Your inspector may have told you and your bank at your new home inspection before closing that the hairline cracks above your doorways and windows were not cause for concern. Since then, though, despite what the experts said, the cracks have grown exponentially in length, width, and depth. When do you worry?
According to many national experts, you should worry about cracks in doorways and above windows when you first see them. Any cracking could be a sign of structural damage, and selling a home after having covered signs of it, while mistakenly assuming cracking was normal and cosmetic, could get a home builder into some legal trouble. Some cracking is, in fact, normal, though.
When to spend the money to have cracks repaired depends on the root cause of the cracking, which could be simply cosmetic consequences of normal new home adjustments within its first few years of being built. Always get at least two expert opinions on cracking issues as soon as you see them, and continue to keep an eye on them as time progresses.
Exterior vs Interior Cracking
If you observe cracking over the corners of exterior-facing doors and windows, the cracking is more likely to be a foundation or other serious structural issue. If the cracking is over interior doors only, the odds of the cracking being due to normal, expected new house adjustments are higher; however, this type of cracking still may be indicative of something serious that is not directly foundation-related, such as not enough support beneath load-bearing walls.
Shape and Direction of Cracking
Shape and direction of cracks above doors and windows are the best indicators of what is causing door and window cracks. Homeowners can try other tests, such as testing how and if doors are closing properly, but size and shape of cracks are the most reliable layperson indicators.
Probably an Issue: stairstep-looking cracks – usually follow cracking pattern in cinder block of foundation, so may or may not be serious foundation issue, depending on nature and location of cinderblock cracks.
Probably Not an Issue: vertical (up-and-down) cracks that begin where the wall meets the ceiling – likely result of normal new home settling; vertical cracks typically not a sign of serious issues, but can be.
Most Likely an Issue: horizontal (side-to-side) cracks or 45-degree-angled, jagged cracks – most likely a serious structural issue, that, unfortunately, may cost a pretty penny to repair, especially if you let it get worse; most likely causes include shifting foundation or previous or current water damage.
Repairing Cracks Above Doors and Windows
If your professionals have told you that your doorway and window cracks are cosmetic in nature, cracks can be repaired by applying drywall putty to the cracks, sanding them over, and then painting over. Ensure you have a written opinion on the cosmetic nature of the cracks from a qualified home inspector.
If your cracks are more serious in nature, a qualified foundation repair company will usually give you a free evaluation and repair estimate. A professional engineer will tell you, in words and photographically, exactly what structural issues are causing the cracks.
Many companies offer in-house financing of repairs and offer convenient pre-payment plans at cash price, as well. Several other, outside options exist for financing structural repairs, though, so if in-house financing presents a challenge or if in-house terms appear unfavorable, look to feasible outside options, including government home improvement loans.
Wrapping up Cracking
If you are not a professional home inspector or structural engineer, it is usually best to get the opinion of one or two professionals on the nature of your doorway and window cracks to protect you from future liability. You also need to protect your investment from potential further damage to maximize its benefit. The nature of some cracks can give a layman a good idea of how risky it might be not to have the cracks professionally evaluated, though.
If a homeowner is confident the risk of structural damage is low and that the cracks are normal, these cosmetic issues can be easily and inexpensively DIY-repaired. For more serious issues, home improvement and repair companies will suggest ways to make your repairs possible and affordable. Additionally, homebuilders offer warranties on new homes they sell, so be sure to ask your builder if they offer a warranty before deciding on a new home for your family.