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This house is about 20 years old and we purchased it last April without seeing any of this stuff. The inspection came back OK but we found a decent sized foundation crack on the walkthrough under some insulation (good times...) Over the year we've noticed regular popping noises and now we're seeing cracks in the drywall in the finished basement and screw pops on the main floor. After purchase we also discovered that the underground drainage system was blocked up by tree roots so we had that replaced and a company came in and mortared some minor (less than 1/8 inch) cracks in the foundation. There are two walls of the finished basement that we haven't opened up yet so we're not 100% sure what's going on with those walls.

Lots of drywall blemishes like this on the first floor, with the worst ones all along the same wall. A whole bunch of these on the main floor

In the finished basement we've got cracks at all the seams where walls meet ceiling. Cracks in the finished basement

More basement fun. Basement cracks

So the question becomes this - have we reached the point of being alarmed? Should I just treat is as cosmetic for now and fix the drywall as I see fit or go for broke and throw in with some contractors? None of the cracks we can actually see in the basement foundation walls appear to have moved at all over the winter. The companies I've called regarding this sort of thing gave me the gamut of answers and estimates, and I honestly don't trust anyone with any financial incentive to give a true answer.

  • You need a structural engineer to tell you whether the issues in the foundation are normal settling vs something much bigger. – DA01 Feb 1 '16 at 21:50
  • As I was told by my inspector for my 85 year old home - most of the "settling foundation cracks" will occur in the first 5 years after being built. Drywall cracking and such can occur from various reasons, but the foundation should not get any worse after those 5 years without a major issue coming about. – TFK Feb 1 '16 at 23:14
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None of the pictures in your question necessarily point at a foundation issue. You have cracks in your drywall.

What could cause these?

  • The first picture is a screw or nail that wasn't set in the drywall properly. This means nothing.

  • The other pictures could be poor drywall techniques. You just bought the house so you never lived through a winter. This house could have had these issues for 20 years and they just did a quick cover up before selling.

  • Another thing is the humidity levels in your house. Maybe the previous owners managed these things better. Sharp increases and decreases in humidity levels will give drywall fits - especially improperly installed.

  • And what I would most likely be concerned about before a foundation issue is the amount insulation in your basement. Your cracks in the basement are right where most air comes into basements without proper insulation and air blockage.

  • It could be that you had an unusually wet/dry/hot/cold season. These things will happen because houses are made out of wood framing. They are less likely to happen if you are in Europe and your house is made of insulated cinders.

What would I do?

  • Investigate the foundation. Take some pictures of any issues that you see. Look in and out of the house.

  • Make sure the buildup of dirt around your house is proper for drainage. If there is a foundation issue after this many years it is probably it is caused by improper drainage next to the house. Investigate any depressions in the ground that could be caused by animals, poor draining gutters or poor maintenance.

  • Investigate the wall of the basement. You might have to take out some bits of drywall in a couple of places. It is a bit messy but cost is very low. Look to see how it was insulated and if there are any water issues.

  • In the end I would screw the screw in all the way and hit it with some mud and repaint. The cracks I would caulk, then mud/tape/repaint. I would be done in an hour and it would cost $20.

If you want to hire a foundation specialist in my opinion it is overboard. Probably a better and cheaper solution would be to hire a different home inspector that you used when you bought the home - in my opinion this is overboard too but offering a better solution than having an engineer come out. If you need an engineer the home inspector can point you to the right person.

Note to OP: If this is your main concern after a year of being in a new house, then you probably got a pretty good house. Chill on the engineer. Know that things like this happen because wood expands and contracts. If it freaks you out drink more or read up on how to keep your house at a more constant temperature and humidity level.

  • ??? There are no "cracks in the top floor ceiling drywall" shown or mentioned. Pictured are cracks in the basement ceiling... – Ecnerwal Feb 1 '16 at 23:57
  • @Ecnerwal - sorry misread will update. – DMoore Feb 2 '16 at 4:59
  • Feel like im in the same boat as the OP. Great note @DMoore , this is pretty much what i have been told by more than 1 person. – ShawnD Feb 8 '16 at 18:15
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    @DMoore "Drink More." Don't think I didn't catch that haha - Good information though, I think your statements are right on point. – andre3wap Feb 19 '16 at 15:21
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On the pictures, I see little of real concern there. But. Your description and things there are not pictures of you have described do set off the alarms.

You need a Licensed Professional Civil Engineer - one working directly for you, who's only financial incentive is that you pay for the consultation/examination.

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