09 Feb 1-12-17 I am Seeing Cracks in my Home. What Should I Do?
This time of year, I get a lot of questions from our clients regarding cracks in their house. I thought I would discuss a few of the most common issues that I get asked about.
The first one is cracks in the trim in your house. It could be crown molding, baseboard, chair rail, or window and door trim. The most common areas where you see these cracks is in the corners. It can be unsightly, but it does not necessarily mean that you have a poorly constructed house or remodeling project. The reason it happens so often in the winter is primarily due to the moisture level in your house. Just think about the static cling you may have with your clothes in the morning. Or think about how some people actually have humidifiers on their HVAC systems. In a lot of older homes in the northeast, people would put pans of water on their radiators in an attempt to get some moisture into the air in their house. In the winter time, the air in your house is much less humid, or drier, than in the summer time. Most of your trim is wood. Wood will contract as it loses moisture, which is what happens in the winter time. In the summertime, it will expand as the moisture level in your house increases.
Another area where we receive calls is related to hardwood flooring. Just like the trim in your house, the hardwood flooring can show cracks. The wider the boards, the more you may notice the cracks. In addition to moisture content, there are lots of variables as to why wood expands and contracts, like how it’s cut, the species of wood, age, etc. But, with true hardwood floors, you may see cracks develop and that’s just a result of the fact you’re dealing with wood and moisture. In most cases, it’s fine, but if you’re not sure, then call us or a flooring company and we can see if there are any other issues causing the problem.
Probably the most common material in which we get questions about cracks is with concrete and this is not usually related to the temperature outside. When I was in college, I had to take a class called reinforced concrete design. It was the hardest class I’ve ever taken. The first day in class, our professor asked us what three types of concrete there are. A bunch of budding engineers all raised their hands and gave some seemingly complex answers like high yield early, fiber reinforced, or pre-tensioned concrete. Each time, the professor said “NO.” Finally, he gave us the answer. It was “there’s concrete that cracks, there’s concrete that cracks, and there’s concrete that cracks. We accept that concrete cracks and we design around those cracks.” And that’s what we did throughout that class. Every design we worked on dealt with the fact the concrete was going to have minor cracks under load.
So, the lesson here is that your concrete’s going to crack. Good design can try to control those cracks, but it will still crack. Cracks up to an eighth inch are acceptable. If they get larger than that or if there is differential settlement, you may want to call a professional out to look at the situation. Even some larger cracks may not be real issues, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. In many cases sticking doors, sticking windows, or excessively sloping floors are better indications of issues that need to be addressed rather than just seeing a minor crack in a concrete slab or a masonry wall.