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Question DetailsAsked on 4/9/2016

15 yr old house - perimeter walls on top floor have 1/4 in cracks btw ceiling and wall. Could this be settling?

Cracks are horizontal and in some cases run the length of the wall. No cracks on interior walls and cracks are constant through summer/winter so doubting that this is truss lift. Not sure when cracks first appeared. If it's just settling, what's the best way to repair and minimize chance of reoccurrence.

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That is unusual - usually the top-of-wall cracks are at the interior walls due to intermediate floor joist support post (basement/crawlspace) settlement or rot; or due to attic truss lift in low humidity / cold season.

Cracking at the ceiling/wall drywall interface on PERIMETER walls would be real rare because both are fastened at the same point - the top of the wall. Four causes I can think of which can cause this - but 1/4" open cracks are more than just minor settlement or aging house sagging truss cracking of the brittle drywall - those are usually 1/8" or less open :

1) historic roof lift during high winds and it pulled nails/hurricane ties enough that the trusses did not settle all the way back down, leaving cracks. In which case I would have a Structural Engineer looking at the trusses to see if they need repair and/or better hurricane ties, because next time the roof might decide to fly.

2) perimeter foundation settlement but interior floor joist piers / posts are not settling, so the attic joists/trusses are being supported on the interior walls and the ends are lifting off the outer walls as the walls settle. A very bad situation if doing this a significant amount as this is opposite to the load the trusses are designed for and can cause serious truss overloading as it progresses - basically "breaking the back" of the trusses. Again - Structural Engineer would be my choice to investigate it.

3) unlikely, but if at several places but only one side of the house, check the walls for plumbness - if the house were leaning cracks would open up in the drywall at the top of the wall on the side it is leaning "away" from - and start crushing the wall and/or ceiling drywall at their intersection on the side it is leaning "towards" - but would most likely be getting diagonal drywall cracking in the perpendicular perimeter and interior walls along with it by the time it got to 1/4" opening.

4) if "crack" is actually because of joint compound falling out of the joint, perhaps the wall drywall was put in place to the floor instead of tight to the ceiling as it should be, and they just slopped drywall compound into the gap at the top without fiber tape to the ceiling and it is starting to fall out - a common DIY mistake. If that is the case (would have to scrape a bit to see where the top of the drywall (paper covering) is relative to the ceiling) then just gouging out the loose compound, refilling with non-shrink drywall compound and taping properly with fiberglass tape might solve it.

The not so conservative approach - drywall patch the cracks 1/8-1/4" shy (in depth) of flush and then caulk the joints with high elasticity paintable siliconized latex caulk and paint and then see if they open up in the future again. Reason for the drywall compound first rather than just all caulk - to maintain fireproof rating of the wall, though you could use fire caulk full depth if you wanted. More expensive but eliminates drywall compound. If not moving much the caulk (as opposed to drywall compound) will not crack as easily so may not recrack unless there is a continuing issue of 2) or a repeat of 1).

The conservative approach - have structural engineer look at attic and foundations now to make sure nothing serious is going on - or that there is not inadequate truss/attic support system fasteners. Typically $250-400 for this type of inspection, assuming your attic is accessible. Plus cost of remedial design if structural design (other than just adding fasteners or tiedowns) is needed.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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