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Question DetailsAsked on 12/4/2015

I've noticed some [serious?] Cracks in my walls and ceiling. How do i know if its a serious issue?

Two story wood frame construction new in 1996. I just moved in and have found several new cracks in the walls and ceilings. Residence has a full basement and is a two family up/down condo unit in Rhode Island. Have seval walls with vertcal cacks and. A few ceiling cracks as well.

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Several walls/ceilings with new cracks in a short time I would be a bit concerned about - while a few cracks would be normal in that age house it is old enough that you should not be noticing growth of cracking if just from normal "settling in" of a new house - that should be pretty well done by now.

Check first for overloading (unit with water bed or hot tub or lots of bookcases or such ?), and in the basement for signs (if exposed joists) of cracking or significantly deflecting joists, and for any significant (open cracks or cracks diagonally through concrete or concrete blocks or brick as opposed to just along the grout) foundation cracking. Also, check for any sign that your foundation is getting wet from surface or roof runoff, misdirected or blocked downspout or sump pump drains, etc. Also, if in expansive clay soil territory (mostly in midwest from Rockies to center of midwest especially Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, part of Dakotas) changes in water conditions can change this - either from unusual rain or drought, or watering patterns, or with some control systems failing to keep a weep system going so the soil dries out and cracks.

And check, if on sloping ground, that you do not have cracking or slumping or other signs of earth movement around the house.

For a deliberate inspection a Structural Engineer would be the expert to assess this, for about $300-500 range probably. A cheaper initial opinion (probably $100-200 range to look at this issue only) would be a Home Inspector with a lot of years of experience who could give a less expert but possibly more experienced (commonly having seen more houses) opinion about how significant the cracks are and to look at foundation and such for obvious signs of distress.

If these are just hairline cracks, the other alternative is to mark the ends with a light pencil line and see how they progress with time over a few months - if extending more than 1/8" or so a month, rate of growth is accelerating, or you start seeing them opening up noticeably (more than paper thickness) or see signs of crushing of drywall, or hear creaking or snapping or popping noises then definitely time to get a structural engineer in. If they stay as hairline cracks or advance very slowly and die off to static condition over a number of months, then could be due to significant differences in how the possessions are loading the building or dramatic differences in indoor humidity between you and prior owner, but to make noticeable cracking the changes would have to be pretty radical.

One other initial step would be to take photos of the cracks (far enough back to see extent and location, plus maybe closeup of largest opening with something like a hand or pencil next to it for scale) and post them here for contributors (and me) to see and comment on whether we think this is clearly signfiicant, probably insignificant, or something in between. Use the Answer This Question yellow button right below your question to reply back in this thread - to attach photos use the leftmost little yellow icon at the top left of the Your Answer box that pops up when you click the Answer This Question button.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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