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Background

We recently purchased a home built in mid-50s. At the time, no structural movement or displacement was noted by the home inspector. Over the last few weeks, there have been long cracks on the ceiling of a room appearing and worsening. We've had low temps averaging 40F (lowest 27F) and we keep the house 61F minimum at night.

ceiling cracks

The first crack that appeared was (A), then shortly after (C), and now (B) as of today. There is some evidence of previous repair (varying paint texture) for cracks (A) and (C), but not so much for (B). There are no cracks on the walls or elsewhere in the house.

Please see question after photos.

Approx locations from attic: attic area of (A) attic area of (B)

Ceiling: A2 A3 A4 B2 C2

Question

Is this symptomatic of a structural issue requiring a professional, or expected from an older home in low temperatures and remedied with DIY patching? If structural issue, what is the urgency (could it wait months)? Thank you!

  • 61F is pretty low to keep a house in the winter. Not saying raise the temperature but I am saying that the previous owner probably kept it higher. Therefore there was less variation of temp swings - which from the looks of it is your issue. – DMoore Nov 17 '14 at 22:54
  • was a new roof installed recently?all those cracks run along cripplers in your truss system.a3 looks like a paper joint,a4 almost looks like no tape was used at all. – user27976 Nov 17 '14 at 23:57
  • If that's plaster (likely), those cracks could appear every season and only be hidden by a paint job just before they put the house on the market. If it's drywall, then someone didn't tape their joints. – BMitch Nov 18 '14 at 22:43
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There is visual evidence in photo A3 of one or more interior renovations constructed with less than workman-like quality.

Given the age of the house and what portions of the original construction remain, I it would be common for a house of this age to have had a load bearing wall perpendicular to the ceiling joists when originally constructed.

If there was previously an interior load bearing wall perpendicular to the ceiling joists, it's purpose would have been to reduce ceiling joist deflection. The cracking in the ceiling finish is symptomatic of deflection beyond the strength of the finish joints.

I recommend consulting a structural engineer familiar with residential projects of this scope. The condition is probably repairable given a reasonable budget, but it is necessary to first know what exactly needs to be repair.

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As a rule of thumb, if the cracks are getting wider, or the sides of a crack are shifting relative to each other, it may be a structural issue and needs to be looked at by a professional. If the cracks are merely hairline cracks that are getting longer, it's probably ordinary settling and shifting of the building.

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