cracks in walls and ceilings

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Old 12-27-19, 02:27 PM
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cracks in walls and ceilings

Hello,

I live in a 100 year old house that has a number of cracks on various walls and ceilings. Some of them are wider than others, but I can't recall exactly if they've been widening over the few years that I've been here. I'm considering purchasing the home from the owner and looking for some advice about how to evaluate possible structural issues. Thanks.
 
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Old 12-27-19, 02:49 PM
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Some those are pretty wide and long. Sure sign of major settling over the years. I would most defiantly have a home inspection done prior to purchase. And I would get someone who is knowledgeable about structural integrity. Does it have basement? If so are the main beams sagging? Do they have support post? Is the floor dirt or concrete and if so doe it have major cracks?

edit...What updates have been made if any over the years?
 
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Old 12-27-19, 03:04 PM
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Thanks for your reply Norm,

The basement is concrete and there are support posts on piers holding up a beam. It does not appear to be sagging. As for updates to the house, well it's hard to say exactly, as it seems many things have been redone by multiple owners over the years. The garage was converted into living space, the attic was finished, there are some beams on the main floor that may represent previous walls but I'm not sure. There is still some knob and tube and some galvanized pipe. Likely I could get a good price for the place, but I want to know what I'm dealing with. Is a home inspector the right person to help me evaluate this place? How do I find a good one? Thank you for your help.
 
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Old 12-27-19, 04:46 PM
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This is just my opinion/ what I would do: Given the age of the home and the number of cracks that you are observing I would consider paying for a structural engineer to come and look at it prior to purchasing the home. I would think that any cracks from settling on a home that age would have been repaired like 80 - 90 years ago. A home inspector may or may not have the knowledge to provide a thorough assessment of the issue and if you have structural remediation work to do, the engineer would be able to give you some ballpark figures if there are issues.

Home inspectors are great, but in my area they will only comment on what is visible in a general way. A comment on this issue would likely be "numerous cracks in the plaster may indicate possible settling, structural issue. Further assessment may be advisable"
 
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Old 12-28-19, 03:33 AM
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Are there any cracks in the foundation? is everything level? does the plaster feel solidly attached to the lath on each side of the cracks?
I agree hiring a structural engineer is the best way to know for sure.

Assuming everything is sound, I'd scratch out the cracks and fill with Durabond. If any of the cracks come back I would tape/finish them.
 
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Old 12-28-19, 06:13 AM
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I'll second/third getting a structural engineer's opinion.
A home inspector will be able to help point out other issues like the knob and tube like you already saw. It sounds like you're pretty familiar with the house, so the inspector may or may not be helpful.
But a structural engineer will be able to give you specific recommendations for the cracks and a rough price if there are things that need to be repaired.
 
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Old 12-28-19, 07:53 AM
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I agree with the others about a structural engineer.
Get a 4 foot straight edge or level and check how flat the ceiling is.
You said the attic had been finished and since the ceiling has so many cracks it may well be that the attic floor joists/support is not adequate and it is sagging.

Another thing to think about is that in many places once you open it up you have to bring the building or at the minimum that area up to current code which can get very pricey.
 
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Old 12-28-19, 10:42 AM
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Thanks guys,

It seems like getting a structural engineer report is the consensus here. Any tips for finding a good one? The first two pictures are of the bathroom. This is the only room that shows this type of cracking on the ceiling, and interestingly there is no finished space above that particular room.
 
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Old 12-28-19, 04:08 PM
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Looks like some of the ceilings have had a texture sprayed on. Sometimes this is an attempt to cover up problems. So you might have other cracks. Good advice above. This would not be a deal breaker but go in with your eyes open.
 
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Old 12-29-19, 11:52 PM
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Thank you. The advice is much appreciated. I'm going to reach out to some engineers tomorrow.
 
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Old 01-28-20, 04:21 PM
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Yikes! I'm tied between getting a structural engineering, and walking away. If the structural engineer can give you a complete price to fix whatever need to be fixed, and you can use that price to get the house for the 'total price' that you are okay with would be the only way I would but it.

Some of those cracks look fresh, and you can see in one picture where someone 'plastered' over the crack but it got longer since then. Maybe it's just a case of some renovations removed or weakened low bearing structure that just need to be put back into place. I would be using more than levels. Are doors jamming in their frames? Do windows jam? Are entrances square? Place a speed square into the corners and see if one corner is less than 90 and the other bigger than 90. Check walls for plumb. Run a very tight level line across the floors, say 50cm from the floor, and then use a meter stick (or tape measure) to measure the line across the floor. Maybe you have a sagging centre due to iron support beams in the basement with rusted off bottoms. Or maybe you will find one side of the house has dropped 2cm for example.

Also, please consider having the ground investigate too. Cracking due to subsidence is a growing problem in places in North America; including up into Canada. Subsidence is when the ground sinks, due to a variety of reasons including ground drying out due to global warming or over pumping of water, mining, etc. Symptoms of that would be cracked concrete foundations and walls.

But yeah; structural engineer, and ask him about indications of ground subsidence.
 
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Old 01-28-20, 04:33 PM
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1 month old thread.

It doesn't take a structural engineer to tell you that plaster (100 yr old house) cracks. Especially if it ever sat vacant. (Unheated / unconditioned)

Anytime you have an upstairs attic converted to living space you are going to bust up the ceiling plaster like that because the joists werent intended to be / aren't big enough to be floor joists.

The lousy texture and attempted repairs tried (and failed) to hide existing cracks. Probably no insulation in any of these walls either.

Good candidate for a total gut job.
 
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Old 01-29-20, 03:53 AM
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"1 month old thread."

So what. People don't read discussions that are 1 month, 1 year, 5 years old? I was simply offering my thoughts for the OP (who still hasn't written back - who knows what is going on), and for the benefit of future readers.

And I think Tratts nailed it: "I would think that any cracks from settling on a home that age would have been repaired like 80 - 90 years ago."

Yes, plaster does crack but from what I see in those pictures the risk that this is more than just plaster crack seems to be significant, and we see in one picture that a crack spread further after it was covered. And subsidence is a new problem in many parts of North America.
 
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Old 02-03-20, 02:02 PM
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Thanks for the continued discussion,

I had an architect out to the house to do a structural inspection. His take was that the cracks were not that big of a deal. He did, however, agree that the floor joists in the attic were not big enough in one room and recommend that they either be beefed up or that a beam be added downstairs. The doors and windows are not jamming, and the main carrying beam in the basement appears level. The piers below the carrying posts also seem to be sound. I do however live next to a ravine and the architect suggested that if I wanted an opinion about the slope that I contact a geotechnical engineer.
 
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Old 02-03-20, 02:58 PM
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I'm living in a 100+ year old house with lots of plaster cracks. I think many of them may be almost as old as the house which is other wise sound and well built. The good news, barring a structural problem they are easy (and cheap) to fix.
 
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Old 02-28-20, 03:34 PM
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Hope you enjoy your house, and fixing up the cracks, and hoping it gives you another 100 years!
 
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