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Question DetailsAsked on 8/16/2016

Are my ceiling cracks structural or just drywall seams? How do I tell?

The crack has gotten worse (or more visible) over the past 6 six months which is the time period we have owned the house. I will post pictures in the reply if I can.

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2 Answers


Answered 3 years ago by eak2141


Looks like the drywall tape is coming loose - possibly due to moisture or poor bonding, but it does look to me like it is tearing at the joint, not just peeling loose. If you grab and edge and try to peel, if it comes loose easily it could be due to improper application - not bedding it in drywall compound when it was applied. Considering the sloppy looking taping job on the seam and the apparent caulk between drywall and wall trim, that would be my first guess.

Short of an inspection by a Structural Engineer, can be real hard to tell. Sometimes you can tell if water weight (wet insulation say) or cracking/breaking up trusses/roof framing is causing it by inspecting in the attic (assuming attic is over this), but sometimes it is not clear. My gut feeling is this is not due to a structural failure cause.

If you are physically able, get up on a ladder and push up against the lower of the two sheets with your shoulders (hunched over) next to the crack, on the lower sheet - if it moves upwards (probably causing nail/screw popouts in the process) then it is pulling loose from the joists above - could be due to excess weight of wet insulation or improper fastener spacing or, in very old houses, rusting out drywall fasteners though that is almost always accompanied by rust spotting of the ceiling at the nails/screws, or some fasteners missed the joist so it is hanging on by the skin of its teeth and in the process of breaking free.

Could be due to differential bowing of the joist due to different loads above that point - like different rooms or heavy bookcases or such on the two adjacent joists, causing an offset at the seam there. Also, not clear from the photo, but if the area further away in the photo (in the background) is about a half-span across the house (say a hallway or such) and the nearfield part is full-span, then those full-span joists would be sagging more than the further ones, causing a displacement or discontinuity at that wall intersection, which could cause a break like this. Generally, a good ceiling drywaller will bridge over that sort of discontinuity with the drywall to prevent this sort of problem - but that is a logical place to put a sheet edge so commonly that occurs.

Tough call - certainly if this is a new home (only 6 months old) I would be calling the builder with a warranty claim (assuming you got, or state law requires, one year warranty on new construction). If a much older home and this is starting new in the siz months, then something structural is going on (could be structural issue or normal bowing of the joists/trusses), but since you said getting worse noticeably UNLESS the one sheet is pulling loose so has a gap with the supporting joists overhead, I would get a Structural Engineer to look at it.

If there is a gap between joist and drywall, I would have a Drywall contractor (your Search the List category) or a Handyman good at drywall strip the joint (remove the tape), refasten the sheet (and any others on the same joint line) to the joists with closely spaced screws,

Or could be due to structural issues elsewhere in the house like foundation settlement, but unless you are getting noticeable wall cracking I would consider that quite unlikely - that sort of ceiling crack is generally due to joist sagging, localized structural issue, or poor fastening.

Whether you get a Structural Engineer in to look at it or have the issue fixed and see if it recurs is mostly a "warm fuzzy feeling" issue, I think. Might well be that tightening up screw spacing and retaping with fiberglass tape and patching up the joint and repainting will stop it - or maybe not.

You can also peruse the Home > Drywall link in Browse Projects at lower left - probably a half dozen or so similar questions in the past year or two, many with photos, which might help too.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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