Handyman on Call

Are their gutters causing a ceiling leak?

Q. For several years, we have intermittently had a leak coming through our ceiling above the living room on our first floor. The water doesn’t actually drip though the ceiling; we just have a spreading brown stain that appears on the ceiling inward from the front wall of the house. We have a cape style house and directly above the leak is a second-floor crawl space. We’ve checked the crawl space many times and there is no sign of a leak there: The insulation below the roof is dry as is the floor of the crawl space.

We first noticed the leak several months after we had covered rain gutters installed along the edges of the roof. The year before we had the gutters installed, we had a new shingled roof put on. The leak first appeared during the winter. I spoke with the contractor who put on the roof and he suggested it was due to ice dams forming. He told us to be sure to remove excess snow to prevent further problems. Later on, we found that the problem occurred yearround after heavy rains. We checked and found the gutter near the water-stained ceiling side of the house was filled with debris. After cleaning the gutter, the stain seemed to be contained for a while but would periodically reappear. When it does, we then clean the gutter with similar results.

We have gutters on other parts of the house that also sometimes fill with debris that must be flushed out but we do not have any signs of a leak near where they are located. Do you think the gutter could be the source of the problem? If so, is there some way to reorient the gutter after it has been installed so that it will not allow water to get into the first floor ceiling area?



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A. Yes, your problem is the gutter, which is misplaced. As it is now, water runs into the gutter near its back, resulting in water overflowing, running down the fascia and flowing along the soffit (under side of the roof overhang), then into the house and staining the ceiling near the wall and extending further along the ceiling, probably under the insulation.

If water runs into the gutter near its front, it will overflow the front, resulting in the same stain on the ceiling. You simply need a competent person to relocate the gutter or the drip edge to make sure water runs into the very middle of the gutter along its full length. The stain has nothing to do with ice dams.

If the stain is dry to the touch, paint it with two coats of clear shellac and then repaint the ceiling.

Q. I have a question about my screened porch, which is framed with wood and has a wood handrail and balusters. It has nonremovable screening using the Screen Tight system. There is green mold on the wood framing primarily where the horizontal wood pieces meet the wood floor and the balusters. I would like to clean this mold with bleach but am concerned about ruining the screen because it would very difficult to avoid getting bleach on it. What’s the best way to get rid of the mold?



A. The green “mold” is algae. Try this: Spray it heavily with vinegar to kill it. When it turns brown, scrub it off with a brush, wet or dry. The vinegar will not hurt anything but the algae.

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