Should I be worried about cracks in our walls that are not worsening?

Effect can occur for many reasons including materials drying, settlement and temperature variations

‘It is generally accepted that it takes a house 12 to 18 months to reach a state of equilibrium.’

‘It is generally accepted that it takes a house 12 to 18 months to reach a state of equilibrium.’

 

My house has very thin vertical cracks on some walls and some floor shift though it’s small in size. These cracks occurred a year after completion, and it was built about 10 years ago. No new cracks are occurring. Should I be worried about the ones that are there or is this normal?

My initial impression is that you have nothing to be concerned about. Houses by their nature are rigid structures and most houses will develop cracks of varying degrees and it is in fact quite unusual if not impossible to find a house that does not have some form of cracking.

Cracking can occur for many reasons, including initial drying out of materials, minor inevitable settlement and variations in temperature that can give rise to expansion and contraction of building materials. In this respect, some materials are prone to shrinkage on heating while others are prone to expansion, all of which gives rise to movement and in some cases inevitable cracking. For example, one can often hear creaking in a property when the heating system is turned on or off.

It is interesting to note that the cracking came to light within about one year post-construction and this is a typical scenario as it is generally accepted that it takes a house 12 to 18 months to reach a state of equilibrium, and this is what appears to have happened in this case. It is also interesting to note that you are now approximately 10 years on and there is no further evidence of any additional or significant cracking.

When a surveyor looks at or reviews a crack, this would normally be with a view to assessing the cause of the cracking. But when inspecting the cracks, this is a “point in time” assessment and one would need to have an understanding of whether or not the cracking has stopped or is ongoing.

In this respect, it must be remembered that a significant crack would have initially started off as a small crack that opened up and became a problem with time. Accordingly, surveyors would normally recommend a period of monitoring,  typically six months. However, given the substantial passage of time here and the fact that the cracking does not appear to be significant, I would be of the opinion that you do not have a significant issue and this is very unlikely to be of major concern.

Still, without seeing the crack one could not make such a definitive conclusion. If there is any ambiguity or doubt about this, you should contact your local chartered building surveyor, who would be happy to carry out a detailed review and advise as to whether or not there is a real concern here and as to whether or not there is a need for any further monitoring or remedial works.

  • Val O’Brien is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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