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I'm looking at buying a house and I noticed it has lines on the ceiling in one of the rooms:

White lines on ceiling

It looks like the white lines are where the rafters are, and there seems to be some kind of stain occurring between them. What causes this and is it a cause for concern?

  • Is this in a kitchen? Is the whole ceiling like this? Is the affected area above, or near a stove, cooktop, deep fryer, or other cooking appliance? Is it possible that something was at one point attached to, or hanging near the ceiling? What is above this (attic, living space, bathroom, etc.)? – Tester101 Jun 30 '16 at 12:02
  • It's not in a kitchen. It's in a living space, like a lounge area. A significant portion of the ceiling is like this. The stripes are most predominant adjacent to the external wall (the curtained one on the right) and fade toward the centre of the room. I will be taking additional photos later today. – user55824 Jun 30 '16 at 12:09
  • What's above this? – Tester101 Jun 30 '16 at 12:14
  • @Tester101 it's a single storey home, so a crawlspace and then roof. – user55824 Jun 30 '16 at 12:35
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Technically those lines appear where the ceiling joists are located. Depending on the building construction the joists may or may not correspond 1::1 to the rafter locations.

Those lines could be there for a number of reasons. Here are some I can think of:

  1. There could be drywall joint lines under the ceiling paint that were not properly primed and the paint has been affected differently over time by the drywall versus the mud lines.
  2. There could be an unevenness of ceiling surface that makes it reflect lighting in that pattern. This could be particularly pronounced if the ceiling material was cheap thin material.
  3. This could be a somewhat porous ceiling material and over many years there could be discoloration due to material aging and dirt bleed through from above.
  4. Similar to the previous item there may have been a roof leak or other flooding problem above at some previous time that has left water marks. Old dirt and dust accumulate over years and water comes and leaves dirty marks because of this.
  5. Temperature differences, possibly caused by inadequate insulation, may cause condensation and/or staining in the spaces between the rafters

The main area of concern for you is to discern the cause and find out if the source of the problem is still present. This would be particularly important for item 4 above. If you really wanted to move forward to buy this house the best course of action is probably to make the purchase contract contingent upon a home inspection. Best is for you the buyer to contract for the inspection so it is not seller biased. From this you can be more sure if there is risk with this and you leave open the possibility to negotiate with the seller to make possible repairs or adjust the price to cover the risk potential.

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I will give credit to Micheal on his list of possible causes, the one most probable is the last one. My take on it is there is no or very little insulation in the attic and the temperature swings, mainly heat in summer get the ceiling hot enough to discolor. I have only seen this in very light colored ceilings, directly exposed to the attic where temperatures run incredibly high in summer.

My reasoning for this is the wood joists insulated the drywall from the radiant heat, so anything radiating from above will be shielded in the places the joists are.

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