Drywall Cracks: Cosmetic or Structural

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Cracks in the drywall and plaster are a very common occurrence. They occur over time when there is stress or even a little settlement of the home. Contractors may call them hairline cracks, meaning that they are very thin looking. The majority of time they are considered cosmetic and can be covered over when repainting is done.

Where do you often see these cracks?

The most common areas to see cracks is at door and window corners, and at the corners of wall opening. It is in these areas that the structure develops more stress than other areas. This is true of both exterior and interior doors and openings.

Another common place to see these cracks is where two pieces of drywall come together. These cracks usually run either horizontal or vertical at the drywall seams. Homes with vaulted ceilings may notice these cracks in the higher areas.

Where two pieces of drywall are butted together, there is a joint, which gets drywall tape and then two or three coats of drywall mud layered over the drywall tape. These joint areas are weaker than in the center or field area of the drywall, thus some cracks may occur at these joints.

Common causes of the cracks

As mentioned earlier, stress is usually the main reasons that cracks occur. Causes of stress can be for many reasons; some of the more common ones are:

  • The wood framing drying out; the wood cures or loses moisture as it ages, causing the lumber to twist or warp a little, even a little dimensional change occurs.
  • Movement of the structure:

1. Wind loads from storms, creating stresses on walls and ceilings

2. Settling of the home or soil movement

3. Expansive soils pushing up on the structure

4. Wet and dry seasons

5. Expansion and contraction due to hot and cold weather

6. Earthquakes – if the home is in an area that has trimmers or earthquakes

7.  Truss uplift – can create cracks where interior walls meets ceiling (read more)

8. Poor quality workmanship in taping the drywall joints.

  • Removal of “Pop-corn,” textured or “cottage cheese looking ceiling material may leave a drywall taping job that tends to crack at the drywall joint. When the builder built the home, he knew that he was going to texture the ceiling, so he had the drywall contractor put on less coats of drywall mud over the joints, because it would save him money, and he knew it would be covered with a textured material. i.e. a “pop-corn” ceiling material. With fewer coatings over the joints, the more likely a crack may develop.

There are some cracks that may be a “Red” flag under a few circumstances.

Wide cracks or cracks that run at an angel or diagonally may be a “Red” flag. It is important to note that even these type of cracks may not be real serious, depending on the circumstances.

If concerned, do a quick structural check

First step outside the home and walk around the exterior; check for:

  • Cracks in the foundation or is it bowed or leaning (READ MORE)
  • Cracks in the siding or stucco ( a few small cracks are common)
  • Does the roof sag or is it bowed
  • If a basement, check for cracked or bowing wall

Walk around the inside

  • Are the floors level or sloping
  • Do any doors rub the flooring
  • Any doors or windows that are sticking
  • Look for sagging ceilings and bowed walls

The above items can be an indication that a structural issues may exist depending on the location and severity. If so, some of these issues may need to be addressed to help keep the drywall cracks from coming back.

Handymen, painters or drywall tapers

For the majority of cracks a painter would be the appropriate person to seal and cover the cracks. At times, a drywall contractor or a skilled handy man who can tape and mud joints may be needed.