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Ghosting - What it is & How it's Caused

While mold growth on the ceiling is often obvious, there is another building defect that can look eerily similar.  It’s called ghosting.  It occurs when soot and dust particles stick to the ceiling.  Over time, these particles cause a permanent stain.  The clue is in the pattern – ghosting often appears in perfectly straight lines.

Why?  The lines correspond to the framing in the attic above.   Because the framing is a worse insulator than the surrounding fiberglass, a cold spot forms wherever the framing touches the ceiling.  The colder temperature leads to condensation, which causes the soot and dust particles to stick.

Notice the perfectly straight lines.


Ghosting on ceiling in bedroom.

How do you stop ghosting?

  1. Stop using candles or combustible oils.  In most cases, these are the two culprits.
  2. Improve your attic insulation.  Ensure the insulation covers the ceiling joists / rafter ties.  In many older homes with batt style insulation, the tops of the joists are exposed.
  3. Lower your interior RH.  The issue is exacerbated by the excess humidity in the air.  If you live in a climate with cool winters, ensure you are properly ventilating your home.  Often this can be achieved by simply running a bathroom exhaust fan.



Project Report > Inspection for Ghosting Issues

Work #: 202008


Main hallway:


  • Staining noted on carpeting immediately adjacent to master tub, this may be secondary to leakage from the poorly caulked areas.




  • Damaged paint and sheetrock around window is evidence of previous water intrusion.
  • Exhaust fan located near shower.


  • Assess window for potential of future leakage.
  • Replace exhaust fan.

More Ghosting

Master Bath/Closet:


  • Moderate surface growth noted on exterior wall in closet.
  • 2 exhaust fans located in this area.
  • Vinyl flooring near tub heavily stained.
  • Caulking around tub shroud in poor condition.

Living Room:


  • Heavy surface mold growth noted on exterior wall, furniture had likely been placed against the wall in this area.
  • Major ghosting noted on walls and ceiling, this is symptomatic of a poorly insulated and humid home.
  • Fireplace located in this area.
  • Large crack in ceiling sheetrock near entrance to hallway, likely secondary to normal building settling.

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