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Question DetailsAsked on 1/9/2016

what do we do about hairline cracks in our ceiling that run along the ceiling beams?

The one story house that we have owned for about 3 years suddenly has hairline cracks in the ceiling that appear to run along the ceiling beam. We are starting to get stressed about them and don't know if this is something we can fix or if we need to hire someone to take care of it.

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When you are logged in, you can find some related questions and answers for this sort of issue right below this response - also in the Home>Drywall area of Browse Projects, at lower left of this page whether logged in or not.

You did not say whether this a house you have just owned for 3 years, or a 3 year old house. If the latter, 2-5 years is a common time for general settlement cracks and such to show up and the foundation settles and wood framing settles into place and the natural age sagging of wood joists and rafters starts being noticeable. Also, if you have trusses for your roof support, it is fairly common for them to cause ceiling cracking along drywall joints as the trusses sag under load (especially under snow loads) - though usually that produces a straight-forward quite straight tension crack at the joints - or tearing of the joint tape but generally leaving a visible open crack in the ceiling texturing, which I did not see in the very nice photo you provided. (Basically speaking - open cracking or tearing of the drywall joint tape - tension is present. Crushing of the drywall or bulging/popping out of the tape, compression. Tape coming loose or texturing peeling off at the tape, commonly with staining - usually water infiltration issues.

I enlarged your picture way up, and have to admit the cracks look unusual to me - not normal tension cracks or even cracked open along much of their length, from what I see - and a few bubbles in them too, but not the sort you would see from wetting. Looks to me like compression cracking at the sheet boundary - which would mean that area was RISING significantly, not sagging, or the drywall was being pushed from the edges or expanding. Or maybe the sheets just starting to move relative to each other - meaning one may be coming down a bit.

I would go (or get a contractor) in the attic to see if there is any water up there, but to be honest I doubt that is the cause unless you have high humidity (maybe winter frosting ?) that is causing attic floor joist expansion. If you go up, be sure to only walk on the joists - the wood framing - NOT on the insulation or drywall between the joists, or you can come right down through the ceiling. Which would solve the crack issue because the ceiling would be replaced, but not the recommended way to go about it.

I just don't know, based on the photos - perhaps a structural movement like sagging floor joists (normally occurrring noticeably after 20-30 years old) causing the walls to move inward at the ceiling, but that would be very rare for a ceiling below an attic - that is usually a location where cracks open up in tension.

May be an illusion from the photo device used, but looks like that is a triangular piece of drywall - if so, that would lead me to suspect movement of the wood it is fastened to, because non-rectangular drywall (or concrete, for that matter) pieces have odd loadings on them that can cause cracking.

One other thing to check - stand on a stable chair or ladder, and using a towel or such to avoid fingerprints, push up on the ceiling - takes about 20-50 pounds push to check, or pushing up with your shoulders works very well if high up on a ladder - and see if the drywall moves up any (typically 1/8-3/8" if loose, so not a lot of movement unless seriously dropping). Helps to have someone else watching the crack at that time, and watch to see if any popouts occur. Try on both sides of each crack - may be one sheet is coming loose and moving a bit relative to the adjacent one, pulling through the nails or screws because it was not adequately fastened up. That seems to be a more common problem in recent decades, with all too many drywallers not using the required closer ceiling fastener spacing, just using the more open (and commonly shorter fasteners) wall spacing, so the fasteners gradually pull through, eventually in some cases releasing the ceiling sheets entirely.

Guess getting a Remodel General Contractor (who is better qualified to evaluate whether non-drywall issues are the cause) or Drywall contractor in there to look at it would be what you need if an attic inspection by you does not find a cause. Handyman or Home Inspector would be other alternative Search the List categories if you can't get a GC or drywaller to look at it because it is likely a very small job.

As for DIY - while you might well be able to tighten up the fastener spacing yourself, doing the hole and seam patching, with the type of texturing you have I think it is unlikely you can do a suitable looking repair yourself without retexturing the entire ceiling, so once the fix comes down to the drywall part (after any structural part) I would get a professional drywaller in there to fix and refinish it - then a painter or DIY for repriming (because there will be bare drywall compound areas) and repainting.

Other alternative - considering the symptoms at this point are not clearly indicative of a serious issue (though could be the first symptoms of a developing situation), you could take the wait and see approach, seeing how much it breaks up and it you start seeing other cracking in the house which might be indicative of a general framing cracking or foundation slumping issue. You could do a walk-around now and look to see if there are any signs of foundation cracking, loss of support under floor beams in the crawlspace/basement or cracked floor joists, cracking around windows or doorframes indicative of structural movement, check attic to see you do not have trusses or rafters rotting or sagging, etc.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


Here is a photo to help give a better understanding of the problem

Answered 4 years ago by Hel232

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