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Ceiling Cracks - When Should You Worry

Martha Lott

Written by

12th Nov 2021 (Last updated on 8th Dec 2021) 5 minute read

Ceiling and wall cracks are often harmless cracks in the paint or plaster from natural movement of the property over time. However, if the cracks turn out to be structural issues, then you will have to seek expert help from a property surveyor. The severity of the potential damage will depend on the type, width and location of the crack.

Cracks are a common issue buyers worry about prior to getting their property survey. Both a RICS Home Survey Level 2 and Level 3 will highlight any dangerous cracks.

When you’re viewing properties to buy, it’s important to keep an eye out for any cracks in ceilings or walls and to make a note of them when it’s time for your property survey. Rest assured, your surveyor will highlight any signs of structural damage, especially if you’re buying an older property so you’re aware of any serious repair work that’s needed.

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 Type Of Survey Do I Need If I See Cracks During A Viewing?
  7. How Much Will It Cost To Repair Cracks?
  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 will be a good indication of structural damage. If you notice any of the following, you will need a professional to take a look immediately as they could be a sign of subsidence or structural damage that could get worse over time.

  • 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 - Thin cracks that look like a spider web are usually from foundation settling, which is commonly found on ceilings, walls and floors. They are usually from cracked ceiling paint when natural movement occurs, which is common in aged properties. If the cracks look thick in size, get them checked out by a professional.

2. Hairline Crack - Hairline cracks aren’t usually serious and are caused by drywall issues. Changes in temperature can cause plaster to expand and contract which will cause cracks. These are also consistent with any DIY work such as putting new light fixtures or a fire alarm up.

3. Straight Crack - Straight cracks are a sign of poor taping or mudding during drywall installation. This is because of shrinkage along the tape line, hence the straight line. 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 and hold rain without the correct drainage. This increases the chance of leaks that cause cracks in ceilings.

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    What Causes Ceiling Cracks?

    Ceiling and wall cracks are commonly found in older properties and even some fairly modern homes. They are typically caused by either structural damage or natural movement of the property that comes with age.

    Common causes of ceiling cracks:

    • Age of the property - Foundation settling is a natural occurrence when a building ages, therefore cracks are commonly spotted in older homes. If you’re buying an older property, you’ll need to get a RICS Home Survey Level 3 for an in-depth look at the property’s structure.
    • Structural damage - Ceiling and wall cracks can be a sign of serious structural damage to the property from subsidence or other movements. Subsidence occurs when the ground sinks underneath the property and the foundations become misaligned. 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 in ceilings can also occur when the installer doesn’t use enough drywall mud during the taping of 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 - Asbestos is commonly found in ceilings and 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. It is fairly common to find asbestos in Artex in UK properties.

    What Are The Signs Of Subsidence?

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

    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 who can confirm if the cracks are structural or nothing to worry about.

    You should always get a property survey when buying property, but it’s extra important if you notice any cracks during a property viewing. Make a note so your surveyor can pay attention to the specific issues you've noticed.

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

    A RICS Home Survey Level 3 is the best-suited survey if you notice any deep or thick cracks, or any cracks that look worrying to you. It’s the most in-depth survey available and will carry out an inspection of the property’s structure and condition. It will give any structural damage or potential issues a condition rating, letting 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 Cracks?

    Fixing structural damage can cost thousands, but if the cracks are just hairline, cosmetic cracks, these can be easily covered with paint.

    If the survey report reveals that the cracks are a sign of structural damage, then you can either pull out of the sale prior to exchanging contracts, or most commonly, negotiate your original offer to cover the costs of the repair work needed.

    Depending on how serious the damage is and how expensive it will be to repair, you should highlight the issues to the seller and ask to take the repair costs off your original offer so you can sort out the cracks and damage.

    If the survey reveals worrying structural damage or the potential to worsen, you might want to talk to your solicitor about pulling out and finding a better property.

    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.