Have you ever noticed a crack in the walls or ceiling of your home? It may be a barely noticeable line running through the ceiling cornice, a crack in the exterior brickwork or possibly even something that began as a small line in the plaster above the window but has insidiously tracked halfway across the lounge room wall. Cracks occur regularly in Australian homes and can be caused by a range of circumstances. Some are merely superficial and are no cause for worry, but others may indeed be a sign of something more serious going on beneath the surface.
Cracking can occur in floors, walls or ceilings, and happens when a home is subjected to forces that are greater than what it was built to withstand. This force can be exerted either internally or externally and can come about because of:
The level of moisture found in the soil under a house can be a big contributor towards the level of movement a house will experience. If there is a particularly long and hot summer then the soil may dry out and shrink, causing the house to settle (this can also be caused by nearby tree roots sucking water from the soil).
On the flip side, an accumulation of water can lead to the soil being washed away (this can happen when runoff from the street flows down to the house or when downpipes are blocked). Any significant changes in the soil can lead to movement of the foundations, which will, in turn, cause cracks to appear.
If water gets in behind a plaster wall (because of a leak up above) then it can cause the plaster to crack and discolour. If this is the case, then it is crucially important that the cause of the leak is fixed before it can cause any more damage. If this sort of cracking is occurring in numerous locations or happens repeatedly then the best solution may be an exterior update with a more reliable product.
Cracks in a home can appear because of nearby construction projects or earthworks which cause strong vibrations in the soil. If major works are planned in close vicinity to a home (such as the construction of a freeway or tunnel) then the contractors or local council may have policies in place to deal with any damage caused by ground vibrations.
As houses grow older they will naturally start to develop some cracks in the floor, ceiling or walls. This is because most building materials will start to warp or shrink with time (timber is particularly known for this) and this change of pressure will lead to cracks or crazing (when a network of fine lines appears).
When a building is designed there are a lot of factors to consider, including the load of the structure, the type of soil, the materials being used and the placement of load-bearing walls. A design that fails to take into consideration all these crucial elements may result in a home that is stressed or overloaded, which can lead to major cracking and severe structural issues.
If you notice a crack has developed then it is important not to panic…but of equal importance, don’t just ignore it. A crack could be a clue to a minor problem that is easily fixed. But if left untended, whatever is causing that little crack could develop into a costly problem. If you’re unsure what is causing a crack and it is bigger than 5mm in length, then it is recommended you get a professional opinion.
If you’re planning to purchase a property and you notice troublesome looking cracks, then it’s worth arranging for a professional inspection to ascertain what the issue is. As an example, a pre-purchase home inspection completed by a qualified professional can identify if cracks are early warning signs of a bigger problem or a minor cosmetic issue that is easily fixed.