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Ceiling Cracks - When Should You Worry?

Martha Lott

Written by

12th Nov 2021 (Last updated on 22nd Apr 2022) 5 minute read

Ceiling and wall cracks are often harmless cracks in the paint or plaster. This is likely from natural movement of the property over time. However, if the cracks turn out to be structural issues, you will have to seek help from a property surveyor.

Both a RICS Home Survey Level 2 and Level 3 will highlight any serious cracks. A survey can highlight signs of structural damage, especially if you’re buying an older property.

When you’re viewing properties to buy, it’s important to keep an eye out for cracks in ceilings or walls. Be sure to make a note of them and raise it with your surveyor prior to your property survey.

This article will cover the following:
  1. How Can You Tell If A Crack Is Structural?
  2. Types of Ceiling Cracks
  3. What Causes Ceiling Cracks?
  4. What Are The Signs Of Subsidence?
  5. What Should I Do If I’m Worried?
  6. What Survey Do I Need If I See Cracks During A Viewing?
  7. How Much Will It Cost To Repair?
  8. Learn More About Surveying

How Can You Tell If A Crack Is Structural?

If you discover ceiling cracks that look thick in size, this can be a sign of structural damage. These could be a sign of subsidence or structural damage that could get worse over time. If you notice any of the following, you will need a professional to take a look immediately.

  • Thick cracks larger than 3mm in width
  • Deep cracks
  • Cracks where wall meets ceiling
  • Cracks with sagging
  • A large number of cracks

Types of Ceiling Cracks

Not all cracks are serious and knowing when to get a professional in can help reassure you. Below we list some of the most common types of ceiling and wall cracks that you may find in a property.

1. Spiderweb Crack - Like a spiderweb, these cracks have a center point and spread out. These are a regular part of foundation settling and are found in ceilings, walls and floors. However, if the cracks look thick in size, get them checked out by a professional.

2. Hairline Crack - Hairline cracks aren’t usually serious. Changes in temperature can cause plaster to expand and contract, causing cracks. These are also consistent with any DIY work such as installing new light fixtures or a fire alarm.

3. Straight Crack - Straight cracks are a sign of poor work during drywall installation. Shrinkage along the tape line causes a straight line crack. This isn’t a structural problem and shouldn't be a concern.

4. Cracks in Flat Roof Ceilings - Flat roofs are commonly found on extensions. These often hold rain without the correct drainage. Flat roof houses have an increased chance of leaks that cause cracks in ceilings.

5. Cracks in a Bowed or Sagging Ceiling
- This is usually a sign of something more serious. It will likely be an issue with the structure of the home. This is something that should be seen to urgently and by a professional.

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    What Causes Ceiling Cracks?

    Ceiling and wall cracks are commonly found in older properties. However, they can also occur in modern homes. They are typically caused by structural damage or natural movement of the property.

    Common causes of ceiling cracks include:

    • Age of the property - Cracks are often spotted in older homes. If you’re buying an older property, you’ll need to get a RICS Home Survey Level 3. This gives an in-depth look at the property’s structure.
    • Structural damage - Ceiling and wall cracks can be a sign of serious structural damage. This could be from subsidence or another ground movement. If the cracks are larger than 1/10 inch, they need to be looked at by a professional.
    • Moisture damage - Moisture can also cause cracks in the ceiling or walls. You might have a leak in the roof or water coming in from a window, which can trickle down inside a wall’s frame and drywall. This type of crack will come with a yellow or brown stain, which isn’t structural, but should be seen to.
    • Drywall issues - Cracks can occur when an installer doesn’t use enough drywall mud when taping the joints. This means that the loose tape will cause the drywall to crack, often in a straight line so it’s easy to identify.
    • Asbestos - It is common to find asbestos in Artex in UK properties but if left undisturbed shouldn't be a problem. If you spot a crack in the Artex that’s caused dust to fall, then you’ll need to hire an asbestos expert.

    What Are The Signs Of Subsidence?

    Subsidence can affect a property’s value and safety over time, so it’s important to know if your property or the home you're buying is at risk.

    If subsidence is present, you may need to consider underpinning. This strengthens the property foundations, making the building more secure.

    How to spot subsidence:

    • A crack that's wider than 3mm
    • Cracks present on the exterior and interior
    • Often located near a window or door
    • Wider at one end and a diagonal crack

    To learn more, read What is Subsidence.

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    What Should I Do If I’m Worried?

    If you’re worried about any ceiling or wall cracks in your property, talk to a surveyor. They can confirm if the cracks are structural or superficial.

    Getting a property survey when buying a home is vital, especially if you've noticed cracks in the home. Make a note so your surveyor can pay attention to the specific issues you've noticed.

    If the property survey reveals that the cracks are a sign of structural damage, you have some options. You can pull out of the sale completely, providing it is before exchanging contracts. If the survey shows serious structural damage as this could be very expensive to remedy. Another option is to negotiate your original offer to cover the costs of the work required.

    What Survey Do I Need If I See Cracks During A Viewing?

    A RICS Home Survey Level 3 is the most suitable survey if you notice deep cracks or cracks that look concerning. This is especially the case if the property is older, in poor condition or unusual in any way.

    The Level 3 survey is the most in-depth survey available. It provides an inspection of the property’s structure and condition. The surveyor can also let you know how urgent repair work is.

    To learn more, read What Type of Survey Do I Need.

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    How Much Will It Cost To Repair?

    The cost of fixing ceiling and wall cracks in a home can vary greatly. Fixing structural damage can cost thousands. But, if the cracks are just hairline or cosmetic cracks, these can be easily covered with filler and paint.

    Costs can also depend on the type of ceiling you have and the methods and materials used to fix the issue.

    According to CheckaTrade, most small ceiling repairs will cost an average of £175.

    Learn More About Surveying

    This has been another article in our surveying guide. Next, we explore the considerations required when purchasing a property with asbestos. To learn more read buying a house with asbestos Artex.

    Martha Lott

    Written by Martha Lott

    Having written for Huffington Post and Film Criticism Journal, Martha now regularly researches and writes advice articles for everything moving house related.