Are Cracks in Walls Normal? How to Tell an Eyesore from Real Danger

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews

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A crack in your wall isn’t always an indication of structural damage. Many cracks are perfectly natural and the result of your house “settling” — no reason for concern. At the same time, a crack can signify a complication you have to immediately address, like the collapse of wood members or shifting in the foundation.

So how do you tell the difference between a benign crack and a more serious issue? How do you know when an unsightly line is a real danger — or just an eyesore? When you have informed understanding of the warning signs, you’ll have a far better idea of how to handle this type of problem in the future.

With that in mind, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the cracks in your walls. As long as you’re aware of some of the common indicators of damage — and follow the suggestions below — your home will remain structurally sound and safe for you and your family.

When Cracks Are Harmless

As mentioned earlier, a crack in your wall isn’t always a sign of structural damage. It’s 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 which are unattractive, but ultimately harmless.

When you come across these cracks, it’s advisable to wait a year after the completion of the home to tend to them, as the lumber needs to dry. Once 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 due to the vertical 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 which are 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 what 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 which may seem ominous at first isn’t always a problem, so it’s best not to jump to any conclusions without research.

Regardless, it’s usually a smart idea to consult a professional about the structural integrity of your home if you suspect an issue which 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 which 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.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on Grit, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell, and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog: Productivity Theory.

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