Common Interior Concerns on Home Inspections

One of the more common items I run into during the course of a home inspection is drywall and plaster cracks. I’m starting this discussion to seek input of how others handle these concerns. As I live in an area where things move around a bit… and soils are expansive, it’s definitely an item to keep abreast of.

The reason I decided to post this is on of uniformity as I had spoke to an associate of mine the other day and his take was that if there are more than 1 or 2 areas of cracking in the home… that’s it, it’s going in a report for a structural engineer. Some of that type of thinking is too much CYA stuff, but I do understand where he is coming from. But, to a point, I disagree and would like to think I can try to put the pieces together and make a needed recommendation when warranted. At the same time, it’s one of the items that, along with moisture have a huge potentiality for liability, but you don’t need to needlessly alarm every client just to CYA.

Here’s a couple examples, and I’m hoping others will chime in as well:

If upon arrival to the inspection, I may find a crack in a drywalled ceiling seam running perpendicular to the framing that is split… all the way down. You ladder up and the ceiling is flat, really no signs of deflection, and really not much else. I generally recommend repair to the crack and monitor for cracks opening again etc. If the home is under warranty, a call to the builder is recommended as well.

Now where I get a bit more concerned and is usually a straight forward matter are signs of expansive soils, couple with cracks at corners on interior and the exterior of the home. Sometimes the cracks transfer directly through the visible stem wall of the foundation (I’m in slab-on-grade country here), I will see cracks in multiple areas.

  1. If grade is deficient, this is of primary concern and should be immediately addressed. Whether a recommendation for a specialist for the foundation is warranted will bear whether or not I see direct damage to the foundation. It may simply be a soils problem, not a foundation or structural problem.
  2. If grade is positive away from the home, and I can confirm damage or movement to the foundation or slab, I’ll recommend review of a PE.

On a raised foundation, IMO, discerning these cracks is much easier. I can usually see a pattern of cracks around doors and windows and maybe even see out of level floor conditions with my bare peepers :smiley:

How and what do you do?

I think you are right on. While understanding that we must cover our behinds in INMHO it is a cop out to refer drywall cracking at a tape joint on a ceiling to a PE. As you stated if the ceiling shows no sign of movement or sagging 99.9% of the time it is due to the lack of “dead wood” framing to restrain the joint. Because of the lack of restraint when the ceiling diaphram expands and contracts through natural temperature variations the “floating” joint cracks and is cosmetic not structural.
I’m also in an area of the Country that is slab on grade with expansive soils but at least our soils don"t shake it’s that damn fast moving wind that we have too contend with.
As too the concrete cracking a good rule of thumb is that if the crack is less than 1/4" and no displacement has occurred then it is likely the result of shrinkage during the “curing” process or the result of thermal expansion. In my area most construction is reinforced masonry and each side openings have reinforcement steel and are poured solid. It is quite common to see minor cracking at the area where the solid pour meets the hollow block at the edges of window and door openings. I report this as expected and normal cracking due to thermal expansion and these areas should be filled with a flexible sealant too prevent moisture intrusion. As a side note a 8’ high masonry wall that is 100’ long will expand and contract 1" through the year. The average home has 9" plus high walls and a 250’ perimeter

I and another inspector inspected this 2006 home in Spring Hill last week. It looks like minor shrinkage and settlement cracks…in the third pic you can see the crack ending at the rear door. However i was a little concerned about the drainage and swale in the back yard. I recommended monitoring with immediate installation of gutters and downspouts.

Unfortunately we couldn’t gain access to the home because of unforeseen circumstances.

In our area Tim (as you are aware), stucco and drywall will crack. It’s not a matter of “if” it will crack, but rather a matter of “when.”

99% of this cracking is considered normal for CA, whereas, inspectors from other states may consider it “extreme.”

I rarely (RARELY) recommend evaluation by a PE. Never do I recommend a PE for simple drywall cracks or simple stucco cracks. PE evaluation (from me) would require additional indicators such as cracked foundation walls, truss-uplift, plumb and/or level deviations, etc.

When it comes to cracks, in most cases, my recommendation will be for a soils engineer as opposed to a structural engineer.

Here is one of my standards.


Nice post. Certainly all structures do experience movement, expansion and contraction. Depending on the climate conditions at the time of the home inspection, some cracks may not be visible but will re-open during seasonal changes. For the most part, I inform the buyers of typical drywall seam defects, nail pops and minor cracks and tell them that future movement will occur. Defects may be more serious at the door corners, especially when the doors drop at the upper corner. In these cases, I try to correlate foundation movement with the drywall and door movement. Foundation or slab cracks, beam and/or column movement, truss uplift?? I seldom call for a structural engineer, CYA should be in the report and inspection agreement language.