While there are many different reasons for cracking in drywall and other surfaces throughout the home, many are not actually structural issues, and often are just cosmetic. Here are some tips for determining if it’s just a typical crack (due to seasonal shrinkage), or a structural crack.
Though there are always exceptions to the rules, I will explain some of the differences in typical cracks (sometimes referred to as “seasonal cracks”) and structural cracks.
Let’s start with vertical cracks:
Vertical cracks (or nearly straight up and down cracks), are often a sign of typical cracking. These are often caused by expansion and shrinkage of the wood behind your walls and ceilings depending on the season. There is usually nothing to worry about with these cracks, however; simple patches aren’t likely to permanently fix these cracks, as they tend to reappear the next year once the seasons have changed again. I would recommend consulting a professional drywall contractor before attempting to fix these cracks; that way you can ensure they never come back!Large cracks, or cracks that change size from one end to the other, no matter how straight or vertical they are, should be inspected by a qualified contractor or engineer. As I said, there will always be exceptions to the rules, and sometimes you will see large cracks that are straight up and down. You should consider that these cracks may be structural, and have them evaluated by the proper person.
Jagged, diagonal, or horizontal cracks are often not typical cracks, and should be inspected as soon as possible by a qualified contractor (often a foundation contractor, or if bad enough, an engineer). These are often caused when settlement of the different soils occurs on one side or corner of the house, causing parts of the house to pull away from each other.
Parallel cracks can also indicate that it’s not just typical. If you see two identical cracks next to each other, or even on different walls (similar shape and direction), these are also likely to be structural.
What should I do if I see something that looks like it may be a structural crack in my house?
- Look around your home.
- Are doors out of square? This can (but not always) indicate that the house is shifting down on one side.
- Are there cracks in other areas similar to that one? Chances are that it’s structural if you can find multiple areas with these larger types of cracks.
- Look at your foundation. Many times you will see severe foundation cracks in addition to the suspect structural cracks you found indoors. At this point, your best bet is to consult with a foundation contractor and if bad enough, a structural engineer. It doesn’t hurt to have someone come out and look at it, so you may want to do this even if you don’t see horrible cracking.
- Check exterior walls (especially brick). Often times you will see what’s called “step cracking” on the brick outside your home if there has been a large amount of settlement. Small step cracking isn’t always a problem, it simply indicates that there was at some point some settling in that area (which may have stopped years ago).
If you see any of “the signs” to structural cracks, maybe you should have a foundation contractor, or structural engineer come out and verify your findings. Like I said, it doesn’t hurt to have someone look.
If what you see around the home points more towards typical cracks, maybe you just keep an eye on them over the next year or so. If they get bigger, then that is probably an issue, but if they stay the same then there is likely nothing to worry about.
Structural cracks have several possible causes, such as different types of soils beneath the structure, roots that have pushed up and underneath a wall, or maybe improperly placed footings, or footings that have shifted. There are many possible reasons for structural cracking, including some that have not been listed. Additionally, there are different types of cracks that I haven’t listed, and honestly, some I don’t know about! You should always get professional help from someone who’s job is to fix it. My job is to point it out, but it’s the tradesmen’s job to confirm or deny mine or your findings, and to fix them properly.
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