Ceiling Crack In an Old House: Typical or Cause for Concern?

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  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Ann in North Dakota, you’re on The Money Pit. How can we help you?

    ANN: I am looking at a house that is over 100 years old and it has an open staircase. The problem is is that there’s a bedroom that is above the staircase and adjoins it at the top. And part of that bedroom is cantilevered harshly and then totally over the open staircase. And I have a big ceiling crack that’s developing on an open area. And that area is cantilevered out about 6 feet from a load-supporting wall.

    And I don’t know if I can just patch it or if I need to put a support beam or jack or something underneath it, because this area is getting pretty worrisome. I’ve got two cracks that are about 3/8-inch and pretty long.

    TOM: So, Ann, are these new cracks or has it always been cracked?

    ANN: It’s always been cracked but it’s been a hairline for many years.

    TOM: Oh, boy.

    ANN: And then we had a massive flood.

    TOM: How long ago was the flood?

    ANN: That was in ’97. And then the ground has been shifting ever since. Since that flood, the cracks have gotten bigger. That was in ’97.

    TOM: When we have cracks in walls and foundations and things like that, we always look to determine if they’re active or inactive. Because, frankly, all homes have cracks. If you tell me that over the last 20 or so years that this crack has opened from a hairline to 3/8-inch, it might be active. I’m not actually convinced of that yet but I am concerned enough to tell you that you probably should have it looked at by an expert.

    What I’d like you to do is go to the website for the American Society of Home Inspectors; that’s ASHI – A-S-H-I – .com. And find a home inspector in your area. There’s a zip-code sorting tool there that’s a member of ASHI. And talk to two or three of them and find one that specializes in structural issues like this and have them look at it. And see if we can determine, based on that inspection, whether or not this is an active, ongoing situation or just a crack in an old, plaster wall that needs to be fixed.

    It’s not unusual for old homes to have lots of cracks in them and especially around a staircase, because just the way homes were framed back then is different than they would be today. And so, that’s not an uncommon area for cracks to develop. But I think we need to determine – for your own sort of sanity, if nothing else – whether or not this is active and ongoing or something that’s really just historical. Does that make sense?

    ANN: It sure does.

    TOM: Alright, Ann. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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