Why Do I Have Cracks in My Ceiling? (6 Types of Cracks to Look Out For)

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The origin of ceiling cracks can be difficult to decipher, especially because they come in all different sizes, patterns, and colorations. As a concerned homeowner, you need to be able to pinpoint the exact cause to execute the correct repair. 

We know that diagnosing ceiling cracks can be a frustrating process, so we are here to help.

Dalinghaus Construction Inc. has been in the foundation industry for decades. Collectively, we have over a hundred years of combined foundation diagnostic and repair experience. After servicing thousands of foundations – we’re certain we can help you pinpoint where those ceiling cracks are coming from (whether you choose to work with us or not in the event that your ceiling cracks are caused by foundation damage.)

After reading this article, you will be able to diagnose common ceiling cracks and determine their specific features, causes, and the average seriousness of each fissure. So you’ll know the right repair at the right time – 

To give you the basics, we’ll cover:

  •   Hairline ceiling cracks
  •   Straight ceiling cracks
  •   Yellow or brown ceiling cracks
  •   Spiderweb ceiling cracks
  •   Cracks between the ceiling and wall
  •   Bowed ceiling and large ceiling cracks

So, let’s crack on –

ceiling cracks

6 Common Household Ceiling Cracks 

Hairline Ceiling Cracks

Hairline ceiling cracks are tiny, thin fissures that almost look like someone painted hair to the drywall. Hairline cracks are typically caused by plaster or drywall mud issues, not the drywall itself. Extreme fluctuations in humidity and temperature can result in plaster expansion and shrinkage (in direct correlation with the water absorption). 

The continuous expansion and shrinkage weaken the adhesive properties of the drywall mud.   

In addition, when a ceiling has multiple layers of paint, the odds of crazing – those fine hairline cracks – go up. Multiple layers of paint can also result in a scaly texture on your ceiling, similar to crocodile skin.

While hairline ceiling cracks might be an eyesore, they are not indicative of serious structural damage. They are usually addressed easily enough with a fresh coat of paint. Temperature and humidity control can help deter future hairline cracks from occurring.   

Straight Ceiling Cracks

Straight ceiling cracks run in a straight line, so straight it almost looks like they were applied with a ruler. Generally, these cracks are straight because they follow the straight edge of the drywall tape along the drywall joint. Ceiling cracks tend to be fine and can generally be attributed to an insufficient amount of plaster used during the drywall installation. The drywall tape is unable to properly adhere to the joints and peels away due to a lack of strength.   

Foundation settlement can exacerbate poor tape jobs in addition to high humidity.

In short, straight lines are almost always the result of an incompetent drywall tape application. A professional can quickly address this by patch-and-painting.  Straight ceiling cracks are not usually ominous or suggestive signs of serious structural damage, just human error.   

ceiling cracks

Yellow or Brown Ceiling Cracks

Yellow, brown, and discolored ceiling cracks almost always point to water damage – whether it’s from a roof leak or a busted pipe. Depending on how fresh the leak is, these ceiling cracks may even be damp to the touch.

With yellow or brown ceiling cracks, it is imperative to determine the source of the leak and address it before repairing your drywall.

Discolored ceiling cracks generally are not a sign of serious structural damage, but unmitigated moistures can create a whole host of problems – mold, rotted drywall, and spalling (depending on the location and extent of the leak). You can repaint over these cracks if they’re small enough, larger cracks may require professional drywall replacement.     

ceiling cracks

Spiderweb Ceiling Cracks

Spiderweb ceiling cracks branch out in a spiderweb pattern. Spiderweb ceiling cracks often signify foundation settlement (denoting compromised structural integrity).

When a home settles, it settles unevenly. This uneven settlement exerts undue pressure on the home’s foundation, which transfers this pressure up into the framing of the home and the drywall. Other foundation settlement signs to look for in addition to spiderweb ceiling cracks include:

  •   Out of square window and door frames
  •   Sloped floors

To learn more about the signs and symptoms of foundation settlement, read our article 5 Signs of Foundation Issues.

If your ceiling spiderweb cracks are smaller than 1/16th of an inch, there probably isn’t much to be worried about. Occasionally, drywall mud is applied too thinly and can result in spiderweb ceiling cracks after drying out.

Cracks Between the Ceiling and Wall

Ceiling cracks that seem to pull away from the wall are typically the result of truss uplift. Trusses act as the frame for the roof and ceiling and help determine its shape. Ceiling trusses are designed to be flexible and adapt to humidity and temperature fluctuations. Occasionally, usually due to extreme wind or weather fluctuations, the trusses can pull away from the ceiling.

This leaves an unsightly gap between your wall and ceiling. This gap is typically due to the incorrect attachment of the ceiling to a non-load-bearing wall. This is a more serious ceiling crack that needs to be dealt with by professionals, such as a construction company.

Bowed Ceiling and Large Ceiling Cracks

If your ceiling is bowing and scarred with large, obtrusive cracks down the middle – there is most likely severe structural damage. The structural integrity could be compromised by extreme water damage, an inordinate amount of weight on the floor above the ceiling, or foundation settlement.

Foundation settlement can exert too much stress on the trusses and framing above your ceiling, causing your ceiling to warp and the sheetrock to crack. In order to determine if your foundation is settling, reach out to a foundation repair specialist near you for a foundation inspection.

Check out our blog – Vertical Wall Cracks: Causes And Repair Options

Call the Right Repairmen or Repair the Cracks Yourself

In this article, you learned how to identify common ceiling cracks, determine their likely source of origin, and how seriously you should treat each fissure. This information will help guide you to whether you need to hire a professional or fix it yourself.

Where there are ceiling cracks, other cracks probably aren’t far behind, which can point to foundation issues or other problems that need to be addressed. Educate yourself. To learn more about sheetrock cracks in general, in your ceiling or walls, read our article Top 5 Primary Reasons for Sheetrock Cracks.

Are you worried that your ceiling cracks are symptomatic of foundation settlement? Or perhaps you just want to rule foundation settlement out? If you live in Southern California or Arizona and would like to book a free foundation inspection, click the link below –


Brian Dalinghaus

Brian is one of the Co-Founders of Dalinghaus Construction. He has been in the foundation repair industry since 2005. During his career, he has been associated with helping over 4,000 homes and structures throughout California and Arizona.

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