deck, it’s the town council’s responsibility. The void deck is also part of the common property maintained by the Town Council.
What if you live on the second floor and your water is leaking down to the void deck? The Town Council and you, the owner of the flat above, are to jointly arrange for the repair and split the costs involved.
Ceiling Leaking: Landed Property, Condominiums
Here are some common ceiling leaking problems you may face when living in a landed property or condominium, and also what you can do:
There is often discolouration and the peeling of the ceiling plaster. If you live in an apartment and see water leaking through the ceiling plasterwork, the source is most definitely linked to your neighbour upstairs.
Contact your neighbour to arrange for a leak investigation or detection to fix the problem.
Upon the leak detection, if you find out that the leak is not linked to your neighbour living above you, you can temporarily stop the ceiling leak by drilling a hole in the centre of the stained area to drain any standing water.
Then, you will need to cut out the damaged area and replace with a new piece of drywall. Finally, seal joints with drywall compound, and sand down and repaint if necessary to conceal the joints.
Ceiling Leaking Again After Repair
“Your neighbour should engage a licensed plumber to investigate the source of water leakage, so as to identify the origin before doing any repairs,” advises Doreen Low from water-leak specialist Global Technical.
Always Do A Ceiling Leak Detection First
To find a good plumber, you can contact PUB to make a request for licensed plumbers who do leak detection work.
Leak detection work is important because without locating the source, the repair cost will be high due to unnecessary hacking to find the leak. Specialist equipment can be used to detect leakage in walls or false ceilings
According to Doreen, common sources of leakage include sewage pipes (under the purview of your condo management), aircon condensate pipes and
Clean Ceiling Mould Simultaneously
While you’re at it, give the ceiling moulding a good clean, too. If you don’t own a duster, use a dry mop and cover the mop’s head with a microfibre cloth or an old T-shirt.
If you are living in a HDB flat, check out what are the guidelines for dealing with ceiling leaks here.
Establish that these minor ceiling cracks are not the sign of roof or foundational damage — when a house or building starts to settle, the ceilings can shift slightly and cause minor hairline cracks.
With a razor or utility knife, cut into the sides of the cracks to create a smooth and even V-shape. Then spread joint compound directly inside the crack and fill it completely and evenly. Let it dry for at least 24 hours.
Once the compound has dried, scape over it with a putty knife to remove any bumps. Then tape over the crack with fibreglass mesh tape. Apply a second thin layer of compound over the tape. Leave the area to dry.
After it has dried, sandpaper the area without sanding it down to the taped area. Then prime and paint in the same colour as the rest of the ceiling.
Ceiling Concrete Spalling: 51 Marine Terrace (2017)
In the wee hours of 7 February 2017, Madam Chen Xiuying was on her way to the toilet when concrete pieces from her kitchen ceiling landed in front of her. Then 70-year-old, Madam Chen told Shin Min Daily News that the ceiling concrete slabs fell just 2m away.
Her husband, retiree Lee Zhanwu, said: “We had noticed two cracks of about 30cm before Chinese New Year but thought we would report them later on. We didn’t think too much about it.”
According to Mr Lee, then 75, the crash in their two-room rental flat in Block 51, Marine Terrace, was so loud that their neighbour from a lower floor came to find out what was happening. “He thought that we had thrown something,” said Mr Lee.
This is not the first time the couple’s flat has had spalling concrete, but Mr Lee said this incident was more serious, as the chunks that fell came up to about the size of a mahjong table. Madam Chen said one slab was about an inch thick, and she was lucky it missed her.
HDB Repaired the Ceiling Concrete
Officers from the Housing Board visited the flat and temporary repair work was done to prevent more pieces from falling.
An HDB spokesman said: “As this is a rental flat, we will bear the full cost of repair.”
Mr Lee said the HDB offered to do maintenance on the ceiling in their bedroom, as well as repair work for the kitchen. Their flat was 43 years old when the incident happened, and the couple had been living in it for 18 years.
This is not the first time the couple’s flat has had spalling concrete, but Mr Lee said this incident was more serious, as the chunks that fell came up to about the size of a mahjong table.
HDB Ceiling Spalling: 141 Yishun Ring Road (2017)
Back in January 2017, falling concrete pieces in a Block 141 Yishun Ring Road HDB flat injured an 80-year-old man. Then, the flat was 32 years old and had not undergone upgrading under HDB’s Home Improvement Programme.
The flat owner, then a 50-year-old part-time accountant who wanted to be known only as Ms Gan, told The Straits Times that her father, who suffered surface lacerations on his leg, is recovering.
She added that HDB officers said they would visit to conduct a more detailed check, and she has agreed to take up the HDB’s Goodwill Repair Assistance (GRA) offer to equally split the ost of repairs for ceiling leaks and spalling concrete between HDB and the homeowner.
She said she noticed a long crack appearing in her bathroom a few months ago, but thought she could live with it. But after her father made the news, Ms Gan added: “I think Singaporeans will be more aware of such a problem now.”
HDB says flat interiors are the responsibility of homeowners.
Crack in your ceiling? Do something.
Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, an engineer, said residents are best placed to notice wear and tear, saying: “The moment you see a crack on your ceiling, do something.”
Ceiling Repairs Cost $300 to $1,200
Repairs cost about $300 for spalling concrete in an area the size of a cellphone, to $1,200 for the entire ceiling of an HDB toilet, said Mr Ravits Goh, managing director at A & R Construction and Engineering, an HDB-approved contractor.
Old HDB Flats Most Affected by Spalling Concrete
Most cases his firm has seen are in blocks that are about 20 to 30 years old.
DIY Plaster Your Ceiling
One home owner who has taken matters into her own hands is piano teacher Catherine Lim, then 54, who was living in a 36-year-old block in Clementi Avenue 4. After some plaster debris fell on her bathroom floor two years ago, she and her husband bought a can of paint, grabbed a ladder and patched the hole.
Shrugging off the effort, she said: “It’s part and parcel of living in an old house. You can’t blame HDB for everything.”
What Causes Ceiling Spalling?
Spalling concrete occurs when steel bars embedded in the ceiling start corroding, causing the concrete to crack and fall off in chunks.
It usually occurs in older buildings and is particularly problematic in bathrooms, as moisture causes the steel parts to rust. This deterioration is called carbonation, and it could be caused by a humid environment, where moisture and carbon dioxide enter the concrete and cause the steel parts to rust.
Spalling concrete won’t affect the structural integrity of the building if it’s repaired quickly; leave it and it might spread and weaken the building structure
Here are three ways to prevent your house’s ceiling from spalling:
Paint Your Ceilings Every 3 Years
The carbonation process, which causes spalling concrete, can be slowed down or prevented by painting the ceiling regularly. Residents should paint their ceilings every three to five years, using a few coats of anti-carbonation or good quality paint.
Seal Cracks and Holes Promptly
If there are holes drilled in ceilings that are no longer needed, seal them immediately. This helps to prevent moisture and carbon dioxide from entering the concrete.
Cracks on the ceiling should be sealed as and when they appear.
Reduce Humidity, Ensure Sufficient Ventilation
A humid environment speeds up the carbonation. Humidity levels can be kept down in moisture-prone areas, like the kitchen and bathrooms, by opening vents, windows and doors.
Typically, sagging ceilings (and false ceilings) form due to years of accumulated dirt and dust, gravity and tiny shifts in the structure.
You can try to nail or screw the sagging portion back in place.
However, if the ceiling is too warped, loose or cracked, it’s best to change the entire weakened false ceiling before it falls off and does undue damage.