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Are Cracks in Walls Normal?

I've started to spot cracks in the walls of my home. How can I distinguish a benign eyesore from dangerous damage?

A crack in a wall isn't always indicative of structural damage. Many cracks are perfectly natural and the result of your house settling--no cause for concern. At the same time, a crack can signify a complication you have to immediately address, such as the collapse of wood members or shifting in the foundation.

When you have an informed understanding of the warning signs, you'll have a far better idea of how to handle this issue. Learn the common indicators of damage--and follow the suggestions below--to better ensure your home remains structurally safe and sound.

When Cracks Are Harmless

Cracks are often the result of settling, which usually happens with a newer house. The lumber contains a high level of moisture and moves slightly as it dries, creating small cracks that are unattractive, but ultimately harmless.

If you live in a new home and you come across cracks, wait until a year after the home's completion to tend to them, as the lumber needs to dry. After you've given your home the necessary time to adjust, you can remedy the cracks by re-taping the joints, which are the seams where the drywall panels meet.

Concerning the location of the cracks, you'll normally see them over doors and windows. This is because of the vertical wooden studs involved in the construction of walls, which a builder has to cut for an opening. Beyond doors and windows, benign cracks also appear across walls and the doorways themselves.

Of course, settling isn't always the issue. If you leave your home empty for months at a time, the lack of climate control could cause a problem. Cracks can also come from faulty taping with drywall panels, and even leaks, so make sure to inspect the line closely before you make an attempt at repair.

When Cracks Are Dangerous

If the cracks are large, jagged, or diagonal, you may have a structural problem. These kinds of cracks will occur when a foundation has shifted or sunk, so they demand your immediate attention. You should also check for a potential termite infestation, and determine the status of your supporting wood members.

As a general rule, cracks wider than a quarter-inch warrant a review. When the crack is no longer a line but a serious fissure, you should bring in a reputable builder or structural engineer to inspect your home. They'll provide guidance on how to address the crack and which steps to take as you continue.

That said, every situation is different. You'll benefit from studying the different types of wall cracks and what they mean to fully educate yourself on what you should and shouldn't worry over. A crack that seems ominous at first isn't always a problem, so don't jump to any conclusions without research.

Consult a professional about the structural integrity of your home if you suspect an issue that may compromise your safety. Even if the cracks aren't alarming, a natural disaster could exacerbate the defects your home already has, or reveal defects you weren't aware of.

How to Proceed

When homeowners notice an unsightly crack in their wall, they'll often turn to spackle. In truth, spackle is a short-term solution that doesn't provide the same reinforced surface coverage as re-taping. Unless you go through the process of re-taping the joints, you'll likely have to fix the problem again.

As for large, jagged, or diagonal cracks, reach out to an engineer and have them review your home. You'll feel far more comfortable knowing the cracks in your walls are accounted for--if they were ever a danger at all. As you move forward, evaluate your options and start planning your repairs today.

Caption: Some cracks are innocuous, while others indicate structural issues; when in doubt, consult a professional.
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Title Annotation:Ask Our Experts
Author:Matthews, Kayla
Publication:Mother Earth News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2019
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