Attic ceiling cracks in newer home cause concern
Dear Angie: I just noticed quite a few cracks on my attic ceiling. They're both horizontal and vertical. It's been raining quite a bit here in Los Angeles, but there doesn't appear to be any water leaking, nor does it look like there has been any leaking. The attic is finished so the ceiling is drywall that's been painted. My question is, who do I call to check it out? A contractor? A home inspector? I bought the house a little over a year ago and the inspection was pretty flawless but as a first-time homeowner I'm a bit concerned. — Andrew K., Burbank, Calif.
Dear Andrew: I would first contact your home inspector. Some home inspectors will offer their clients free consultation on a property the inspector previously inspected. Your inspector should be able to re-inspect the area and advise you on your best course of action.
Because you purchased the house recently, you may have a warranty that could cover the repairs. If you’re unsure if you have a warranty, review your home purchase documents or check with your real estate agent, who may have included a warranty as part of your purchase.
If you have a warranty, read it carefully to understand what exactly it covers. You may have to use a contractor the warranty company recommends. Even if that’s the case, I recommend that you do your own research to ensure the company’s approved contractors are reputable before you authorize repairs.
If you find the warranty company’s contractors aren’t up to par, take your case to the company and see if it will approve a service professional with a better reputation. Having forewarned the warranty company of your concerns, you may be better positioned to have any inadequate work redone if necessary.
As to what could be causing the cracks, there are a number of possibilities. Cracks can happen because of normal settling of the house, or movements in the earth — like earthquakes — and are actually very common in Los Angeles-area homes.
The condition you describe could be due to improper ventilation. You may not have a dripping, visible leak, but there could be a small leak that just dampens the area between the drywall and roof sheathing and is not visible on the drywall. There could just be excessive moisture in that area. In wood structures, if enclosed areas are not properly vented, excessive moisture can result, which can expand and contract the wood frame members and lead to cracking.
Another possibility is that the drywall was not installed properly and nails instead of drywall screws were used, which could cause the drywall to shift.
Lastly, the cracks could be forming because plaster — which can crack easily — was used instead of drywall. If you have no luck with your home inspector or real estate agent, contact a qualified drywall contractor, who should be able to assess if the damage is related to any of the above issues.