Crack in the wall indicating serious problems?

12 Replies

Hi all, 

I was looking at an otherwise promising property and I saw this photo with a couple of cracks in the wall.  I'm not a DIY'er and so I thought I'd reach to more experienced people - could this indicate serious structural problems or is it mainly cosmetic (or would you need an inspection to know for sure).  I don't want to waste my time with this one if this is a deal-breaker.  

Thanks in advance. 


It could be a simple issue with the dry wall or could be an indication of more serious foundation problems. If you like the property, it might be worthwhile to have a contractor come out and take a look before you make an offer.

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you are showing a room not the crack!

I am guessing the cracks are on the right side, kind of like spider crack looking (not sure if this term is universal, I know it from boats)? If so, I assume this is a plaster house, I have never seen drywall crack like that. Is there any other damage around that area, rooms below, foundation below, outside, etc... If it was just this area, I wouldn't worry, but I would be checking how solid the area is and for any other damage.

Have you worked with a contractor at all before? If so, ask if they could check it out for you. If not, reach out to contractors/inspectors and ask them to look with you and you'll pay for their time, but don't want or need a full inspection.

It is tough to see a crack in the pic. The only thing I think I can say is a crack is in the wall at the back of the pic where that short door is. 

I would say thats cosmetic. That just doesn't look like the typical place I'd assume a crack in the drywall would represent a crack in the foundation.

Here's the question. Have you looked at the foundation at all? Does anything look significantly off?

To me, I would look for cracks that run along the tops of of walls to where walls are now above or below other walls. 

But don't think I have ever seen a drywall crack in the middle of the wall equate to a bad foundation. More like bad drywall work. Or sometimes its just temperature changes.

if you were in bad foundation areas like texas maybe that would be different. But here in Illinois, I wouldn't think twice about that. Washington DC? Not sure on that area.

@Amardeep G.

I would guess this is lathe and plaster wall construction due to the horizontal crack.  I would look at the foundation and walls below this room to see what they tell you.  Cracks at corners of doors are very common.  I think the roof framing is actually causing the cracks.  This is more cosmetic I would believe.  

Scrap / grind out loose material and fill with drywall mud.  You can also put fiberglass drywall mesh over the joint.  Sand and paint and it will look like new.  If all of it falls off the lathe then drywall that wall.

This looks to be an attic with surface mounted electrical outlets. Sorry I cannot tell more from the photo.

You would be better to check the foundation and if a brick home the exterior to make your determination. When looking at bricks a vertical crack in the joints between bricks can indicate settling. A vertical crack that goes up and down through one or more bricks can be an indication of mine subsidence.

Mine Subsidence is a very serious issue in Illinois. What it refers to is the collapse of underground mines and the hour glass effect it causes on the surface. Mostly coal mines but it could be any underground mine.

@Amardeep G.    Cracks can be either cosmetic or a sign of a foundation or structural issue. Only a qualified inspector can point you in the right direction.

My inspector uses one of those Smart Level gizmos. And he will note any cracks in the wall, and he will give an opinion as to whether it's cosmetic or the sign of a foundation issue.

Thanks everyone - I guess the answer is that this requires a closer look.  I haven't been to the house yet so I just wanted to see if it was one I could cross off my list.  

Get a qualified home inspector and/or contractor out there to evaluate.  Small cracks like that can be minor settling.  However, it could also be an indicator of something shifting, and this is in the beginning stages.  It appears from the pic that there are a few cracks in different locations.  You should consult a home inspector or contractor.

I have a few lathe and plaster houses, and this could be anything. My advice would be to get in that crawlspace behind the crack and see what you can see. With foundation issues I'd expect to see vertical cracking at the corners, or mid-wall at stress points, with spiderwebbing out from that. The crack at the ceiling on the left side of the entry door could indicate that. Given that you have horizontal cracks (most likely along the lathe if it's strung horizontally) that would make me think it's water more likely. 

When you get in that little closet/crawl, look at the board from the back and look up! Finding a line of travel for water infiltration could show you a roof leak covered up by the rehab. Poor venting from a downstairs bath into that space could be an issue as well. Don't be afraid to run your hand along everything (might be best to go after/during a few rainy days as well). Even if you can't see it if they drywalled the interior of that crawl, you might be able to feel moisture. Seepage will soak and distort the wood and cladding along the line of water infiltration, so you should be able to see deformation from the back. 

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