Dangers of a Ceiling Leaking Near Light Fixtures

Electricity brings light, entertainment and convenience to your home, but it can also introduce danger when things go wrong. A simple ceiling leak transforms from nuisance to danger if water starts leaking around light fixtures and other electrical equipment. Fix leaky areas near light fixtures immediately and with care to protect yourself, and your home and family.

Water damage on the ceiling
credit: clsgraphics/iStock/Getty Images
Water damage around a light fixture on a white ceiling.

Electrocution and Death

Minerals and other contaminants found in water can transport electrical current from your ceiling light fixture and related wiring to the floor and other surfaces. Touching the light fixture, or even operating the light switch for the fixture, when you see water dripping nearby can lead to severe shocks that may cause injury or death. Never go near a light fixture that's close to leaking water, and keep all family members away from the light switch, pull chains or any standing water on the floor nearby.

Electrical Fires

Leaky pipes and roofs don't always make themselves known right away. When water leaks into your attic for example, it may take several days for that water to show itself on your ceiling or around your light fixtures. During this time, electrical wires can develop mold or corrosion that could lead to electrical shorts or fires over time, even long after you believe the leak has been plugged. Many indoor light fixtures are not designed for water exposure, and may not be usable again after a leak, particularly one that submerges wires for an extended period. Replacing the fixtures is your safest option.

Ceiling Collapse

When gypsum ceilings get wet, they soon get soggy and soft, and may eventually collapse, taking light fixtures crashing to the floor below. A sagging, wet or bowed ceiling signals a potential danger in your home. Warn your family to steer clear to avoid injury. Even a light fixture mounted to wood beams above the ceiling can come loose and collapse as wet wood softens and fasteners grow loose.

What to Do

Protect yourself when your ceiling starts to leak by turning off the electricity to any nearby fixtures. Avoid the light switch, and head straight for the breaker or panel. If you can't access these units, call your power company and have them shut off the electricity to give the fixture time to dry out. Once all power has been shut off, remove the cover from the fixture and allow it to drain. Cut away the ceiling around the fixture to release pooling water. Contact an electrician for help before restoring power. Allow the electrician to make the call about whether your fixtures and wiring are safe to reuse or should be replaced. Only after the electrician has evaluated the situation should you switch the power back on.

Emily Beach

Emily Beach works in the commercial construction industry in Maryland. She received her LEED accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2008 and is in the process of working towards an Architectural Hardware Consultant certification from the Door and Hardware Institute. She received a bachelor's degree in economics and management from Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.