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Apr 21
2008

More Talk about Cracks


Posted by C. Mason Hearn in renovation, preservation, contractors

 Dear Mason,

My house was built in 1938. The walls are plaster over lathe. I'm noticing more cracks in the ceilings, including one that runs parallel to the chimney bump out, about 3 inches away from the wall. It actually looks like the part of the ceiling that is closer to the fireplace is a fraction (1/32"?) higher than the part outside the crack. The crack follows that chimney exactly. Is my house sinking? And do I just repair the crack, or is there more that needs to happen? Last, what sort of contractor takes care of this sort of issue? 

Thanks in advance for your advice.

Lisa C.

 

Lisa, Dear (in publishing, don't I have an obligation to disclose when the "asker" is a dear personal friend?):

1/32"?  That is indeed a fraction of an inch!  Rest assured that, every single part of your 70-year old home is moving that much daily.  Plaster-on-lathe is relatively inflexible and therefore unforgiving of the effects of any substantial movement.  Hence, I would suspect that you have other cracks that you're not talking about, right?

Sometimes I get questions that, regardless your quite concise description, defies analysis without a close onsite examination of the conditions.  This one could be caused by any number of things.  Indeed, something is moving in a different direction or at a different rate than something else.  What is it, to what degree, and is it a cause for concern that should be fixed or stabilized?  A closer look may give us some clues.

The foundations of a home in 1938 are likely quite different from those constructed today.  More likely corbelled (stepped outward) brick, which may not be as stable as our modern concrete spread footings.  So chimneys, especially, "sink", or settle a bit - usually at a faster rate than the rest of the house, since it is a tremendous "point load".  The chimney may also be settling such that it is rolling slightly in our outward (although, based on your description, a "normal" degree, not necessarily cause for alarm).

As well, older construction techniques allowed the framing to be connected to the chimney structure, which may cause shifting as those dissimilar materials and settlement rates affect each other.

So, here's what I think you need to do... remove those last three inches of plaster, outboard of the crack.  Install an expansion bead at the juncture of wall and ceiling (to accommodate the movement), and patch back with plaster.  All this being said, let's take a look at it first, and make sure this is your solution.  As well, I can recommend a couple of great plaster folks that could likely take care of this for you!

Happy Cracks!

Mason






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