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Question DetailsAsked on 2/21/2018

Why are hairline cracks appearing in textured drywall all over the house?

Only 2-3 look like they're on drywall joints being that they're straight and/or in corners. The rest extend up or down from corners of windows, doors and beams. House was built in 1979 and we have lived here since March 2015 only noticed 2 short cracks shortly after moving in. These have since increased from less than a foot to over 3 feet long. Slowly noticing more cracks as the years have went by but all cracks are 1/8"wide or thinner. All doors and windows open and close just fine. Doors are not level/plumb, but other than that seen fine.

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4 Answers


Source: Added pictures

Answered 2 years ago by Muffstic


Since you say lengthening significantly in last couple of years, and many diagonals up off door/window / beam corners, that pretty much eliminates attic framing-only issues - this sounds like a whole-house or foundation issue.

Do you have the ability to check out the foundation for cracking - many or long or wide-open (over about 1/8" wide) cracks zigzagging up brick/stone/cinderblock walls through the mortar, any continuous cracks cutting across bricks or stones or blocks, or any continuous cracks in cast concrete foundation but particularly large or diagonal ones more than a few feet long or more than hairline width ? If so, or if you have open cracks in a slab-on-grade foundation or largish cracks forming in tile or stone flooring, then foundation movement would be the normal suspect.

Have you had or caused any significant differences in the water conditions around the foundation or changed runoff or watering in the yard significantly ? Especially if in expansive soil country - some desert areas and a few other smallish locales (almost all in the West), mostly though all but far eastern Dakotas, eastern Montana, Wyoming, eastern Utah, far NW Nebraska, Colorado (mostly east of Front Range), Oklahoma, westernn Kansas south of the Missouri, North and West Texas - sort of a 300-400 mile wide band from the Rockies foothills out into Great Plains.

If above is true - especially if in Front Range area of Colorado or in Oklahoma, western Kansas, or north Texas near Oklahoma, it is possible you have a foundation drip system which you are not using - designed to keep the soil around/under the foundation uniformly damp (not wet) so it does not expend and contract throughout the seasons. If so (ask your neighbors if they have such or call city engineers office to see if an issue in your area) then you may need help from a Geotechnical (Soils and Foundations) Engineer to figure out how much water your foundation soil needs. If that is the case, in dry season you would expect to see open cracks in the soil and likely in paving, and nativesoil would be a clay.

Since you say the cracks are all small and doors/windows open and close fine, look at the doors - are the spaces around the door at the frame pretty much consistent width, or do the gaps narrow at one side across the top and sides ? Do you have corner drag marks where the door has an interference fit with the frame ? If so, then the house may be racking due to foundation movement and just not to the point of causing sticking windows/doors yet - or they may have been adjusted one or more times already by previous owners. Also, sliding/glider windows tend to jam first, casement types (crank swing-out) type and sliding glass doors generally have more space around the moving unit so don't jam up so easy with house movements. If spaces around doors is tapered, then house is racking (you can assess which way by how the house has warped the frames) - either due to serious wind/seismic history (like Great Plains houses commonly lean somewhat to the east due to the prevailing winds taking all the slack in the house out in that direction), or foundation movement.

If foundation movement caused, varies a lot of course so any rule of thumb is iffy, but generally if the issue is foundation settlement in general (as opposed to a specific point flaw) roughly rectangular houses generally tend to have the most pronounced cracking towards the center of walls over the settlement point, and more on ground floor than upper floors. Wind/seismic cracking tends to bemore general and generally has cracking in the corners too.

If the doors sit pretty square within the frames, has your house been subjected to quakes. blasting, or high winds enough to actually feel the house sway or shake or quiver ? Even constant movements from living CLOSE to a major airport or freight rail line - generally only if within 1000-1500 feet of airport or 100-200 feet of rail, to the point where house and windows vibrate during operations. Those can be the source for a lot of small cracks in walls and ceilings.

Also - check out for possible insect damage - termites/carpenter ant/post beetle attacks can cause minor cracks as they weaken the supporting framing and it starts sagging - though commonly (unless eating crawlspace support posts) tends to be concentrated in one part of the house, not all over. If in house-eating insect country and you did not have an inspection pre-sale or house has not been inspected/treated in last couple of years might be an idea to get an inspection done.

Normally with small cracks like that I would say take a pencil and mark the cracks and see if they continue growing oer the nest months. But since the house is about 40 years old (so normal settling in and foundation bearing settling-in is long done) and they have grown about 2-3 feet in a little less than 2 years, and with the picture showing the crack going from the vent (A/C vent ?) jagged across the ceiling appearing to connect with one coming diagonally up the wall and also splays off jaggedly across the ceiling, I would say this is perhaps not normal settlement or framing sag cracking - which normally does not cause ceiling cracking other than straigth cracks like the one you showed, along sheet seams.

I say that assuming the previous owner did not fill a bunch of cracks and paint over them before you moved in - the paint job at the top of that one corner makes me wonder if maybe there were quite a number of developed cracks that were patched. Look around the current crack locations and see if it looks like the texturing is a bit different or troweled over, possibly indicating these have been growing for a long time and were patched, and have now recracked back to where they were when they moved out ? Unless a crack is dug out full depth before patching rather than just spackling over it, commonly they will recrack back to initial length fairly quickly after the repair.

Other things to look at - does house show signs of settling below surrounding paving or dragging it down with it as it settled. Are there support posts under the house which are sinking inot the ground (like in crawlspace or basement without slab) or rotting or tilting off support blocks or rotting ? Is there any signs outside (if on slope) of slope instability or creep downhill ? Do you perhaps (rare) have an all-wood foundation which might be (as they eventually do after 20+ years ro so) rotting away ? They were somewhat in vogue around when the house was built, until people figured out (Duhhhh) that wood foundations do not lasst as long as a house should.

Certainly I do not think this is indicative of an emergency situation - but how worried you get is a judgement call I can't make. You could see how it develops after failing to find significant foundation cracking or insect damage, or get it looked at immediately for peace of mind. To get a professional opinion would probably run about $250-400 for a Structural Engineer (or better yet a civil engineer trained in both Structural and Foundations - no Angies List category for that) to look the house over and give an opinion on the cause and seriousness of the cracking. Plus design of remediation if there is a serious structural issue.

Personally if this were my house, after checking for things I mentioned - and also looking for any dryrot above foundation - if I found no apparent cause I would go with the mark and wait and see approach - getting worried if I heard cracking beams, started getting cracks diagonally clear across walls, cracks over about 1/8" wide diagonal off top corners of windows and doors associated with sticking doors or windows, or growing cracks in foundation.

Ok - here also are links (also more listed in first response) similar questions, some with photos like yours, on drywall/plaster cracking issues, which might give you a feel for how usual or unusual your situation is:

Answered 2 years ago by LCD


I think this is my biggest problem followed by these

Structural engineer time, or general contractor to fix post? All of these pictures are from the crawl space .

Answered 2 years ago by Muffstic


Sorry - looks to me, from what I see in the photos, like you have either pretty deteriorated concrete (or possibly reactive concrete - where the aggregate is reacting with the cement, as it common in much of the midwest and Mississippi Valley and KS/OK/TX where there is chert or pure quartz or high-silica mineral in the aggregate), or possibly a REALLY poor concrete job in the first place. But that could well be reactive aggregate- which causes gradual breakdown of the concrete to gravel as it expands in the strcucture - I have worked on some very similar concrete failing at a few of the mid-Mississippi locks and dams and in Missouri and Oklahoma and north-central Texas, where this is common.

Obviously that screw jack (and any others tilted like it) need to be reset ASAP - if that pops out of there could be real trouble, especially if it was designed to or is actually supporting a good portion of the load carried by the beam - but given the lack of rust I would guess it is fairly recent to try to stop the cracking. Should have had a bearing cap on the jack, or been encapsulated in restraining plates or welded on washers so it could not slip out.

But the concrete - the leaching on the wall to a significant extent, but especially the cracking and open aggregate and rough pour lines (which looks like poor or no deliberate consolidating vibration of the mix when cast) on the beam and adjacent wall, screams of a need for a Structural Engineer assessment to me.

The crack you are pointing to in one photo, assuming this is a wall and not a basement floor slab, is also large enough and, being diagonal, indicates a likely significant structural effect on the wall - enough to indicate significant stress to cause it, and long and large enough to weaken the wall, not to mention letting any outside water in if it rises outside the wall.

The wood timber joist over the concrete beam also looks hokey (cannot see enough to see what they did there- possible scab job over the beam ?) and the bearing plate under the tripled (possibly added to ?) beam having only two fasteners into the pretty new looking beams and zero restraint for the jack also make me wonder how much of this is original and how much remedial, and if maybe some of it is DIY work or done without plans and permit maybe.

And I would start with him addressing this as not only a remedial issue, but also documenting the existing conditions and any and all supports which do not look original for possible legal use, because you might be wanting to consider whether the original real estate disclosure (assuming there was one) disclosed cracking and temporary supports to limit it. You might possibly (though after 2 years not as good a case as one would wish) have a case against the previous owner if he did not disclose these issues and repairs to you.

Working against you on that - the time since purchase (hard to prove was pre-existing condition at time of purchase), hard to prove he patched cracks in walls and ceiling to cover up a continuing cracking problem, and the concrete condition was likely visible to your inspector (assuming you had a home inspector during the purchase process), so since it is pretty evident and visible (foundation and upstairs) if he failed to warn you but it was evident to an observant and at least nominally trained/professional observor, hard to throw it back on the Seller as an "undiclosed" condition.

Might be worth first talking to an attorney specializing in construction contracts and real estate purhase claims about coming and looking at it with the structural engineer when he is there to get a feel for where this might be heading, to give you an initial feeling whether he thinks worth pursuing with either the Seller, or against the Errors and Omissions insurance of the Inspector if he did not call these situations out during the inspection (assuming there was one done).

Realize this is all based on a few photos - you need on-site professional inspection and advice because to be perfectly honest what I saw in those photos leads me to think you are talking possibly tenish or even tens of thousands of $ repairs, not a few hundreds or thousands. Quite possibly, some remedial measures to take some of the loads off the foundation and lower framing - like pin piles or secondary foundation walls or such, which not only are costly but also will likely bring up inspector questions at resale time, decreasing the resale value and likely increasing time on the market until it does sell. But total replacement of ify looking members looks like it would be a major effort in that house, with at least some concrete structural framing.

Not in my opinion (except for jacks about to slip out like that) an "emergency" situation, but to me this is not a good scene and, from those snapshot views well into the "bad" area of an "inconsequential" to "imminently dangerous" condition scale. Sorry - wish I could say this is not a big issue but in this case I have to raise at least a yellow and probably a red flag on the condition - I don't think (unless there are worse parts) that is is approaching condemnation or anything, but definitely not likely to be a "wait and see" situation either. Good Luck.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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