Why Drywall Cracks

No matter how well drywall is hung and finished, it seems like eventually, you start to see cracks. While they’re unsightly and sometimes more than just a minor annoyance, it’s not necessarily a cause to worry. Learn what causes cracks in walls, what you can do to prevent annoying hairline cracks, how to fix drywall that’s already cracked, and what signs point to a problem that needs to be addressed. Many hairline cracks are easily remedied and are just a natural part of your house or building aging. 

why drywall cracks

Causes of Cracks in Drywall

You see them in drywall and finishes of all types, in short, cracks form where stress is put on the drywall. Cracks often form around seams, where two pieces of drywall meet and are taped and mudded over. It’s a weak point in the wall, and you will see them most often around windows, doorways, and corners. Depending on what kind of crack you see, you can get an idea as to the type of stress that’s causing it. 

When drywall begins to crack soon after a build, it’s often the result of poor workmanship or low-quality materials. There are several grades of drywall mud. The drywall mud or drywall tape used might be of inferior quality, or there wasn’t enough compound placed between the seams. Sometimes the wrong mud or tape was used at the wrong time. “hot” quick-setting drywall mud should be used between drywall seams, and lower-grade mud to finish. Some drywall contractors dislike mesh tape altogether (paper tape is stronger) but if mesh drywall tape is used, it should always be used in conjunction with quick-set compound. 

Sometimes ‘nail-popping’ is to blame for the beginning of small cracks. Nails holding in corner beads or securing the surface of the drywall can come loose, especially from warped studs, causing dimpling and eventual cracking over the drywall. 

Related: Should you be able to see studs through your drywall?

In newer houses or fresh remodels, cracks can be a result of frameshifting. As the new lumber dries it will change shape a bit, putting stress on the drywall. 

Homes that are left empty (like vacation homes) are more prone to drywall cracking as the weather fluctuates. The drywall expands and contracts with the temperature changes and causes cracking, often along the seams. 

More serious causes of drywall cracking are leaks, causing your drywall to collect moisture and begin to deteriorate, and structural issues. Shifting foundations due to poor construction, water damage, termite damage and clay cause uneven movement on the drywall and causing major cracks, even through the drywall panels. Excessively moist environments can also cause the underlying studs to warp or the drywall to lose integrity, also causing cracks. 

Eventually, even the most well-built house will see some drywall cracking, especially along corners, or where the sheets of drywall meet.  Regular settling of the house often causes hairline cracks along the walls and ceilings. Fixing small cracks is relatively easy and inexpensive, and isn’t an emergency situation. Certain reoccurring or large cracks might signal a wider problem for your structure, and the underlying cause – like foundation damage or water leak, need to be addressed immediately, before more costly or dangerous damage occurs. 

Related: Can drywall be stored outside?

What Does your Drywall Crack Mean?

A quick look at your drywall cracks size, shape and location can tell you what might be causing, and if it’s the symptom of a more serious issue. For small cracks due to temperature change and settling, it’s simply a matter of re-taping drywall joints and laying on one or two layers of drywall mud. 

Discoloration Around a Crack

Brown or yellow tinted walls around a drywall crack is likely due to water damage. Wet drywall begins to deteriorate and crack. Before you repair any cracks due to water damage, first find the source of the leak and repair it. When there’s no more risk for moisture damage, you’ll have to replace the damaged drywall. 

Cracks Around Doors and Windows

Cracking over doors and around windows is very common. These are high-stress areas and small cracks can usually be covered up or filled without much worry. It can be due to regular settling, and these kinds of cracks can be taped over to improve the aesthetics of your walls. 

Straight Cracks

These cracks are likely over seams. It could be as simple as tape peeling up. If you see many straight cracks, you may have to re-tape over every seam. Sometimes it’s enough to just apply another one or two coats of compound over the tape and repaint. 

Large or Very Long Cracks

Cracks over 1/8 inch wide are a cause for concern. This is indicative of structural or foundation issues. Large or unusually long cracks, espeiclay that extend from the corners of doors, call for an inspection of your foundation. Other signs of structural problems are horizontal cracks, cracks on the exterior, and many cracks throughout the building/home. 

Repairing Drywall Cracks

Before you begin repairs on the drywall cracks, it’s important to first consider the reasons your drywall is cracking to begin with. If the issue is water damage or structural issues, those need to be dealt with before starting repairs. If your building or addition is new, it’s a good idea to give the building a year to settle before you begin filling in cracks. 

For small hairline cracks, you can simply tape over the crack, apply one or two coats of drywall mud, and paint over it. For larger cracks, you may have to actually make the drywall cracks larger, then fill the crack with drywall compound. Kits are available that have a small amount of all-purpose drywall compound and all the tools you need to fill small cracks and holes in drywall. 

No matter how professional your drywall installation, eventually you will see cracks in your drywall. Cracks over doors, along seams and around windows are usually due to inevitable stress caused by settling. Keep an eye on larger, jagged or long, floor to ceiling cracks, or cracks around discoloration – these could be a sign of a more serious problem than simple drywall damage. You can do most drywall crack repairs yourself, but if you suspect a larger issue, it’s always a good idea to call a professional.