Russel Ray is a very professional, knowledgeable and experienced home inspector from San Diego CA and fellow Active Rain blogger. Over the last while, he has written a series of posts on the subject of cracks in a property. If you have a crack and are unsure of the impact on your property, consult with a professional, such as a structural engineer, however, as a primer, and to gain general knowledge, I have found Russel's information very helpful. This is Part Eight of the series and discusses exterior cracking on non load bearing exterior materials (in particular stucco)...
Here a crack, there a crack....
DISCLAIMER: This discussion is based on several decades of experience in real estate, including as a home inspector and general contractor. I am not a licensed structural engineer, so if you are not comfortable with cracks and our discussion here, hire a structural engineer to help you. This discussion, however, should help you be a little more knowledgeable about cracks so that you don't just automatically assume the worst. Cracks happen, kind of like ActiveRain blogs.
I'll presume that you have read previous lessons.
So far, we've discussed
- curing and shrinkage cracks in the foundation stem wall in the garage (Lesson One and Lesson Two),
- cracks in the garage floor (Lesson Three),
- cracks in the foundation stem wall of the house proper, the living area (Lesson Four),
- cracks in raised foundations with crawl spaces (Lesson Five and Lesson Six), and
- water (Lesson Seven)
Let's look at exterior cracks. We'll start with exterior walls covered in stucco because that's what we mainly have here in San Diego.
It is important to remember that stucco is not a load-bearing material. That job is done by the studs in your walls. So for the most part, cracks in the exterior stucco are not of a structural concern. However, depending on their severity, they can either cause problems or indicate problems.
A proper application of stucco is a rather complicated process, and things that are complicated usually take time, and since time is money, too many builders take various shortcuts to save time and money. The type of stucco we normally use here in San Diego is a three-coat process:
As you can see, there is a finish coat, a brown coat, a base coat, waterproof building paper (tar paper), and wall sheathing, so it should be very difficult for water to get through everything and into your house. However, all it takes is one crack and a little work each day by Mother and Father Nature — rain, sun, cold, heat, etc. That small crack becomes a larger crack, allowing cracks to develop in all the base coats, eventually damaging the tar paper, and once that happens and the wood sheathing gets wet, well, "Houston, we have a problem."
It is for that reason that I always recommend having exterior stucco cracks patched and sealed against the weather. Put aside some money each month into a stucco maintenance fund and then, each year when you set your clocks back, have a stucco professional come out and inspect your stucco and do any patching and repairing that is necessary to get you through the winter rainy season.
Most of the stucco cracks you will see are diagonal cracks that start at the corner of a door or window, like this one:
Yes, it looks ugly, and people seem to hate cracks, but if you remember that our house will flex, contract, and expand in response to wind, rain, snow, heat, and cold, well, cracks are going to happen.
Those diagonal cracks can go up or down, and they can even connect with other cracks coming from other doors and windows. They rarely are of a structural concern, but if the sidewalk is also cracked, the foundation is cracked, and both the interior and exterior walls are cracked, it could be a sign of soil conditions that might need to be corrected. Of course, here in San Diego it could also be the result of an earthquake!
Other types of cracks that you might see in stucco:
- Straight vertical crack — usually at a junction of walls that were built at different times, such as with an addition to the house.
- Straight horizontal crack at about the ten-foot level in a two-story home — usually the junction between the first-story ceiling and second-story floor. Modern ceilings in multi-story structures have a space between them where we install electrical wiring, air ducts, plumbing, etc., and that space is framed slightly differently from the walls themselves because it's a much smaller space.
- Straight horizontal crack about one to three feet above the ground — usually the junction between the foundation and floor on a house with a raised foundation.
- Stairstepped crack — usually a poor application of stucco over a brick or cinder block wall.
You'll notice that I use the word "usually," which means, uh, usually. There are always exceptions, so if you are unsure or uncomfortable with what one person tells you, seek additional opinions from other qualified professionals.
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Chris Smith CSSBB
Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage