Horizontal crack all the way round the house

Hi,
My mum's house is about 50 years old and she has lives there for the last 25 years.
The house has horizontal cracks about 12 inches below the upstairs ceiling running round about 75% of the house. It also has hairline cracks from the lintels to the ceiling on all the upstairs windows. These cracks have been present since they bought the house 25 years ago and they get filled every time the house is redecorated, however they eventually reappear - presumably indicating very slight ongoing movement.
See photos at http://www.rimfall.demon.co.uk/crack.htm
At one end of the lintel over the window of the master bedroom the crack is now rather more than a hairline - about 3mm wide.
I know this isn't serious enough to need instant attention, however it is significantly more than the hairline we were expecting. The wallpaper is about 20 years old, so this crack presumably represents 20 years movement.
My question is, should we be getting a surveyor in to look at it now, before we decorate, or should we just fill it with Polyfilla and see how it looks in another 10 years.
On the one hand we don't want unnecessary expense and hassle, on the other hand mum doesn't want to have difficulty selling the house in 10 years time.
Does anyone have any thoughts, opinions or experiences to help us decide?
TIA, Martin Wiseman
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|Are there any cracks outside?. We've got them in our place to some small extent and some hairline cracks are quite normal. That larger crack looks rather odd, it looks as if the underlying plaster is bowing out rather then a crack appearing which would be more even along its length as it were.
Do any of the neighbours report the same problems?...
--
Tony Sayer


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Hi,

There are hairline cracks showing in the external walls in other places lower down, however I don't know if this particular crack is matched in the outside wall - I've not been up a ladder to look.

I don't think it's just the plaster although I will get mum to see exactly how deep that crack is. I was assuming that it goes all the way through the inner leaf of bricks. Bear is mind that the picture shows the crack after I have cut away some of the top coat plaster to expose the underlying crack. It may well be even along it's length - it's just that I haven't torn off the paper and raked out the plaster evenly.
However, I suppose I should have mentioned that there does appear to have been some front to back movement in the worst places - i.e. the plaster either side of the crack is not in the same plane.

The houses are all individual and build at widely differing times so direct comparison may not be too helpful. We are not aware of anyone having exactly the same problem, although we do suspect the (older terraced) house next door may have had some work done to the foundations.
If it is relevant, the house is detached and build on sandy soil.
Martin.
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This might tell you something! I would hang plum lines from near ceiling height from both sides of this crack and measure the distance the 'bob hangs away from the wall at floor level.
Arthur.
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Hi,
I've added one more photo to the end of my web page, this shows the outside of the area where the big crack is.
http://www.rimfall.demon.co.uk/crack.htm
There is no evidence of any problems on the outside, although this has made me realise that the horizontal crack is level with the soffit. This has to be significant, however I'm not sufficiently familiar with roof construction to know what is directly behind/above the soffit.
I'm going to hack off some of the plaster around this crack at the weekend to have a closer look at the brick/lintel.
Martin.
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A friend has a a vertical crack about 3mm wide from floor to ceiling on his landing. He says it has been there for years, he just can't be bothered to do anything about it. There is no evidence on the outside just like your Martin. I think his is due to subsidence, the house being built on top of old mine workinings, but no evidence of a crack downstairs. -- troubleinstore http://www.tuppencechange.co.uk Personal mail can be sent via website. Email address in posting is ficticious and is intended as spam trap
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Martin Wiseman wrote:

Are there or were there any trees nearby?
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There are quite a few mature trees in the garden (the few remaining conifers being the only really big ones). There use to be more, however these have been gradually thinned over the past 20 years. All are at least a driveway's width from the house.
Martin.
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=================There's a strong possibility that the house has wooden lintels. If this is the case then periodic shrinkage / expansion would probably explain the large crack. Other cracks may also be due to movement in the wooden wall plate which forms the join between roof timbers and brick walls. Plaster often begins to fall away from the wall plate especially at the joint because it adheres less well to timber than bricks.
It would be worth doing a bit of exploratory probing near one of the cracks to see if they are associated with the natural movement of the wooden wall plate / lintels.
Cic.
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Hi,

I thought the lintels were concrete because I remember dad swearing at them whilst trying to drill holes to fix a curtain rail without the aid of a hammer drill, however I will certainly investigate as it's a nice theory which would go a long way towards explaining things.
Martin.
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is
==============Well, I don't think concrete lintels would shrink but the bit about the wall plate still applies. As far as I know they're always wood!
Cic.
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On Tue, 17 Aug 2004 21:21:46 +0100, Martin Wiseman wrote:

Maybe the concrete lintels were a bit on the smooth side, so the plaster hasn't stuck too well. Also possible that the screws holding the pelmet up are too short, and are gripping the plaster rather than the underlying concrete lintel. This would lead to the pelmet pulling the plaster off the wall.
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I'd give the insurance a call, and let them send out a surveyor.
Dave

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It wont be saleable like that, not unless you lop a huge amount off the price. Going the insurance route means a record of structural problems, again most buyers wont want to know. The wall may or may not stabilise if all the cracks in the underlying wall are repaired properly - not just a polyfilla job. Means hacking off plaster etc and remortaring the cracked joints, or something similar. If this doesnt stabilise it much bigger work could be needed, but in most cases it does stabilise. Its common in old housing.
It might be wise to get it assessed for safety just in case.
I'm not a struc expert, this is just what Ive found out so far, so this is solely for academic discussion, and nothing more.
Regards, NT
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What type of house is it? ie a traditional semi or terrace etc
Is it traditional (brick outer block innner) construction with tiled hipped or gabled roof?
Are there cracks to the external wall?
Is all the plaster hollow, or just adjacent to the cracks?
The horizontal cracks normally correspond to the mortar joints, and may be due to some expansion, differing material in the wall behind, or the top of the wall being knocked when built or being moved by the thrust of the roof rafters. But could just be natural shrinkage
It is curious how the crack returns aound the internal corner - this seems to indicate an issue with the wall behind the plaster.
Rust decay or expansion/movement of wall ties can cause horizontal cracking.
The cracks to differnt lintels show the same pattern - ie from below the bearing and then traveling diagonally upwards. This could be some rotation, or expansion of the lintel, or the lintel being knocked at the construction time and cracking the mortar. This assumes a traditional lintel construction.
The cracks don't look too severe so could be just monitored. If normal expansion/contraction then they should not get much wider. Also expansion/contraction cracks will always reappear and this does not mean movement. A flexible [mastic] filler may be preferable
However if the plaster has blown, then if there is a problem with the wall behind, then the wall could move without cracking the plaster further.
It is difficult to give a proper assessment via a newsgroup as there could be a number of influencing factors to consider or discount.
dg
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Hi,
Thanks to everyone who has made suggestions so far.
In response to various questions which have been posted since last night:

The house is detached with traditional cavity wall construction (brick for both leaves of the external walls) and a tiled hipped roof.

There is at least one hairline crack in the external walls at ground level, I don't know about the first floor level as I've not been up a ladder to look (and don't wish to because I don't own a ladder and hate being up them).

Generally the plaster is sound although there are localised areas around the crack where it sounds hollow.
**********
>If you are near Manchester, I can recommend an engineer who would
Unfortunately not, we are in west Norfolk.
**********
>Now, the crack around the wall is perplexing (as is the colour >scheme!). Is the ceiling to wall joint OK? Have any works been >done to this house? Has it been re-roofed? I notice in your >picture there's a step in height for the crack as it approaches >the corner. Can you supply any more photos. of this crack, and >the corresponding outside?
The colour scheme look less bizarre when you see the whole room, honest!!
The ceiling to wall joint looks fine. There is no evidence of cracking there.
The house has not been re-roofed, however it has had replacement windows and does have a loft conversion. Whilst I am not oblivious to the possibility of the loft conversion being suspect, I must stress that the cracks were evident before the loft conversion. The loft conversion was done in the early 80's, some 5 to 7 years after they moved in.
I think the corner I have photographed is the only point where the crack changes level, generally it is at the higher level. NB: It difficult to be absolutely sure of this since two of the rooms are wallpapered and the crack is less obvious.
I'll see if I can get some more photos at the weekend.
Martin.
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You should really have a structural engineer carry out an inspection.
Whilst it is easy to say that it has been OK for 50 years, so it will probably be OK for another 50 years, I have seen houses which were there one day, and collapsed the next.
Now that you have raised the subject, you should do something about it, or you may never forgive yourself.
If you are near Manchester, I can recommend an engineer who would carry out a visual inspection for around 200. Elsewhere, get a few quotes as I have seen firms charge as much as 500 for an initial inspection.
--
Richard Faulkner

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I have never known of a domestic property collapsing 'just like that'. Any houses that suddenly collapse invariablly have had, or are having structural aterations, or are above mining areas etc.
If a crack appears suddenly, or gets progressively larger over a relatively short time period, then that would be concerning. However those cracks mentioned are generally historic.
A domestic house is generally self-supporting, and is of such a basic construction that instant collapse is very unlikely.
Walls visiblly out of plumb, or with big differences in alignment of the surfaces either side of a crack should be checked though.
The problem with engaging a surveyor or engineer, is that you should choose one who is not only experienced, but who will be able to actually give you a definitive diagnosis and if required, remedial work and likely cost. Many will recommend further investigation or tests, and will be affraid of actually telling you what the problem is in case they get it wrong and you then sue them for negligence.
I would recommend contacting the Association of Building Engineers http://www.abe.org.uk/ for a suitable surveyor. Members are involved in the 'technology of building' and well placed between the RICS surveyors (too general, not structural) and the ICE engineers ( too structural but possibly lilttle experience 'in context').
Further info: www.RICS.org.uk www.ICE.org.uk
dg
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Rare, but it happens.

Agreed, but there have been lots of:
"it may be this or that" 's
"do this or that" 's
etc.
and the question cannot be answered here.
Further investigation may be necessary - remove a few bricks so I can see what is underneath, or dig a hole so I can see the foundation, etc.
I would suggest that doing nothing or diy are not options, and an expert should be engaged.

--
Richard Faulkner

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On 18 Aug 2004 03:11:04 -0700, a particular chimpanzee named snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (dg) randomly hit the keyboard and produced:

An MRICS Building Surveyor is no different than a 'Building Engineer' with the ABE. Obviously, these are different than a valuation surveyor or such like, but certainly in the Building Control sphere, the two memberships are interchangeable.
--
Hugo Nebula
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