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When Should I Be Concerned About Settlement Cracks?

So, there’s a crack in your drywall – and it’s even bigger than the plumber who was over last week to look at the garbage disposal. Or you’re surprised to see that a few small fissures recently form beneath the windows of the ranch your family has lived in for years.

What’s the deal – are these settlement cracks cause for concern, calm, or calamity?

They’re never a welcome sight for any homeowner. However, you may not necessarily be up the Mississippi without a paddle just because you find some fissures. As it turns out, it’s fairly normal for settlement cracks to form in the drywall from time-to-time, for a variety of reasons. This is especially the case for new homes, which have yet to settle onto their foundations. If your house is newly built, you should even expect some settlement cracks to appear. If they remain small, these should be no big deal.

Settlement cracks are the result of the home settling onto its foundation. Typically, these cracks appear at the weakest points of a structure – namely, windows and doors.

Here in St. Louis, we all know that temperatures and precipitation not only fluctuate wildly from season-to-season but can even change by the hour. As settlement cracks can form because of these swings, they are pretty common here and in the surrounding metro.

Our ever-changing weather patterns can cause the home’s materials – or the soil below it – to expand and contract, which can result in settlement cracks. In addition, changes in precipitation can also cause the soil to shift underneath the foundation.

Size Matters

When it comes to settlement cracks, size matters. Generally speaking, the bigger the crack, the bigger the problem. Hairline fractures that are less than the thickness of two quarters are not an immediate concern – though they’re also not going to just disappear. But larger cracks could be an indication of a more developed foundation problem and should be looked at by a foundation specialist.

In addition to size, shape is also important when diagnosing how concerned you should be about your settlement crack. Are your cracks horizontal? Vertical? Somewhere in between? Different angles point to different things happening below your floors.

If your crack is horizontal or beyond a 45-degree angle, it means that the foundation is shifting out from underneath the house. If this is the case, it’s time to call a foundation expert to assess the full extent of the problem.

Another common settlement crack type is the stair step; it looks like it sounds, a new and unwanted staircase forming in your wall. These result from different levels of pressure being exerted on different parts of the wall.

It’s important to pay attention to other signs that you may have a foundation issue, aside from just settlement cracks. For example, the outline of nails protruding from your paint or wallpaper is also a sign of potential foundation issues.

Another telltale sign is if doors or windows are not properly shutting or fitting in their frames. These are clear indications that the foundation is shifting, causing frames to twist – but not yet form cracks.

If you have any concern about settlement cracks in your drywall, it’s always best to get the opinion of an expert, because they can sometimes be the cause of multiple factors.

Be smart and be safe this summer – and call us to make sure your crack is covered.