Your area hasn’t had an earthquake in years, yet you notice cracks in your wall. Disconcerting as this is, it’s a common issue among homeowners. You wonder how serious the cracking problem is, if it’s a cosmetic one that can be easily fixed or a sign of a structural issue that will need extensive repairs.
You should not worry about cracks in walls that resemble hairline streaks. They are the result of the expansion and contraction of the soil under the house. However, gaping, horizontal, or jagged 45-degree angle cracks may be due to more serious issues like foundation shifting.
While wall cracks are frustrating, you would know how to proceed once you identify the different types. Read on to find out what causes these cracks and what to do with them.
How Do You Know if Wall Cracks Are Serious?
Determining the seriousness of a wall crack isn’t an exact science. If you want to be sure, get an expert to examine the wall. However, you can scrutinize each crack and the areas surrounding it to find out if it’s a surface blemish or a bigger problem.
Use a Measuring Tape to Measure the Width of Cracks
Wider cracks are more serious than thinner ones. Cracks less than 1/8-inch thick are harmless stress cracks, and those 1/4-inch wide and larger are often serious.
Examine the Direction of the Crack
Vertical and diagonal cracks in concrete walls signify foundation movement. Vertical cracks that run the same direction as the drywall are less serious. But vertical ones that widen at the top or bottom mean the wall is settling or heaving bit by bit, which is bad news. Stair-step cracks may indicate heaving too.
Horizontal cracks mean either the walls are inadequately designed, or there’s a pressure buildup behind them. Both are serious issues.
Scrutinize the Position of the Cracks
Long, horizontal fissures extending where walls and ceilings meet indicate roof truss problems. As this may result in the detachment of ceilings from walls, it is best handled by professionals. Small cracks above windows or doors, however, are harmless.
Check if Water Is Leaking Into the Crack
Touch the plaster and drywall around the crack. If it feels damp, there may be water damage. Leaking cracks are sometimes serious, so this is a good time to consult a professional.
What Causes Cracks in the Walls?
The House Is Settling
Small squiggly lines that start at windows, doorways, or corners could result from the new home settling. You may be understandably upset if these suddenly appear despite your house having just been completed. But these are expected during the first few months or years after construction.
When fresh and moist lumber dries, it shifts slightly, causing small cracks in walls, where drywall sheets connect.
Settling isn’t restricted to new constructions. Houses, regardless of age, shift over time. Weather changes cause the ground to shift slightly. These movements aren’t unsafe, but they can produce small cracks in the walls’ weak areas where doors and windows were installed.
The Framing Is Weak
The weakest part of a wall is the most likely to crack. Vertical studs from floor to ceiling make up a wall’s skeleton. These are cut to install a door or a window. The extra framing added to the adjacent studs is weaker than the rest of the wall, so they are the first to develop cracks when settling happens.
Temperature Control Is Compromised
When a house, especially if it’s a vacation home or a rental property, stays vacant for a long time, it becomes prone to developing cracks in walls and ceilings.
An empty house loses its natural climate control, which is regulated when occupied. In this instance, cracking is a result of fluctuations in temperature and humidity that expand and contract framing and drywall.
The Drywall Installation May Be Inferior
A thin, straight crack may be because of faulty drywall taping. Seams between drywall panels are usually filled with drywall mud and sealed with paper tape. If there isn’t enough mud for the tape to stick, it can peel off the wall over time, revealing a crack.
When Should You Worry About Cracks in Walls?
When There’s Water Infiltration
If the areas around the crack are discolored, there may be a leak. Drippy windows and roofs can cause moisture to get into walls. Leaks from rain may cause dampness. Waterline leaks from the attic can seep through the framing of a wall into the drywall. The resulting moisture softens the wall, causing it to decay. Yellow or brown stains subsequently appear around the crack.
When the Foundation Is Damaged
Sizable, jagged, or diagonal cracks may signify that the foundation may have shifted or sunk. Cracking in walls and ceilings may also be the result of damage to your home’s foundation.
When There’s a Structural Problem
Big cracks that are more than a quarter-inch wide indicate a potential problem with the house’s structure. It’s time to call a reputable engineer or builder to do some inspection to determine the cause. After the structural problem is dealt with, you can have the drywall repaired. This involves replacing the damaged drywall sheets and then re-taping the joints.
When There’s a Pest Infestation
Cracks in walls may result from the degeneration and dilapidation of supporting wooden structures because of termite damage.
How Should You Repair Cracks in Walls?
The best way to repair a crack in drywall is to re-tape the joint.
- Scrape off the tape and the pieces of drywall mud that have come loose.
- Sand the surface, make it smooth, and then fill the crack with drywall compound.
- Apply new tape.
To ensure the wall is smooth, apply two to three very thin coats of drywall compound over the paper tape. After the compound dries, sand each coat before applying the next one.
Experts do not recommend using Spackle to fill in the cracks because it does not give the same strong surface coverage that re-taping provides. Spackle is a powder consisting of gypsum plaster and glue that, when mixed with water, forms a plastic paste that is used to fill cracks and holes in plaster.
Another reason for avoiding Spackle in this instance is that any subsequent gradual settling will cause the cracks to resurface afterward. To make the repair last longer, re-tape cracks instead.
Thin cracks across walls and doorways are not signs of a structural problem. All you need to do is re-tape and paint them. However, if you notice deeper fissures or a lot of small cracks spread throughout the property, consult a foundation repair service.
Small cracks in recently built properties should not be a huge concern. Perhaps it’s better to wait for your house to be at least one year old before you deal with them. The reason for the delay is to allow the wood to dry completely and execute its minor settling. Once this is done, you can go ahead with re-taping the cracked drywall joints and the repainting.
The cracks resulting from the vacancy of a building for an extended period are a cosmetic issue. You can easily resolve it by re-taping drywall joints and repainting. However, there is an exception. If a building has been unoccupied for quite a long time, property experts recommend that it undergo a comprehensive inspection, including a professional examination of its foundation.
If you’re dealing with one crack, press back the loosened tape into place with industry-strength glue. However, if the tape is peeling in several areas, re-tape all the seams to prevent a recurrence of the issue.
Find the cause of the leak beforehand. Address the water infiltration before repairing the crack. Depending on the destruction’s extent, you may have to replace the damaged section of the drywall, or even the entire drywall, before re-taping.
The best way to determine if the cracks in your walls result from foundation problems is to consult an expert. As foundation issues are serious, hire a professional to resolve them. This will protect your home’s structural integrity and value.
Ask for a thorough foundation inspection and have the necessary repairs done right away to avoid exacerbating the problems. Some inspectors offer a free evaluation of your home’s condition, so you’ll know what steps to take. Agree on a quote and put everything in writing before workers begin any repairs.
Related: How to Fix a Cracked Support Beam
Type of Cracks That Result From Foundation Damage
- Cracks wider than a quarter-inch
- Horizontal cracks
- Big diagonal cracks stemming from door corners
- Very long cracks
- Cracks spread throughout the house
- Cracks on the inside and outside of walls
- Cracks on the second floor
Now that you know the common causes of cracks in your home and that not all of them merit a professional visit, new ones won’t be as problematic anymore. Knowing how to tell these issues apart can assuage your worries and save on unnecessary repairs. You can then get back to enjoying a safe and sound home.