Ceiling Cracks: When you should worry? (Types – With Pictures)

Saad Iqbal | 🗓️Modified: October 28, 2022 | ⏳Time to read:9 min

Are you googling “ceiling cracks when to worry?”, if yes; that means you’ve got cracks in the ceiling and are now wondering what could just be the possible reason of such an annoyance.  

Well, at this stage you might be blaming some poor quality of construction or maybe you’re afraid of having a foundation settlement. Or to the worst, you are starting to believe that your house is experiencing some serious structural damage.

But stop, don’t rush to conclusion however, as there is plethora of reasons for having cracks in ceiling. Some types of ceiling cracks are quite normal and don’t do any harm but in other cases we can’t take it lightly.

So, it is best to understand different types of ceiling cracks, their possible reasons, and whether or not you have to scratch your head for repairs.

In our today’s read, we’ll explore in detail cracks on ceiling:

Table of Contents

Cracks in ceiling

Ceiling cracks are not usually a sign of some serious problem like structural damage or settlement. But still you can’t rule out the possibility without knowing the root cause. Cracks in walls or ceiling are generally an indicative of mild to serious structural damage (to foundation or supporting columns). However, we can’t say for sure about the severity of cracking unless we know about the size, location, pattern, and frequency of cracks.

As a general rule, if ceiling cracks are larger than 1/10 inch these may indicate some sort of structural damage. We can call these cracks as dangerous cracks. You can easily measure the size of cracks by a crack width ruler (you can easily order one on the online store). However, you must call a professional to ascertain the seriousness of these cracks and possible solutions.

Also Read: 9 Types of Concrete Cracks (With Pictures)- Tricks to Prevent – PDF

Ceiling Cracks when to worry?
Ceiling Cracks when to worry?

Why is my ceiling cracking – The reasons

There can be various reasons behind the occurrence of cracks in ceiling. Sometimes they’re a normal part of home settling and you can see them on ceilings, walls, and even floors. All houses settle after some time in case they’re newly constructed. However, this settlement can cause only tiny hairline cracks in ceilings that are sometimes not even visible to naked eyes.

However, if you’re finding that these cracks are propagating or are widening in size, this can hint at some underlying issues. One of the serious reasons can be continuous foundation settlement.

Here’re we will now discuss different possible reasons that may lead to the formation of these cracks.

Moisture or water Damage

If you have some leaky element in your plumbing system, it can cause water to reach the ceiling. In some cases you’ll find spots on joints between your ceiling and the floor immediately above. Any of these reasons can cause water to come in contact with the ceiling for a long time and ultimately produce cracks in your ceiling.

These cracks are almost always accompanied by yellow or brown stains. Although cracks as a result of water damage are not troublesome and do not jeopardize the structural integrity of your house, but still unattended water source can seriously damage your ceiling and electric wiring.

Aging House

Old buildings are more prone to develop ceiling cracks because of their deterioration with time. These cracks are more common in old buildings which have never been renovated.

Faulty Workmanship

Sometimes the drywall is not efficiently installed which can lead to cracks in ceiling. This generally happens when insufficient quantity of plaster is used while taping joints. Over the course of time, this paper can start to loosen and ultimately crack. But these cracks are only crawling on the surface and have no roots down.

Structural Damage

In rare cases, ceiling cracks can be a sign of structural damage. These cracks appear due to foundation settlement. Settlement is of two types: uniform settled and differential settlement. Uniform settlement is usually less troubling as the whole house settles as a unit. However, it will cause cracks in ceilings and can cumulate into bigger problem.

Differential settlement on the other hand is more serious. In this type, one part or parts of your house settle more than other parts. This creates cracks bigger in size along with other alarming changes in your house. We will unbundle it further in this article. It is best to catch such settlement issues early to avoid further damage.

Also Read: Prefabricated Trusses – Types & Advantages

Types of Ceiling Cracks

Based on shape, size and location, I’ve tried to explain several different types of ceiling cracks with picture. Some of these cracks are common and not bothersome. But dangerous ceiling cracks must be addressed timely to avoid structural damage to the building.

Hairline cracks

Usually caused by some issue with the plaster over the drywall (they’re most of the times only along the surface). Temperature fluctuations can cause swelling and expansion of plaster, creating hairline cracks. These are usually about 0.1 mm in size. There is nothing to worry about these cracks.

Fine straight cracks

These cracks generally occur due to poor workmanship. If insufficiency amount of tape is applied, the tape will not stick to the joints and eventually pull off. This will lead to cracks. These cracks are harmless.

Spider web cracks

These cracks can be symptomatic of foundation settlement. These can also occur if the drywall applied is too thick and later on shrinks. These cracks are usually nothing to worry about.

Cracks between wall and ceiling

Cracks that run from the ceiling down to the wall or cracks between wall and ceiling are almost an indication of structural damage. The size of crack also plays an important role here. You should seek the help of a personal professional to avoid further damage and rectify the issue.

Also Read: How to install a ceiling fan with red wire? (Most Easy Way)

When to worry about ceiling cracks?

Local cracks in ceiling with no other sign of distress or structural change do not pose a threat to your house. As we discussed earlier, cracks caused by foundation settlement are likely to be an indication of compromised structural integrity.

Therefore, if you notice cracks in your ceiling, you are advised to look out for following symptoms pertaining to foundation settlement. If any or all of these signs occur along with ceiling cracks you should become more cautious and call a professional to look into the issue.

Signs of foundation settlement are:

  • Sticky doors and windows. You may notice it has become difficult to open and close doors and windows.
  • Stair step or zig zag cracks in walls. Along with pattern of cracks, width of cracks is also a major player. Large size cracks almost always indicate foundation is settling.
  • Sloped floors. Settlement causes the floors to change their slope and become uneven.
  • Swayed chimneys.
  • Doors and windows tend to separate from frames and exterior finishes.

Ceiling cracks you should always worry about

Now if you’re bit confused; I’ll summarize the most common types of ceiling cracks with pictures you should always worry about.

  • Water damage ceiling cracks yellow or brown in colors – These types of cracks are serious and dangerous because they’re likely to propagate resulting in some serious structural damage later down the road. (like mold, mildew, or even electrical damage) They’re mostly because of some leaky roofs or a busted pipe. You must act upon and address the damage. You need to mitigate the causes of water leakage.

Also Read: Popcorn ceiling mold – Here’s how to remove mold from bathroom popcorn ceiling

  • Dangerous ceiling cracks: Bowed ceiling with large size cracks – You must never dare to miss these types of cracks. They’re like large ugly fissures that run straight down the middle of your ceiling. Such a type of ceiling cracks is serious and dangerous. The probable reasons include anything like foundation settlement, extreme water damage, or other structural failure. So, if you’re finding that your ceiling has begun to concave; immediately call for a professional help and evacuate the place as it can pose a serious safety hazard.  

The bottom line

To summarize, local ceiling cracks with none of the above mentioned symptoms are nothing to worry about. However, if these cracks are accompanied with any or more of the above described signs, it is advisable to seek the help of a professional and address the main problem to avoid any further damage. Especially for dangerous ceiling cracks, you should act promptly; it can be a major structural problem.

Saad Iqbal is a professional civil engineering and freelance write. He's passionate about structures, construction management, and home improvement topics. He's been working as a Senior Engineer in a consultant firm for over 8 years. Besides he loves writing informative and in-depth content focused on construction and home-related topics. You can catch him at his linkedin page or reach out via our contact us page.

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