House Settling - When to mend - When to worry

infohoundJanuary 31, 2003

I've done a search and hope this is not a repeat. We have been in our newly built home for about 3 months. We built on red clay during a major hot humid drought. As soon as we moved in we have had rain every week and temps dropping to the teens. And snow 3 times. Which is not normal for my area.

Now I know all houses settle throughout their lives but this is what I have took note of.

I've noticed some crown molding separating. (enough to be noticeable)

My bathroom door sticks when you shut it. It was lightly sanded the first time to correct this. Now it's sticking again. (Could it be from bathroom moisture?)There are doors on either side. Both are fine.

The most major thing I have noticed is that one section of my kitchen counter literally separated. (I'm guessing 1/8 of an inch. maybe more.)Caulked over immediately to prevent water dripping back there.

We keep a close eye on the foundation. Everything seems to look great. except the back steps have separated from the foundation itself (enough to be noticeable). But I figured this is because the weight of the house on the foundation and none on the steps.?.

My question I guess would be: is this normal and should I be in hand with a caulk-gun for the first year? And when should you worry?

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I would go ahead and invest a hundred or two in a professional home inspector. Do you have areas of concrete (such as a garage slab or patio) where you can inspect for cracks? I seem to remember our home inspector said to be concerned if movement exceeds 1/4".

    Bookmark   February 1, 2003 at 8:46AM
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Its gonna settle its all new framing etc it has to settle. My husband is a contractor,Do you have any signs of diaster like really big cracks or anything? You may even over time get a few hairline cracks in your ceilings.But it has to settle.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2003 at 8:14AM
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When is a crack too big? Is it bad if there are cracks in the ceiling? Every time I go to my parents house that was built three years ago, my heart races. There are cracks everywhere and I worry about the construction. I guess I wish I knew if the building company was crediable or that my parents would have an inspector come in and make sure everything is okay. However they think I am crazy...haha.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 1:08AM
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I'm a builder living in the fourth home I've built for myself. Cracks bother me mightily. But many are unavoidable or seemingly inexplicable.

Under our provincial warranty Construction Performance Guidelines, foundation cracks in excess of 6mm (1/4") in width are not acceptable. Drywall cracks from the normal shrinkage of materials are acceptable. Between cabinets and walls and ceilings, visible gaps in excess of 3mm (1/8") are not acceptable.

Truss uplift will inevitably result usually in cracks at the top of walls. These can be disguised with floating cornice mouldings.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 7:52PM
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Our house was built in the 1920's. Even now, with the change of seasons, some of my doors stick at different times throughout the year (I'm in Wisconsin). We also have a step crack in the basement which we had to patch this year, but we've also done proper grading on the outside which helps keep the water away from the foundation.

While your house is still settling and will for many years to come, I'd suggest keeping up with the grading of the soil so that water drains away from the house properly. Just a precaution.

Yikes, I just realized your post is from 2003! I'll post this anyway for anyone else who is reading.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2007 at 2:13AM
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I need your help. I am in the middle of major renovations, new roof, windows and paint job. Yesterday when the painters were pressure washing the house he brought to my attention three major cracks in my home. He sugguested I should sell the house as soon as possible. I was planning on staying here for the next five years or so. What can be done? Is this a problem I should be stressing out about. Please help. Thanks.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2007 at 2:35AM
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I think you should ask an inspector or qualified person about any questions and let the painter stick to painting. He may get a real kick out of panicking people but have no more knowledge of your building or anyone else's than you do.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2007 at 4:13AM
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Trekaren: "I would go ahead and invest a hundred or two in a professional home inspector."

A home inspector will only be able to tell the OP what the OP already knows...that there are visible signs that could indicate structural issues, as anything more than that is beyond the scope of a home inspection.....he or she would then recommend to the OP to hire a structural engineer to make a definitive determination.

Consequently, the correct professional for such an assessment is a licensed Professional Engineer, who specializes in structural issues.

A stitch in time....

Best wishes.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2007 at 9:56AM
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My wife and I have been in our house a year and an half. The house is 35 years old. We've just been through a dry season here in Knoxville and a few months ago noticed cracking in the ceilings, doors sticking, and drop of our kitchen counters against the wall and gaps beneath our baseboard. Any suggestions on how to go about assessing and fixing the problem will be greatly appreciated.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2008 at 1:14PM
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Get a home inspector in - why guess at things or take advice from unqualified people?

    Bookmark   January 3, 2008 at 5:45PM
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Get a home inspector in - why guess at things or take advice from unqualified people?

Once again..the HI can only tell you what you already can see. In this case the services of a Professional Engineer who specializes in structural issues is the correct professional to contact as it is important to find out the possible causes and remedies...and that is beyond the scope of a home inspection.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2008 at 4:42PM
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My wife and I live in North Texas and bought a new construction about 18 months ago. This winter was a very hot-cold one; weather shifts and hard rains followed by weeks without. I'm now noticing cracks long wall-ceiling joints, but no door sticking and no diagonal cracks at all (at the moment). I'm thinking that I'm witnessing "normal" settling...thoughts?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 10:47AM
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for anyone to make more of a comment you'd have to be more descriptive of the cracks. For example, how wide are they? and are they along a tape joint seam (paper tape covered in "mud" is used to fill in between pieces of sheet rock). Can you see inside the cracks? Does the ceiling look straight, or is it noticably bending or slumping? Go outside and look at the ridge line of the roof. Is it straight, or does it have a noticeable slump?

If the ceiling is flat and straight, and the outside roof lines are flat and straight, there is a good chance that the cracks you are seeing are just materials contracting - either weather related normal wood shrinkage or poor materials. You'd also want to inspect the attic area to look for signs of water intrusion (minor leaks).

It's very hard for a building to fall down when the walls, ceiling and roofline remain straight so you shouldn't worry too much about that. And it's unlikely that you have major foundation damage if the walls are straight.

If you live in north texas you most likely have a concrete foundation. So if you were concerned about the foundation, you could pull parts of the carpet and pad up and look for foundation cracks. I'd check the attic first though.


    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 10:26PM
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Maybe as a contractor I am bias but.... you don't always need high dollar engineers to figure out most cracks when your local contractor will be just as capable of seeing the problem. I've seen so many things in fifteen years of swinging a hammer. I've repaired foundation that have blown in. I've seen new houses with missing stretches of footers. I've work on historical restorations where the houses are so old they have exceeded thier lives threefold. I've seen stickframed houses that are just poorly built.
Sometimes it is the construction. Sometimes it is the land. Sometimes it is the materials. More often than not though it is something so simple.
I recently went to a house to look into cracks in the drywall above a doorway to the kitchen and corresponding cracks in the tile on the kitchen side. The customer was upset because he had just had the kitchen remodeled and was sure it was the installers doing. The first thing I noticed was all the beautiful marble floors, top dollar stone countertops, stone wall tile and wall to wall woodwork. He had the biggest stainless fridge I had ever seen and an awesome 8 burner stove. There was a pantry cubboard with no doors on it yet and the entire thing was full of cans and other goods. All these things were on the interior wall of the kitchen(do you see where I am going with this). On the other side of the wall was of all things a baby gran piano.
Upon going downstairs I noticed it was a 50's era home with a triple 2x10 main beam with lollies every 15 feet. Basically the cracks were caused by too much weight in to close a proximity. I was even more amazed to find a waterbed in the bedroom above the kitchen.
Needless to say it was an easy fix and the Kitchen installer would have been fine in a better built home but should have atleast considered the increase in weight when updating from vinyl and formica to heavyweight materials. However ...waterbeds in a second story are a no-no and large pianos almost always require some reinforceing or location considerations.
Another thing most folks don't consider is that wooden framed homes (even well built ones) do some racking when the wind gusts exceed normal levels.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 2:54PM
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I have no doubt that most competent contractors will have the eye to detect what's happened and why, but some will view it as an opportunity to market their services. I had an example of this, this kind of sort of builder my kitchen reno people used insisted we needed an engineered beam in order to rip out a wall that was all of 7 feet long, and ran parallel with the ceiling joists (and was not tied to them in any way) because he claimed it was 'load bearing' despite the fact it was not bearing anything but its own weight, because it was riddled with termite damage.

I kind of let it slide but I should have called my dad, a retired engineer, and handed the phone to this builder type.

You would not be under the same pressure from an engineer, and this is their area of expertise.

In the example you cited, an engineer would hopefully have noted the upcoming extreme dead loads - provided the homeowner shared what they were planning to place, and where.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 3:50PM
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I will admit that the possibility of hiring a fly by night is always there. I certainly recommend that you keep your wits about you when you hire anyone to do anything. However I still think it may be a bit excessive to call in an engineer to investigate loose crowns and a sticky door in a three month old home built to engineer specs. The stairs may be a different issue but until someone digs them up an engineer wouldn't be able to make an informed decision.
I am sorry to hear you were ripped off pjb999. I don't like the local fly by's any more than the people who are conned by them but again....I have been around long enough to see plenty of fly by night engineers,architects and builders alike. In the end it always takes a good/honest contractor to do a good/honest job.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2009 at 9:25PM
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Umm, the original message was posted Jan 31, 03 and the house was only 3 months young.

1 Like    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 6:16PM
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