Visible cracks in a property can be alarming to both seller and potential buyer. The first signs of cracking on a wall can easily make a homeowner panic. Sometimes simple fillers can fix the problem, but if the situation is serious, cracks can mean structural damage or building faults.
Only a professional can identify the root of the problem, but it is important that property owners to know how wall cracks can happen. Basic knowledge about cracks can help you better prepare for costly repairs.
Below is a short guide on how to estimate the severity of visible cracks while you wait for the building inspection company to evaluate your property.
Types of wall cracks
There are three main locations of wall cracks:
- On the interior walls, such as plasterboard or gyprock
- On the exterior walls, such as brickwork
- On the foundation walls
There are five ways to assess how serious a wall crack is. You should check:
- The location of the crack
- If the crack is vertical, horizontal, or jagged
- If there is a separation in the wall material or between the wall and frame
- What caused the crack
- If the cause of the crack is ongoing or likely to recur
Gaping cracks, zigzag cracks, and stair-step cracks following the mortar line are a strong indication of a severe structural defect in your property. If you can see through a crack, you should call an expert immediately.
What are the causes of wall cracks?
Tracing the origin of a wall crack is the first step in making an accurate assessment of damage and repair cost. Here are some of the likely causes of visible cracks.
- Poor design or poor construction
If your property, or a part of it, has been poorly designed or constructed, walls can crack overtime as they bear too much weight. Inferior or faulty building materials also contribute to the emergence of visible cracks.
- Settling and subsidence
Soil excavation work is often required when building a structure. When this new soil compacts and settles over time, it can result in wall cracks.
Minor settling is a natural process, but significant subsidence in the soil stress walls, creating narrow vertical cracks that can lead to structural faults. The significant downward motion also happens when soil is washed away due to leaks or flooding.
- Climate change
Changes in water patterns, such as drought and flood, can cause significant soil contraction or expansion. When the water table drops below a property, it can lead to wall cracking.
- Reactive soil
Reactive soil contracts when dry and expands when wet. Clay is a type of soil that is reactive while sand and gravel are non-reactive. If the soil under your property is reactive, it might contribute to cracking.
- Water damage
Water damage from blocked gutters, garden sprinklers, leaking pipes, and flooding can cause wall cracks.
- Invasive trees in proximity
There are three ways that nearby trees can contribute to wall cracking:
- Invasive roots
- Trees affecting the moisture content in the soil
- Destabilised soil due to trees being uprooted and removed.
- Degradation of building materials
Building materials do not last forever. Rust, gravity, moisture, salt, and poor maintenance can all contribute to the degradation of building materials and lead to walls cracking.
- Excavation work in the area
Whenever there are new structures built in your neighbourhood, your walls could be affected by nearby construction work. Vibration from heavy machinery, excessive mechanical soil compaction, or blasting during excavation can leave cracks on your walls.
When is a visible crack alarming?
As earlier mentioned, minor cracks can be repaired or sealed with simple filler and paint. But if the damage is severe, you must take immediate action. So, when should you start worrying?
The first indication that a wall crack is serious is the direction it moves across the wall in.
- Vertical cracks that start at a point where the drywall meets the ceiling are typically caused by foundation settling.
- Horizontal cracks are even more severe, and often indicate water damage, foundation shift, or other structural issues.
- Diagonal cracks usually indicate subsidence of footings and can be expensive to repair.
Cracks above doorways or cracks combined with sagging ceilings or uneven floors can also be a sign of significant problems you should address right away.
Check the doors and windows and see if there are changes in how they move. If the doors and windows are sticking or cannot be opened or closed with ease, then you may have a structural problem.
Nail popping is another indicator of foundation damage or structural problem. Check your walls for nails or screws that are visible on the surface. If they are near wall cracks, it may be a sign of drywall movement or a small amount of settlement.
Cracks in ceilings and in places where the ceiling meet the walls should also be a cause for concern.
Warping, leaning, and bowing are matters of urgency as they indicate a potential imminent collapse. This can pose a significant risk to your safety if not treated immediately.
How much will crack repair cost you?
Wall cracks involving structural damage can be costly to repair. In addition to actual construction costs, you may need to relocate your family and rent alternative housing while the contractor is fixing your wall. Your insurance policy may not always cover these extra expenses.
If you ignore serious wall cracks, you may find yourself with an uninhabitable or condemned property. Thus, fixing the problem as soon as you notice it could save you money in the long run.
Repairing and sealing wall cracks
It is easy to hide wall cracks if they are simple hairline cracks. Filler and paint are a cheap and quick remedy for purely cosmetic issues.
However, if your wall cracks are the result of a structural defect, you will need the expert assessment of a professional building inspector. Repair options may include the following:
- Replacing stumps. Replace concrete or timber stumps that have been damaged by termites or rust with new stumps.
- Stabilising your property footings involves excavating your foundation and injecting new concrete to bring it back to its original level.
- Demolition and reconstruction. Extreme wall cracking may require demolishing and rebuilding the entire wall.
Ask multiple experts about your options. Talk to a contractor, builder, plumber, or even tree lopper to find the best remedy for your cracked wall.
What should you do when you spot visible cracking?
Once you notice visible cracking, document the progression of the damage with photographs. Put a ruler along the side of the crack so you can compare the extent of the problem over time.
Contact a reputable building inspection company for a proper and thorough evaluation of your property. What seems like a simple crack may turn out to be a serious problem that could affect the structural integrity of your home. An experienced and knowledgeable inspector can help assess the cause and severity of your wall cracks and come up with a plan of attack complete with repair cost estimation.