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How to Know When Ceiling Cracks Are Structural or Just Old

Ceiling cracks can be the result of a variety of causes, some more severe than others. Over time, ceiling drywall can age, leading to natural settling and cracking. Although aesthetically unappealing, these cracks pose no threat to the integrity of the building.

Keeping an eye on ceiling cracks can help prevent worsening damage.

Ceiling cracks can be the result of a variety of causes, some more severe than others. Over time, ceiling drywall can age, leading to natural settling and cracking. Although aesthetically unappealing, these cracks pose no threat to the integrity of the building. In contrast, ceiling cracks can be caused by shifts in the foundation or structural supports -- a potentially dangerous situation. Understanding the visual differences between superficial and structural cracks can help you correctly diagnose the cause of your crack.

  1. Check the ceiling for areas of bowing or warping, particularly around the cracks. These areas are typically indicators of failing drywall adhesion and age, rather than a more significant structural issue.

  2. Inspect the ceilings for areas of discoloration. Discoloration can indicate a ceiling leak or buildup of moisture. Moisture damage is a common cause for ceiling cracking, particularly in bathrooms. Moisture-related cracks generally do not indicate a serious structural issue.

  3. Check for accumulated drywall dust and/or ground bits of paint in and around the crack. This dust can be an indicator of slow-forming cracks that are frequently associated with structural issues.

  4. Inspect the walls adjacent to the ceiling for cracks that align with the cracks in the ceiling, running vertically from the ceiling toward the floor. This cracking pattern can be an indicator of serious structural flaws.

  5. Note the location of the cracks in the ceiling. Cracks that run along the borders of the wall are more likely to be caused by the natural settling process. Cracks in the center of the ceiling are more likely caused by structural issues.

About the Author

Michael Cohen has been a technical writer since 2006. His areas of expertise include classical music and nonprofit management, and his work has been featured across a variety of media platforms. Cohen received his bachelor's degree from The New School in New York City.