Cracked Support Beam in a Townhome: Who Should Fix?
LESLIE: Renee in Texas, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?
RENEE: Yes, mine is kind of like a double question. I have about a 30-year-old, connected-on-both-sides townhome, two levels.
TOM: OK. OK.
RENEE: And I heard a crack a couple months back. Well, it was one of the support beams had just – like a big, strong branch just cracked.
TOM: Huh. Did you actually see the cracked beam somewhere?
RENEE: No, I didn’t see that but I have begun to have cracks along on that same side of the house, in the corners of the wall?
RENEE: Down the corners where it’s breaking apart. But at the same time, I’ve noticed that the house has become unlevel. And that’s a little part because it’s old and it’s connected on both sides but I’m in Texas and we have big droughts and it kind of shifts a little bit.
RENEE: My concern is when I get the support beam fixed and the foundation fixed, I’ve seen on the DIY shows that suddenly they go back and they look and the house or the chimney has just been trashed. What can I do to prevent that?
TOM: Why do you say it’s been trashed? Because it shifted?
RENEE: Right. When they did the – when they put in – when I’ve watched the DIY shows, they go and they fix the foundation and the foundation’s fine. And of course, they shift everything up and now there is …
TOM: Yeah. That’s why you have to be very, very careful when you do anything that changes the angle that the house has sort of settled into. Because if you don’t, once you bring a foundation up, everything else moves. In a wood house, if you try to straighten a slopy floor, for example, all the wires and the plumbing get stretched and twisted and so on. So it’s not just foundations that are of concern.
I’m concerned, though, about this crack that you say that you’ve heard. But you’ve seen cracks in your walls but you’ve not physically seen this structural crack, correct?
TOM: Alright. Now, you said it’s a townhouse. Is there an association that …?
TOM: OK. So in an association form of ownership, typically you don’t own the structure. So the structure – if the structure was to fail, that’s typically the responsibility of the association to address. Is that your understanding?
RENEE: I can double-check on that.
TOM: But in a typical condominium form of ownership, what you own is inside wall to inside wall. In some cases, you own the …
LESLIE: And then what’s beyond that wall is not yours.
TOM: Right. In some cases, you own the drywall; in some cases, you don’t. So, for example, if there was a fire, God forbid, and the whole place burned down, you would be paying for the drywall, the kitchen cabinets, the appliances and stuff like that. And the association would be rebuilding everything else, including the related infrastructure.
So you need to figure out if there’s a structural problem, who’s responsible for it. I suspect you’re going to find that it’s the association that’s responsible for it, which is good news for you. And then I would bring that to their attention and ask them to address it.
Now, as far as the cracks in the corners of the wall are concerned, I have to tell you that that’s pretty typical and that by itself doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a structural problem. The way to fix that, though, is important and that is that you want to sand down the drywall in that area.
And then you want to add some additional tape and the type of drywall tape you use would be the perforated type. It looks like a netting; it’s like a sticky netting. You put that on and then you spackle through that three coats: one, two, three coats; each one thin but three coats. And that type …
LESLIE: And allowing each one to dry and be sanded in between.
TOM: Yeah and that type of repair typically will last.
Now, after you do the spackle repair, you’ll have to prime the wall. You can’t just paint on top of it; you’ll have to prime it and then paint it.
TOM: So I would address the structure with the association, I would fix the cracks on your own and then see what happens.
RENEE: OK. So just one more question. Let’s say that if it’s not in the association, that I do have to go into it, not only am I concerned about my roof but how much of a problem will I have with my neighbors on both sides of me?
TOM: Depends on where the crack is, if it exists at all. If that’s the case, then I would suggest you hire a professional home inspector and have the inspector do what’s called a partial inspection, which is usually a single-item inspection, and investigate this crack and see what’s going on in the structure. And then we’ll know how far it’s gone and what needs to be done about it.
RENEE: Yeah, that’s cool. Thank you, guys. I appreciate your time.