Ceiling cracks can be a source of concern for homeowners. While most ceiling cracks may be cosmetic and not cause serious problems, others can indicate more serious structural damage. This post covers the various types of ceiling cracks with pictures, so you can identify what kind of crack you may be dealing with and what you need to repair it.
Understanding the different types of ceiling cracks is essential for any homeowner to determine the correct course of action. From a hairline crack to structural cracks, it is essential to know the key characteristics of each type of ceiling crack. They may indicate different things about the condition and your home’s structural integrity.
Hairline Ceiling Cracks
Hairline cracks are thin cracks often seen as straight or slightly curved lines on the surface of the ceiling. They range from a few inches to several feet long, typically less than 1/16 inch wide. These may be slightly visible or significantly noticeable depending on the paint color of the ceiling and the room’s lighting conditions.
Typically, hairline cracks are not immediately noticeable and are only discovered when someone is looking for them or performing a routine inspection. Any other damage does not usually accompany them except for maybe tiny bubbles or peeling paint near the crack.
These ceiling cracks are not typically a cause for concern and are often the result of the usual settling of the building materials over time. For example, it is normal for the foundation to settle as a house ages, causing the ceiling to crack slightly. Similarly, the drying and shrinking of building materials can also cause small cracks in the ceiling.
In most cases, hairline cracks are superficial cracks and do not pose a structural threat. You can ignore them or cover them up if you want. There are several ways to repair hairline cracks if you want to get rid of them altogether. You can patch them with spackle compound, paint over it, or apply drywall tape (1).
However, it is a good idea to monitor the growth of these few cracks and check for any changes to them.
Straight Ceiling Cracks
Straight ceiling cracks are narrow cracks that run vertically, horizontally, or at a slight angle in the ceiling. These cracks are usually uniform in appearance as a straight line and do not have any irregular or jagged edges. Normally, straight cracks are not a cause for concern and can be easily repaired.
Straight cracks are usually caused by errors made during the ceiling drywall installation process. For example, drywall mud issues or inadequate taping of the drywall joints. Over time, the drywall tape cannot properly stick to the drywall joint and peels away. Foundation settlement or high humidity can exacerbate it as well.
In most cases, you can easily repair straight cracks. To complete these minor cosmetic touch-ups, remove the loose tape, sand the surface underneath, apply the new drywall tape, and use a putty knife to cover it with a thin layer of drywall compound.
Before applying another layer or attempting to paint, you must ensure the surface is completely dry. If the cracks are more extensive or have any structural damage, it may be necessary to replace the drywall.
Spiderweb ceiling cracks are characterized by a pattern of cracks that spread out from a central point, resembling the rays of a spider web. These cracks often appear as a series of fine, thin lines intersecting and crossing over one another, forming web-like cracks over the ceiling.
They may be uniform in appearance or can vary in width and depth over the ceiling’s surface. In general, the spiderweb pattern of cracks is typically symmetrical and radiates out from a central point, giving the appearance of a delicate, lacy network of lines on the ceiling.
There are a variety of factors that could cause spiderweb cracks in the ceiling, such as moisture damage or foundation settlement. They can also appear due to changes in temperature and humidity levels or even normal wear and tear.
Over time, the house’s foundation settles and can pressure the structure, weakening the frame and drywall and causing crawling cracks in the ceiling. Although these cracks may not be large, spiderweb cracks can be an early indicator of the compromised structural integrity of your home. This can mean you need professional assessment and repair.
While these cracks are usually not a structural concern, they can be unsightly and may affect the appearance and value of a home. Repairing spiderweb cracks typically involves filling in the cracks with joint compound and sanding the surface smooth, followed by a fresh coat of paint.
As mentioned, some cases require professional repair of the cracked ceiling to ensure the home’s structure is not compromised. Contact a professional contractor for assessment and repair if the cracks are wider than 1/16 inch.
Discolored Ceiling Cracks
Discolored cracks are almost always a serious concern. These ceiling cracks typically have a yellow, brown, or blackish appearance. The discoloration is usually concentrated around the crack but can spread out and cover a larger ceiling area.
The color and extent of the discoloration depend on the cause of the crack and can vary. Yellow or brown cracks in the ceiling usually indicate water damage, which can cause serious damage to the house. If the discoloration and cracks are accompanied by sagging or warping of the ceiling, this shows a more serious problem, such as structural problems from water damage.
Water damage causes discoloration and cracks in the ceiling if there is a leak in the roof or plumbing. This can result in swelling and warping of the ceiling material, which can cause the paint to crack and peel.
In addition, mold can grow in damp, humid conditions and cause discoloration and staining on the ceiling. Mold can also emit a musty odor and harm people’s health.
If the ceiling has brown or yellow cracks, you should address them promptly to prevent further damage. In the case of water damage, fixing the leak and removing any damaged materials are essential. If there’s mold, you should have it removed by a professional using proper safety precautions.
Large Cracks and Bowed Ceiling
A bowed ceiling with large, deep cracks has a noticeable and concerning appearance. The cracks are deep and wide, often running in several directions across the ceiling. The bowing is characterized by its concave shape in the ceiling, which is highly noticeable from below. It can appear as a dropping or sagging ceiling, with the middle or edges appearing more pronounced.
Large, deep ceiling cracks accompanied by bowing indicate severe structural damage to the house. Several factors, including water damage, poor workmanship, or weight-bearing problems, can cause a bowed ceiling.
The presence of larger cracks in conjunction with bowing is a clear sign that underlying severe problems need to be addressed promptly. These structural problems can lead to a full or partial ceiling collapse if not addressed.
Water damage is a common cause of bowing in ceilings. This can be caused by a roof or plumbing leak. Water penetrating the ceilings and walls can cause swelling and warping of the materials, which can eventually cause the ceiling to bow. Water damage can also cause mold to grow, which can have serious health consequences for the occupant.
Poor construction can also lead to these dangerous ceiling cracks. For example, suppose the ceiling is not adequately supported. In that case, it can begin to bow under its own weight, especially if the building is older or the ceiling is made from heavy materials. Additionally, water and moisture can penetrate the house if the ceiling is not sealed correctly.
Knowing what is causing the issue is important so you can get that repaired and prevent any further structural damage to your home. If the cracked ceiling is accompanied by bowing, you must contact a structural engineer to inspect your house and ensure it is repaired promptly.
Cracks Between the Ceiling and Wall
Cracks between the ceiling and wall might seem ordinary, but they can indicate structural problems. The most common cause is a truss uplift, when the ceiling frame pulls away from the wall (2).
Whatever the cause, these types of cracks are visible lines or fissures that separate the ceiling and wall surfaces. Cracks between the ceiling and the wall can come in different sizes and lengths. In addition, they can appear as both horizontal and vertical cracks along the surface.
The appearance of cracks between the ceiling and the wall can vary depending on the cause of the crack. Cracks caused by settling the house’s foundation may be larger and more pronounced near the room’s corners. On the other hand, cracks caused by water damage may be broader and deeper near the source of the leak.
On the other hand, cracks caused by shifting walls may appear more randomly, with no apparent correlation to the location of the shift. In some cases, the cracks may have visible signs of damage, such as buckling the wall, cracking paint, or even mold growth, depending on the cause.
Similar to the bowed ceiling, cracks between the ceiling and wall can be dangerous and require a prompt evaluation. To address these types of ceiling cracks, it is important to determine the cause of the problem and take appropriate action. A foundation repair specialist may be necessary to evaluate the necessary repairs to maintain the house’s structural integrity.
Types of ceiling cracks with pictures FAQ
How do you know if a ceiling crack is serious?
To determine the seriousness of a ceiling crack, assess its size, shape, location, and age. Some of the most apparent indications of a severe issue are discoloration or water stains, a visibly drooping or sagging ceiling, and multiple extensive cracks throughout the area.
Suppose it is large, rapidly growing, or accompanied by other signs of structural damage. In that case, it is considered a serious issue, and it is best to seek the advice of a professional.
Are hairline cracks in ceilings normal?
Hairline ceiling cracks are generally considered to be normal and are often the result of the foundation settling. They are usually not serious and do not always indicate structural damage; however, it is always a good idea to monitor the growth of the hairline cracks and check for changes.
You can usually repair them by applying drywall compound and painting over them, but it is considered superficial and unnecessary unless you want to.
What does a straight crack in the ceiling mean?
Straight ceiling cracks occur when the drywall tape fails to stick properly to the drywall panels and begins to peel away. This is often due to insufficient plaster during the ceiling drywall installation process and can also be exacerbated by foundation settlement and high humidity.
Should I worry about hairline cracks in the ceiling?
No, a hairline crack or two is usually not a cause for concern. These small cracks are usually the result of normal settling over time. Therefore, it is considered a superficial problem and can be repaired quickly; however, monitoring these for any changes is essential.