Like a squeaky floor or a loose lockset, even the smallest drywall crack or nail pop can be cause for concern for new homeowners or prospective buyers, triggering service callbacks or resulting in lost sales. Sure, you can try to explain those blemishes away with talk of “normal settling,” which may in fact be true, but folks on the fence about buying a home at all look at those fissures and dimples as red flags of poor construction quality and perhaps something much more problematic and costly—and not worth the risk. “You have to set the expectation early in the sales process that these and other cosmetic issues are going to occur,” says Alan Mooney, president of Criterium Engineers, a national construction consulting firm based in Portland, Maine. But he also encourages builders who experience recurring drywall cracks and pops to root out the causes. “You want to get a true understanding, not make assumptions.” Those could vary, as do repair and mitigation tactics, but Mooney says the most important fix is patching up the relationship with a homeowner. “Their expectation is that you won’t respond,” he says. “If you do, and in a timely fashion, you’re 90 percent of the way to fixing the problem,” and probably rescuing a referral.
Cracks and Pops
Drywall cracks and nail pops occur at framing joints, primarily around openings and corners. Causes range from foundation or soil settling to lumber components reacting to seasonal climate changes and misaligned or improperly installed framing members, support, fasteners, and/or connectors. Deep-seated reasons, often indicated by diagonal cracks (as opposed to straight along a framing joint) may indicate a failing (or failed) foundation, improperly engineered framing loads, and truss uplift.
Use a utility knife to cut a narrow V-shaped groove along the length of the crack. Blow out debris and drywall dust to create a clean cavity. If the crack is along a framing member, drill screws on either side of the crack into the solid wood behind it, each set about 6 inches apart along the crack, with the heads countersunk. Bridge the entire groove with a fiber-mesh joint tape, and apply a hot-mud compound with a 10-inch taping knife on either side of the tape, covering it and leaving a 20-inch “patch.” Feather and sand/texture to match the surrounding finish.
Cosmetic cracks and pops are almost inevitable, but you can go a long way to reduce or even prevent them by using high-quality, straight framing lumber that is allowed to acclimate before being installed or covered by sheathing, making sure framing and drywall joints are aligned, tight, and properly secured (the latter not allowed to bridge framing members without blocking), removing shims around windows and doors (allowing them to shift a little in their openings), and properly installing metal framing connectors, as needed.