I recently purchased a house, and within the first month, I've
noticed diagonal cracks appearing in the sheetrock in the
upper corners of the doorframes. Some are substantial (a
foot long) others are small, but upon closer inspection, it
looks like someone had tried to fill them with plaster before
applying fresh paint.
The house is 10 years old. Should I be concerned about
It's surprising how much drywall cracking is considered
"normal". Wood framing can undergo a lot of
shrinkage in the first few years after construction. By
"a lot" I mean a few sixteenths of an inch, which is
trivial for most things but can cause cracks in drywall and
Those diagonal cracks that extend up from the door corners are
quite common. My suspicion is that they signify a slight
amount of settling in the house, most likely from wood
shrinking as it dries, but possibly from the foundation
settling because the soil was not properly compacted before
the foundation was laid. In this last case, there is nothing
you can do short of jacking up the foundation, which is
possible but expensive. But the good news is that with this
type of settling the movement seems to occur within a few
years or less, (based on my not-very-extensive experience with
faulty foundations) and by ten years the settling has probably
stopped as the soil has packed down.
But even more likely is that your house has experienced some
shrinkage or warpage in the framing lumber. Sometimes floor
joists will "take a set" or become permanently bowed
downward over time. This could cause the cracks you describe.
My first house had such a problem in a doorway that was over a
built-up beam that had taken a set. I jacked up the beam (a
fraction of an inch) with a small hydraulic bottle jack, over
a period of several weeks, and the crack tightened up. I then
installed a steel lally column in place of the jack.
My suggestion is to live in the house through the winter dry
season and summer humid season and monitor the cracks. It's
possible that they disappear in the summer, which actually is
kind of troubling because it means that some structural member
is flexing with changing humidity (I've seen roof trusses rise
AN INCH, caused by drying during the winter heating months).
If the cracks come and go from winter to summer... there is a
tricky framing issue that I could not begin to solve unless I
could see the entire building structure. This would not
necessarily be a problem, just a cosmetic nuisance. But hey,
you spent a lot of money on your house and it should look
If there is a humidity-swell-shrink problem, I think one
possible solution lies in attaching the drywall in a manner
that lets it "float" somewhat, rather than being
firmly adhered to the studs. For example, drywallers routinely
hang the ceiling drywall with no fasteners within a foot of
the walls, so the wall drywall panels hold up the ceiling at
the edges. With proper taping, the ceiling drywall is firmly
connected to the wall panels more than the framing, and this
lets the corner act as one unit, which discourages cracking.
It turns out that well-secured drywall follows the twists and
bends of the framing, ripping apart corner seams and sometimes
cracking the panel as in your case.
If you notice the disappearing/re-appearing crack syndrome,
it's possible that the only solution that will truly work is
to replace the drywall on the offending walls, and not secure
it too well around the doorways. But my approach would be (if
I couldn't wait 6 months to watch the cracks change) to carve
out the drywall facing and make a shallow trough which gets
pre-filled with setting-type drywall joint compound. After
the pre-fill mud sets, you scrape/sand it flush and smooth.
Then drywall tape is applied over the crack with a thin
layer of drywall mud. (I like self-adhesive perforated tape
for this type of "flat" seam.) You'd need to patch the joints like
any other major drywall repair, and repaint the wall. But...
this could crack again.
I guess I'd also want to know if the patched-over crack has
any paper or fiberglass tape. I'll bet that the previous owner
just quickly spackled the cracks and slapped on a coat of
paint. Standard procedure for most people. If you can patch
the seams with tape and drywall compound there is a good
chance that the cracks don't re-appear. But they could. It's a
chance worth taking.
Also, consider applying a heavy wallpaper over the offending
wall. Home Depot sells some highly embossed wallpaper that
hides defects quite well. This might be the easiest and
quickest cover-up for that problem. How come I always think of
the easiest solutions when I'm done writing my e-mail?
Bruce W. Maki, Editor.