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Thank you for stopping by. Every month 2-10 Home Buyers Warranty (2-10 HBW) will be featuring an article written by our Risk Manager, Underwriting Manager and Principal Engineer, Walt Keaveny. With over 30 years of diverse engineering experience, Walt is particularly focused on the subject of structural claims and technical risk management. We are grateful to have his expertise in the home building industry, and he is available as a resource to all of our builder-members. Download his articles today and see for yourself why this industry-leading content is helping builders do what they do best – build beautifully sound homes across the nation.

Walt's Corner

Misconceptions of the Common Crack

by Walt Keaveny, Risk Manager, MS, PE, PG

Are you concerned about cracks in your house or building? Cracks can be unsightly, but are they an indication of serious structural distress or possibly an unsafe condition? Cracks appear in brittle materials such as concrete, sheet rock, tile, wood, stone, brick and stucco. Structural distress does cause cracks, but the vast majority of cracks are not structural in nature.


Cracks are most commonly caused by expansion and contraction of building materials due to changes in moisture content and temperature. These types of cracks do not represent a structural concern. Concrete, mortar, grout and stucco can shrink and crack for months after construction as they slowly dry and lose moisture. Shrinkage cracks in concrete floor slabs are expected and very common and do not compromise structural integrity. Wood framing, wood floors and trim can also shrink as the woods dries and becomes acclimated to lower inside humidity.

Temperature changes cause construction materials to expand and contract daily and seasonally. For example, the temperature difference between the exterior and interior sides of a wall can cause as much as 1/2” of bowing stress daily. The temperature in an attic can fluctuate daily by as much as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Cracking is expected and that is why builders use construction joints in materials such as concrete, brick, stucco and tile. The joints allow for stress relief in the form of controlled cracking along a pre-determined alignment. Cracks often emanate from doors and windows since these wall openings act as large construction joints to relieve stresses.


It is important to note that all foundations on soil move to some degree. Soils that support the foundation may consolidate and settle due to the weight of the house, they may shrink and swell due to soil moisture fluctuations or they may heave due to frost activity. Most foundations are designed for up to 1” of soil movement; however, in highly expansive soil areas, slab foundations can be designed for up to about 4” of soil movement.

When the foundation moves, the entire structure moves with it causing some degree of racking, distortion and cracking. The foundation should be designed to maintain structural integrity as it moves, but some cracking is inevitable. In new homes and buildings, it takes time for soils to adjust to the new foundation and landscape irrigation, and that is why builders prefer to wait until near the end of the typical one-year workmanship warranty period to make any repairs. Cosmetic repair of common cracks is considered routine long-term home maintenance.


The vast majority of cracks are cosmetic, but how can you tell if a crack does represent a structural concern? As a general engineer’s guideline, cracks that are hairline up to 1/8” in width are considered negligible to slight, 3/16” – 9/16” are moderate, 9/16” – 1” are severe and over 1” are very severe (Forensic Geotechnical and Foundation Engineering, R. W. Day, 2011). Cracks alone are not necessarily indicative of a structural concern. Cracks are more likely to be a structural concern if accompanied by other indications of structural distress, such as inoperable doors and windows or excessively sloping floors and surfaces. Cracks with significant vertical displacement across the face of the crack may indicate a structural concern. Cracks in basement walls, especially horizontal cracks, accompanied by bowing or leaning of the wall, are cause for concern.

If in doubt about the seriousness of cracks, retain the services of a qualified professional structural engineer, licensed in your state. The engineer will make observations, take photos and gather measurements. A floor elevation survey may be conducted to evaluate structural deflection (bending) and tilt. The measurements and survey may be used as reference points, if needed, to compare to any future measurements and survey. The engineer may recommend remedial measures such as drainage improvements, landscape adjustments, rain gutters, foundation watering or foundation repair. The best time to make any cosmetic repairs is when foundation movement has ceased. If the home is covered by a third-party structural warranty, the warranty company has qualified warranty administration personnel that can answer questions over the phone.


Additional Articles By Walt

Water may just be a Builder’s worst enemy. Learn best practices to avoid damage caused by rain water.

In most cases building homes without a geotechnical investigation is like being blindfolded and swinging at a piñata. You can’t see what you’re doing and hope for the best. Learn the benefits of a geotechnical investigation and when one is needed.

Learn why you get what you inspect, not what you expect.

Most homebuilders can’t correctly identify the No. 1 cause of structural defects. Can you? Learn how to easily avoid this major problem.

Despite a Builder’s best efforts, unforeseen problems often occur. In fact, 51% of inspections fail the first time. Learn why problems occur and how to protect your liability.

High-profile multi-family building failures are commonly in the news. Learn best practices to avoid financial and reputation damage.

The remodeling industry is booming. Increase your market share by differentiating yourself from the competition.

Early development (E.D.) of a structural claim can indicate a severe and expensive problem. Learn what causes E.D. and how to avoid it.

Learn how to settle construction disputes in a manner that is fast, fair, cost-effective, and equitable for all parties

We know that seasoned home builders have all experienced “nightmare” projects over their careers. Learn how to protect yourself and sleep well at night.

About the Author

Mr. Keaveny is the Risk Manager, Underwriting Manager, and Principal Engineer for the leading new home warranty company, 2-10 Home Buyers Warranty. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Geological Engineering and a Masters in Geotechnical Engineering. He is licensed as both a Professional Engineer and a Professional Geoscientist, and has over 30 years of diverse engineering experience. He serves on the Construction Performance Standards Committee for the Texas Association of Builders, and is an invited speaker and author. Mr. Keaveny's work on the subject of structural claims has been published in major newspapers and has drawn international interest.


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