Cracks in your walls: when to worry and when to ignore

Posted by Brad Porteus on 16 June 2015

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Whether your home was built two years ago or thirty two years ago, you may have noticed cracks in the walls, especially here in Western Australia where nearly everything is built on sand!

Spotting a crack in the wall can cause panic, but they are not always a cause for concern. Small, hairline cracks in the plaster or paint of the wall are actually quite common.

So, how do you know whether the crack in your wall is a cause for concern, or if it can be repaired with a quick fix?

When can I ignore a crack in my wall?

Several factors play a role in determining the seriousness of a crack in your wall, including the age of your home, the material it’s built on, the size of the crack, whether moisture is involved, etc.

All buildings expand in the heat, particularly in the hot summer months in Perth, and they contract when it’s cold, during the winter months. It is normal for all of the parts of a home to move and adjust when these changes occur - and your home should be built to withstand these changes.

Small, hairline cracks that only go as deep as the paint are not a cause for concern and they will not affect the structure of your home. They can usually be fixed with a little bit of sanding, cleaning, possible caulking and repainting.

Narrow vertical cracks, especially those that begin near the joint between the wall and the ceiling, are usually caused by the settling of the home. Again, these are especially common in WA, where homes are often built on soil that is primarily made up of sandy material. Repairing these cracks is usually not costly, and you can do so on your own with some filler, a sander and paint.

If you are unsure whether or not you should worry about a crack in your wall, always call a professional inspector, or have your landlord call a professional, just to be safe.

When should a crack in the wall concern me?

Wide cracks (wider than 2-3 millimetres) should always be a cause for concern, especially those that are horizontal, and those that are in foundation and support walls. Usually, when caught early, fractures in a foundational wall can be repaired, but they will likely require a professional.

Cracks that run diagonally, close to a 45 degree angle, are also a reason to be concerned. They are often caused by water damage, severe shifting or extreme structural issues. Like horizontal cracks, these issues are always easier to deal with if they are caught and treated early rather than waiting for more damage.

The age of the home

While most cracks due to settling occur in the first few years after a home is built, climate change through the seasons can add excessive moisture or dry out the land on which a home is built or the materials with which it was built, causing cracks later in the life of a home. When this happens, your neighbours are likely to experience wall cracks similar to yours.

What should I do when I notice concerning cracking in my walls?

If you notice wall cracks that you can repair, do so as soon as possible to keep on top of the maintenance and to retain the value of your home. If you have any questions, it is always best to contact a professional inspector and repair person to assist you.

When you notice a concerning crack, check the doors and windows in your home. If they stick more than they have in the past, it could be a sign of excessive settling or damage to the foundation, especially if the hardware is not too old. Call a professional immediately to carry out a building maintenance and defects inspection.

Remember that if you have any questions, we are here to help!