Cracks in ceiling.........how to repair


I have a large drywall ceiling which was originally covered by the prior owner with a thin layer of plaster or drywall paste and then swirled to make it look more attractive.
Many years later, when I purchased the house, I had a sprayed ceiling applied to cover the swirls, and this replacement ceiling has been installed for over 20 years.
Now the ceiling has begun to show some serious cracks. They do not appear to run in any specific path, or suggest settling or structural loading. Instead, they appear to run in a somewhat random fashion in an area which is maybe 8 foot by 10 foot in size.
I am looking for advice as to how this should be properly prepared. I could spray another layer onto this existing damaged area, but am afraid the damage will come though in a few short years or sooner. I could replace the entire ceiling for the entire room (32 foot by 16 feet) but this would be extremely expensive and messy. I could plaster the damaged area and then spray a new layer onto the repaired as well as the undamaged areas, and assume that the damaged area, since it has been repaired by replastering, will not create future issues. Or perhaps there is some better way to tackle this job?????
Your expert thoughts are much appreciated.
Smarty
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Smarty wrote:

It is hard to tell without on site inspection, but my guess is there is some problems with the two layers becoming loose the from drywall. It may be the first layer from the drywall or the second from the first or some combination. It could be that with some expansion and contraction from temperature and humidity changes, cracks have formed and it is still solid.
I don't think I would want to add another layer to what you already have. How large are the cracks? Do the change in size with the seasonal changes of temperature and humidity? Are they evenly distributed throughout the ceiling?
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Joseph Meehan

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Thanks for replying !! The cracks are pretty evenly distributed in the damaged area, and flow in a seemingly random pattern. I don't think they change in any way whatsoever with season, temperature, humidity, etc. The cracks themselves are a small fraction of an inch wide (maybe a millimeter or two) but are many feet in length extending over the damaged area of approx 8 by 10 feet or so. I would also bet, based on observation, that a separation of some type exists between the original drywall and one or both of the two layers of material which were applied beneath it (the swirl layer and the lower layer I added). This makes the addition of a third layer without doing something first seem so risky to me, in terms of getting a long-term stable result. I'm wondering what the correct solution would be, especially if there is some separation going on in one of the two upper layers.....
Smarty

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Smarty wrote:

It sounds like it is separating and I don't think there is any way of correcting it other than to take it all down. I would take the drywall down and start over on the ceiling. Consider it an opportunity to make changes, like maybe ceiling lighting.
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When I first met the realtor I used when I bought my current house, I knew we were going to get along great when we walked into the first house, saw a sprayed on ceiling, and both said "What were these people thinking?" I told him I'd expect to have ten thousand dollars (per room) deducted from the price of any house that had other than sheetrock or plain plaster. Unrealistic, but that's my reaction.
If I were you, I'd get a price for covering the whole thing with sheetrock. My previous house had a plaster ceiling with more cracks than I wanted to deal with. I found a sheetrock installer who did such a great job, it looked like the room had been turned upside down and the ceiling poured on. We also installed some can lights, which required cutting through the plaster. That's the only reason the job was an "8" on a 1-to-10 scale of messy. Otherwise, it would've been maybe a 3.
Do it right, and be happy forever. Stop with the sprayed on stuff.
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I'm suspicious. Run a string across the room 1/8th inch from the ceiling and look for sags. Reinforce the joists.
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It's hard to tell much about this without being able to see it or some photos. It would seem to me that if the layers of material are seperating, you would have more serious cracking and it would be less likely to be small random cracks. It also lasted 20 years. So, it's quite possible that applying another layer over it will work. I would get an estimate to redo it and ask the companies that give quotes what they think. They should have experience and be able to give an opinion based on inspection. I would also check what kind of guarantee they offer.
Also, since you are going to do something anyway, you could try scraping/removing some of the material in the cracked area. If it is really seperating enough to cause cracking, it should be evident in the way it comes off.
Then you can evaluate cost/mess of redoing vs new drywall and decide.
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Your suggestion is excellent, as are the several others I received. I am so impressed with how well informed and helpful folks are on this newsgroup. I have learned a lot by reading here, and am just amazed at how much knowledge and great advice there is.
Thanks sincerely to all for your help!!!
Smarty

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I would suspect that either the surface coatings have separated from the drywall base, or that the drywall base is sagging, possibly the screws holding it up were not driven into the joists but merely into the plaster lath. It is possible that the weight of the drywall and coatings have caused the wood lath to split and the screws have lost their hold, especially with the additional weight of the old plaster that probably has lost its bond to the damaged wood lath. There also may have been at some point in time a slow water leak in that area that added to the failure of the substrate materials. Adding another layer would create more damage. It is time to pull it all down and start fresh.

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This message could be taken several different ways.
1. If you have the drug, crack inside your ceiling, I'd call the police.
2. If your wife's crack is hanging out of the ceiling, she must have fallen thru the upstairs floor. Call the fire department.
3. If you have a separation in the plaster, causing a long indent across your ceiling, you need some spackle.
Do whichever is appropriate.
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