# What do these cracks in my drywall indicate?

I'm trying to figure out what is going on with my house. I bought it back in February, none of these cracks and bulges were there when I viewed the house. The only problem I noticed were uneven floors. It wasn't until I spent a night here that I was able to see all the patch work the previous owners had done. The angle of light at dusk and night gave shadow to the patch work.

The only thing I noticed that was odd when viewing the house, before I bought it, was that the floors were wavy and some seemed a little uneven. I had asked the inspectors and they said they were not sure, it's could be anything. Which I thought was a shady answer but that is all they would say. They said they see nothing structurally wrong with the joists or house.

Since I bought the house all these cracks have been showing up. When I moved furniture in, it tilts either away or toward the walls. And when I walk around things shake. There's also lots of popping and creaking sounds when I walk around the house. At night it's the same thing popping and creaking sounds. Some times there will be really loud pops. The previous owner carpeted a lot of the floors, which made it hard to see anything wrong with them. Again not till I was living here and walking over a lot more of the surface area that I noticed the unevenness. The second floor has voids, and raised spots. I'll be walking around and it almost feels like the only thing holding me up is the carpet.

They also paneled the kitchen ceiling, which I now think was to cover up all the damage the ceiling might have. I had asked them about the paneling, because I assumed that is why they put paneling, to cover some water damage. They just told me they wanted a country look.d

There are a couple rafters, at least that I can see, that have been repaired, and a couple other cracked ones. I think one is getting worse, or at least worse than when I had the house inspected.

Picture one and two is the ceiling of a bedroom. I think that one happened when I went up into the attic over the garage. The garage attic spans the garage and this room. I can feel the floor sag when I walk over it.

Picture three is (I guess) the living room ceiling. This room has an odd bulge starting at the entrance. Above this room is some weird room with no closet. When I walk in that room there's lots of cracking/creaking noises on the side that is near the stairs that come up to the second floor and the one that goes up to the attic...attic entrance is in this room.

Picture four is of the stairway, just as I'm about to go upstairs. The stairs seem to be sinking. Picture 17 shows the bulge in the floor and how much of a dip there is around the stairs.

Picture 5 is of a bedroom. It's hard to see in the picture but there is a crease starting to show in the sheet rock. A lot the cracks I see around the house start like this. They start as a faint crease then start getting more defined until they turn into a crack. The vent near the crease is also starting to pop out. Above this room is the attic, which the previous owners finished off. There's lots of popping and cracking going on when I walk around up there. As well as a sagging feeling, as if the floor goes down a bit when I walk over it. This could just be the plywood sagging, but the creases in the sheet rock and vents popping out make me think it's something else.

Picture 6 is the same room as 5. Off to the right of this pic right out side the door is the stairway. You can see the bulging starting here too.

Picture 7 is the ceiling of that odd room above the living room I mentioned earlier. There's a lot of nail pops a long the wall. And other spots. There's lots of nail pops all over the house actually.

Picture 8 is another crease, hard to see, but in a bedroom. It's been getting longer.

The skylight in the master bedroom has cracks coming out from the corners of it. The entrance this bathroom has a diagonal crack at the edge of the door which was patched and is hard to see. It doesn't look like it's getting worse. What's strange is that a door in the wall perpendicular to this wall (closet door) also has a diagonal crack. It was also patched and I don't see it getting worse.

Picture 10 is the door to the attic. There are cracks around it. The attic has a lot of patch work. Large square patches.

Picture 11 is a room in the attic. Again, like all these cracks, were not there the times I viewed the house. Also, a lot of these cracks were patched at one point.

Picture 12 is the door to the unfinished part of the attic.

Picture 13 is a really strange one. One day I had heard a loud crack/tearing sound. I looked around the house but didn't see anything that could have made that sound, and I didn't head up to the attic (it was at night). The next day after work I had gone up the attic and saw this new buckle point. I stuck a nail through it so I could find it when I went to the other side of the wall. I was expecting to find a beam or something pushing against this spot, but there was nothing.

Picture 14 is another crack in the attic that never existed when I first viewed the house. It started as a crease looking line and has grown to what you see.

Cracks below an attic window cill. I think the broken window frame is from them putting an AC in the window. Both attic window frames have this same damage.

Picture 16 is some patch work of a crack in the attic stairway.

Picture 18 is a door near the garage. Another new crack.

Picture 19 is of the a crease in the master bedroom that is getting longer.

I would really like to figure out what is going on with this house, and what I can do to fix it. I've called two foundation companies, one said they did not see anything structurally wrong with the house and to call him if things got worse. The other tried to tell me I need $24k in jacks to level the floors and that will fix everything. As well as$14k to seal of the crawlspace and put a dehumidifier down there.

I also called a structural engineer who didn't do as thorough a job of inspecting the house as I wanted. Because he could not see cracks in the foundation he chalked it up to there being water damage at some point. But I have not seen signs (stains and such) from water damage. There is an odd circular patch on the ceiling, about two feet in diameter, in the master bedroom. And an odd square patch in the ceiling of the one odd room. But the attic is above there and I didn't see staining there. I had called the structural engineer because of the cracking rafters and the cracking noises I hear. The guy didn't leave a good impression on me, since he only looked in the easy to access parts of the attic. And said they could really tell me anything about the floor joists since there's insulation down there. I kind of wanted to tell them they should have moved it aside if it was a problem...

Any help would be greatly appreciated. I'm now stuck with this house, so I want to find and fix what ever the problem is before things get worse and more expensive.

The house is in southern Virginia, the climate is hot and humid. It was built in 1986.

There's lots of patch work to cover cracks, nail pops, and looks like they just pained over drywall tap that was peeling.

Oh there is a step crack in the brick veener left of the front door. About 8 feet away. It's not long or anything...maybe like 8-10 brinks. I need to go into the crawlspace to see if there's a crack in the foundation near there.

Pictures 20-23, and 34 are some cracked/stressed rafters that I could get to.

Pictures 24 and 25 are a couple of the repaired rafters.

Pictures 26 and 27 are just to show the spacing of the rafters, I guess I should have held a ruler up...

These pictures are the entrance to the mater bedroom closet. There's an entrance from the master bedroom room, and an entrance from another room. The doorway walls are perpendicular to each other.

Master bathroom door from the inside. If you look closely at the right corner you can see that it looks like a crack was covered up. Also the door is not even, and does not shut, pin does no line up with the hole. This wall is also perpendicular to picture #30, the master closet door.

Hard to draw, but these are the directions of the cracks. Down arrow is entrance to the master bedroom closet from another room. The arrows are the directions of the cracks.

  -----
|   |
|   _            |s |
|   ↓            |r |
|   _  Room      |i |
|   |            |a |
|   |            |t |
--| > |------|  |--|S |--|   |----
-
_   Hallway
M          |
a B        ------------------------
s e        |
t d        _  Master bathroom
e r        ^
r o        -
o        |
m        |


## Update 7/02/2019

These two pictures show those creases now showing up in the stairwell. It's between the two floors.

Here's an update of picture 4. Same spot getting worse.

This is a bedroom down stairs, back and front, I'm pretty sure there's no crawl space below it.This has happened a few times, by the end of the day the door rubs the door frame on the right there. Above this room is the attic that is also over the garage... meaning going up into the garage attic, it looks like one room.

• No, I don't think this is normal at all! There is some sort of a problem here but without exposing the structure to see what's allowing so much movement, it's all guesswork. If this were my house, I think I'd be pulling down some of that drywall from the ceiling to see why it's cracking. That drywall is basically ruined now anyway so there is little to lose. I'd also want to know why the floors are so out of level when there doesn't appear to be any problem with the foundation. – jwh20 May 29 '19 at 23:48
• Indeed. If he's an actual PE (Professional Engineer) you might file a complaint with your state's engineer licensing board. His actions sound to me to be either incompetent or just lazy. If he's not licensed, then you might still file a complaint as it's illegal nearly everywhere to call yourself an "engineer" and offer engineering services without a license. – jwh20 May 30 '19 at 1:35
• I definitely see some cracks that look like settling to me, but the majority look like bad drywall finish work. Perhaps the heat and humidity revealed a bad mud job. What year is the house? – UnhandledExcepSean May 30 '19 at 1:59
• made lots of additions This makes me nervous. Was he competent? This may be the root of your troubles. – mike65535 May 30 '19 at 12:02
• By any chance are you near a mine (active or not)? Mine subsidence is a problem here in parts of the midwest U.S. – Duston May 30 '19 at 14:15

The rafters look fine. They are straight, showing no signs of sagging or stress. The cracks that you point out are the usual lumber "checks" that appear as the wood dries. The checks have little structural impact and are accounted for by architects and material specifiers.

The floor movement and wall board cracks are not unusual in many older homes. The footings, if there are any under the foundation walls, probably could have been wider. If they are not deep enough the building will move with the freeze-thaw cycles.

If it were my house I would accept the floors as part of the building's character.

I would also become an expert wall board re-finisher, especially with the newer fiberglass tapes and synthetic "mud" that offer some flexibility, accommodating building movement with little or no cracking. Generally the cracks appear at seams, and repairs with improved flexible materials can last for decades. Inside corners, like wall-to-ceiling, can be cleaned up and re-seamed with long-life flexible caulk instead of the traditional paper tape and clay mud. The traditional method of drywall finish is done because it is cheap. It is very poor at withstanding any building movement.

I covered one troublesome ceiling with 3/8 inch plywood and finished it with fiberglass tape and flexible auto body Bondo. It never cracked again, even with the inadequate ceiling/floor joists flexing from the foot traffic overhead.

Unfortunately, home-builders a century ago didn't have the hindsight that contemporary builders do. Enjoying the character of a century old home usually comes with some building performance compromise. Most buildings move a little. Some places are more active or show the movement more than others. Stucco buildings, for example, are notorious for revealing movement.

• Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. Thanks for the answer; keep 'em coming. And, you should probably take our tour so you'll know how best to contribute here. – Daniel Griscom Nov 7 '19 at 11:42

I see a couple different things.

The attic that was finished may not have large enough or close enough joists to support heavy loads or walking (e.g. 2x4 on 24" center), letting them flex and crack the ceiling below. This spacing may also be repeated in the rafters. Another sign the rafters may be built to a bare minimum spec is your mention of "There are a couple rafters, at least that I can see, that have been repaired, and a couple other cracked ones. I think one is getting worse, or at least worse than when I had the house inspected."

If the rafters are on 24" centers and the attic was finished by simply nailing 2x4's between them to make the attic ceiling and knee walls (see the angled edge in pic 13), then wind, furniture, and live loads (e.g. walking in the attic) could flex the drywall up there enough to cause cracks as seen in pics 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13, 16, and maybe 19. It could also contribute to cracks around the skylights, like pic 9.

The cracks beneath the attic windows could be, as you said, from them hanging a window a/c unit. If the window framing isn't up to snuff, the weight cantilevered out the window could crack the drywall inside.

The many nail pops throughout the house look like someone didn't know how to do drywall properly. I'm far from an expert, but the simplest way I've seen to fix as many as you show in pic 7 is to lightly sand them down to level, then embed mesh tape over them, mud, sand and refinish the edges.

Cracks around doorways (e.g. pic 18) could be from the wall flexing as you open and close the door, especially if you close it firmly. I would guess the joint may not have been properly taped. Sanding it smooth, using mesh tape, and refinishing the joint may prevent re-cracking in the future. Others with more drywall experience may have better suggestions.

The bulge on the floor in pic 17 doesn't particularly alarm me, but your comment about "The stairs seem to be sinking. Picture 17 shows the bulge in the floor and how much of a dip there is around the stairs.", combined with the slope shown by the center bubble on the level, makes me wonder if the floor and stairs have moved since you moved in. If so, it would be worth opening the drywall at the top and bottom under the stairs to make sure they're correctly fastened.

You don't say where the crack in pic 14 is located, but the fact that it's wider at the bottom than the top, with your comments about pops, creaks, a "tearing sound", and the step crack in the brickwork make me wonder whether it may be settling (although I wouldn't expect much in a 33 year old house), or whether the foundation may be moving slightly.

I wasn't impressed by your comments about the 3 foundation companies. The most likely to actually do any good is the jacks to level and support the house but, given your comments about the construction throughout the rest of the house, I doubt the crawlspace floor will support the point loads; they would probably have to dig and pour footers. I still don't think this would entirely stop the cracks developing in your drywall.

I'd also check up on that "structural engineer." If he markets himself as an engineer he should have a professional engineer (PE) certification and be registered with the state as such. It's illegal to market yourself as providing engineering services without the proper education, experience, testing, and license. Failure to have this, and keep it current, can result in revoking his license and other legal action.

While you're investigating things, check the construction of the deck. Ask your local housing inspector how it should be built and attached to the house. A common (and completely illegal) homeowner method is to simply nail it to the sill plate of the house. Your local inspector can tell you much more about what they look for.

• I posted some pics of the rafters. I'm not sure if the stairs have sunk any since I moved in. I didn't measure or take note. I added to the comment on pic 14. When I had the house inspected they said the deck was cantilevered to the house. And that to make the deck to code it should be free standing. – Jerinaw Jun 2 '19 at 2:25
• It could be racking. A cantilevered deck doesn't help. – Mazura Nov 16 '19 at 0:08

It’s odd that there are discontinuous cracks throughout your house. This can be caused by 1) movement (settlement) is just beginning, or 2) just a few portions of your house are moving.

1) I googled “soil types in Virginia” and discovered that Virginia has a fair amount of clay in its soil. If this is the case, the house could be moving due to water expanding the soil.

I live where the soil is mush. When we build, we put the footings very deep or provide a different type of footing, like pilings or caissons. Perhaps your footings we’re not installed deep enough for expansive clay soils or for frost. If so, your footings could “heave” causing the house to move and crack your walls, brick by your door, etc.

2) I don’t understand where each crack has occurred, but if it’s located on the West end of your house, or only by the garage, etc. I’d think that that portion of your house could have footing issues, like shallow footings, undersized footings, etc.

I have testified in many cases where the buyer feels the seller “covered up” structural issues. In each case we documented what occurred. That is to say, we created a journal that documented the location, size (width and length), etc. with pictures. I’d number each crack and review each crack each week for a minimum of 6 months. If no changes, I’d switch to once every month for another 6 months. (You want to follow all the cracks’ progress for a minimum of 1 year...through all the seasons.)

I’d also check the depth of ALL your footings and compare them to your neighbors. I’d check with local contractors and Building Officials to see what is customary.

Next, I’d get an architect or structural engineer to check the widths of the footings compared to the actual load they carry. (This will be expensive, unless you have a set of blueprints. You can sketch up your own, but be careful to locate all interior footings too.)

• 1. There's a stream cutting through my yard and easement behind my house. 2. There's more ceiling cracks than wall cracks. On both 1st, 2nd floor, and attic. Attic has the most wall cracks. It also looks like (where the part of the house that has crawlspace and the part that does not, meet) the walls are pulling apart. The corners looks like they tried to fill it with something but cracks are showing. I need to find a good SE to help document all these problems. – Jerinaw Jun 2 '19 at 2:18

Sorry for your problems but I think you have absolutely good answers, above. Your problems are all symptoms of movement. Number 1 culprit is probably the footings that are insufficient for your area and size of house. Number 2 culprit would be are the joists properly hung and do you need any steel I beams added? Other possible problems, based on your symptoms:
a. Nails in the floor boards used instead of appropriate screws. Also, are there the correct number of screws per 4x8 sheet? b. are floor joists plumb and level with each other? c. I noticed that you have some composite-type floor boards instead of prime plywood. I would pull up one small section and replace it to see if you can eliminate the popping sounds.

I think you need to find THE BEST contractor in your neighborhood and let him do an inspection and give you a free estimate.

• What type of contractor? What exactly would I be searching for? – Jerinaw Aug 1 '19 at 21:59
• I was referring to a general contractor. The best GC's have their own engineers and carpenters on staff. Do your homework and find a good one. And, a good one will offer you free estimates to inspect and give you an itemized cost list. You already hired an engineer to inspect but my gut tells me he/she wasn't very good. – BigDDDD Aug 3 '19 at 4:06
• Also I think you are correct, and the other answers that mention movement. In the hot and humid months the house makes a lot of noises. And some doors begin to get stuck in the door frames. I'm wondering if the previous owners did a poor job of covering it all up. And I also think it's could be foundation issues, after a few inches of topsoil is all clay. I think this house has many different problems not just one. I can't explain all the voids I hit when walking around upstairs. It's as if the carpet is the only think holding me up. I will eventually have to cut the carpet and look. – Jerinaw Nov 18 '19 at 18:58