I'll be succinct. I'm afraid we're having a full structural failure. Over the past week, crack after crack has been appearing in our plaster and walls. I'm honestly concerned for our safety.

Our home was built in 1890 and is a two-story brick and mortar home, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, newer roof, and an unfinished basement (read: dirt floor, moisture barrier).

A huge crack appeared almost overnight in our bathroom on the ground floor, including diagonal cracks from each corner of the window frame; the crack goes up the seam of the corner of the wall and continues across the ceiling. This is an external, outside wall.

There is a crack in the plaster in our dining room that runs floor to ceiling (12' ceilings) all the way up the seam of the corner. It appeared suddenly.

There is a buckle in one of the walls, which was there when we bought the house in 2005; however, the plaster has cracked open within the past two weeks.

Cracks are rapidly appearing throughout the house at the corners of the windows and above doors.

The floor upstairs (original wood plank) feels sloped and the floorboards are quite flexible -- springy, almost.

On the exterior there are cracks (hairline - vertical) around the foundation. I can see hairline cracking running almost the full frame of a good-sized, curved window we have in our living room.

I know this is urgent, but I don't even know who or what kind of professional to call in this situation to get an evaluation/inspection done. What's going on? Is my house falling apart around me?

ETA: 02.04.12 Well, we had both our homeowner's insurance agent come by AND a hired structural engineer. Here's the verdict: The floor is sinking. It's fixable; the joists need to be either reinforced or replaced. The structural engineer (who did a 1000% more thorough and professional evaluation than the insurance adjuster, who called it "settling" and just said it wasn't covered by insurance. . . thanks for nothing, lady! ;) ) found evidence of a previous fire that went unnoticed by two inspectors. This obviously may have weakened the beams. So we'll be interviewing contractors and having the repairs made. While not ideal, it's a relief that the foundation isn't failing. The engineer who inspected the property pronounced it safe to inhabit -- we just need to attend to the joists as quickly as possible. Thank you all for your well wishes and helpful and thoughtful advice. :)

ETA 2: 09.28.13 I thought I would come by and update this post. Because we wanted to sell the house, we had to make a decision that was safety-conscious, structurally sound, and as affordable as possible. We opted to reinforce the joists and support beams with new steel beams; this cost approximately $5,000. Finding an honest, yet capable, contractor was extremely difficult -- we were quoted estimates of up to $35,000 (!!!!) to fix the damages. Basically, the house settled rather fast and unexpectedly, which caused the extensive cracking of the walls. While rare, this does sometimes happen, and we had had a very dry winter in 2011-2012. I'm pleased to say that after the joists and beams were reinforced, we were able to put it on the market. It was up for sale for only 48 hours before we got a full-price offer with no contingencies, and we closed on 09.20.13. Now it is someone else's money pit. ;)

  • This is scary. I would get out now. Stay with friends or check into a hotel. Shut off your gas, water, and electricity, and THEN figure out what's going on. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 0:13
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    What changed? It's lasted over 100 years; what shifted? The engineer may help you answer this, but you may also be able to. Did you move a heavy load into the house? Were there torrential rains? Did a neighbor do major landscaping recently? Did a beam finally start to fail in the basement? Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 15:34
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    +1 for the follow up. Note that the adjuster's word isn't final, you can challenge it and attempt to force them to pay. Also, since you notified them of the issue, if there's any further damage that results, they can't come after you for not notifying them in a timely fashion.
    – BMitch
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 1:35
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    Thanks for coming back and posting the update. Hopefully the new owner made the purchase with full knowledge the underlying cause has not been addressed.
    – mike
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 20:40
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    Well, how do you "not address" natural but progressive settling? I mean, the repairs to the joists and the new steel beams were readily obvious. During the inspection process the need for tuckpointing came up and the buyer asked us to tuckpoint, which we declined to do. Instead, we offered a $1000 cash allowance for tuckpointing, which he accepted. The buyer was also presented with two separate professional engineers reports that documented and fully disclosed the settling issue. I think more than the issues being unaddressed, there comes a point where a 120+ y/o house is a risk. HTH! Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 1:23

1 Answer 1


I think you need to get a structural engineer out there ASAP to investigate; I would be worried too!

Your city's by-law office might be able to refer you to someone who can help.

It might also be worth getting in contact with your insurance company - they might have their own engineer come out.

If you think it's really about to fall over you might opt to call the gas company to come shutoff the gas - the last thing you need is a fire added to this.

You need to make a judgment call on whether to stay in the house while you determine what's going on. Being dislocated at a hotel is not fun, but if your life is in danger, its a small price to pay. If you do leave, turn off the water and electricity too.

Good luck!

  • Thank you! My husband is calling the mortgage company to get the homeowners insurance information. Man, I don't even know who our insurance carrier is :/ I know we have coverage, as it's required for the mortgage. This is pretty frightening. I appreciate your reply :) Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 22:50
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    Have you had a lot of rain or anything like that? Is your basement wet? Are your drains working properly (no gurgling toilets)? It might be worth asking your neighbours if they've seen anything similiar to rule out a larger geological problem in the area.
    – Steven
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 23:24
  • Good answer. The insurance company is a great suggestion. @Slyther, please let us know how you make out!
    – JoeFish
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 23:47
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    I will definitely come back and update. I've put in a homeowners claim and was told we should hear from an adjuster tomorrow. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 0:48
  • Any interesting news to share?
    – Steven
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 16:17

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