Cracks in Drywall, Grout and Caulking: Cosmetic or Structural?

Mar 28
Gayler Design Build

Cracks in Drywall, Grout and Caulking: Cosmetic or Structural?

By Gayler Design Build
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Cracks in drywall, grout, and caulking are a common occurrence, particularly over time when your home settles. A majority of the time, these “hairline cracks” are considered cosmetic and can be covered over with a fresh coat of paint or a tube of caulk. But, when is it cosmetic, and when is it structural? How should you go about addressing cracks when they appear in your home?

DRYWALL CRACKS

Where can you expect to see drywall cracks?

Corner Drywall Crack

Drywall cracks can show up where two pieces of drywall come together (aka a drywall joint) —running either horizontal or vertical at the drywall seams. Drywall seams are where the joint gets drywall taped and layered with several coats of drywall mud. Joint areas can be susceptible to wall and ceiling seasonal movement and therefore can develop cracks in these areas.

Other areas where cracks can form

  • Upper corners, above doors

  • Bottom or top corners around windows

Drywall Crack Near Door

Drywall Crack Near Window

Common Causes for Drywall Cracks

The main reasons that drywall cracks occur are related to stress. Particularly for Bay Area homes where the soil is soft and shrinks and expands as the weather changes, cracks result from the natural movement of your home’s structure. Examples include:

  • Stresses on walls and ceilings from wind storms

  • Settling of the home or soil movement

  • Wet and dry seasons, especially with the type of expansive, clay soil in our area

  • Substantial soil pressure pushing up on the home

  • Earthquakes

Red Flags

If you see wide cracks (1/4 “ or more) or cracks that are not taped joints, but actually drywall tearing apart, you should have them inspected more closely. They too may be non-concerning and cosmetic, but just in case, you will want to rule out any potential structural issues. Some other indicators of potential structural deficiencies are:

  • A sagging roof

  • Bowing walls

  • Cracks in siding

  • Cracks in the foundation

  • Sagging ceilings

  • Buckling drywall

  • Shear walls with poor or no lateral bracing

  • Multiple doors that no not close properly

Bad Drywall Crack

CRACKS IN GROUT AND CAULKING

Common Causes for Cracks in Grout and Caulking

Grout Crack Between Tiles

Throughout the year, your home expands with the summer heat, contracts with the winter chill, and soil pushing and pulling the foundation through wet and dry seasons. All this slight movement causes grout and caulking to shrink and separate.

It is very common to see cracks in grout or caulking where countertops meet the wall or backsplash. The backsplash is fastened to the wall, the countertop sits on a cabinet, which moves with the floor.  Any lateral movement between the walls and floor from the seasonal shrinking and expanding of the soil causes stress on the grout and caulking, possibly leading to cracks.

This is similar to the bathroom, particularly the shower where the walls meet the floor or another wall. The lateral movement differences between the walls and floor can often create cracking or separation in the corners. It’s also common around the tub deck.

Fixing Cracks in Grout and Caulking

Make sure your tile and grout are routinely maintained in the problem areas. Also be sure to look at the caulking on the exterior of your home as well as the interior. Caulking keeps moisture out of doors and windows and can wear away over time. Wood trim and siding moves as it absorbs moisture dries and shrinks, so it too can develop cracks in the caulking over time and should be maintained regularly.

Make sure these various problematic areas are properly maintained and not left unattended to become more problematic.

For more helpful home maintenance tips, sign up for our bi-monthly eNewsletter that is chock-full of ideas for remodeling your home.

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