Ceiling/wall paint crack - Should I be worried?

7 Feb 2013
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United Kingdom
Apologies for being a typical newbie and steaming in with an awkward and lengthy question.

We have a 1907 mid-terraced house where the downstairs ceilings appear to be textured-finish plasterboard between beams. We initially thought the beams were load-bearing joists but it's been pointed out to us that there's filler between some beams and the plasterboard, which indicates not. The beams run in the same direction as the upstairs floorboards.

Recently I've noticed - and I'm not sure if it's because they're new, or because I've become paranoid - cracks in the paintwork around the point where the beams meet the party wall. Some of the cracks continue into the ceiling itself. The photo is of the worst one - for scale there is about 75mm of beam below the ceiling, so the crack is about a fingernails' width. Because of the thick paper/paint it's not possible to ascertain whether the crack goes into the beam itself.

We had a survey done 2 years ago on purchase which did not indicate any movement but the house is on clay soil. The one older exterior door has always stuck, more so in the winter, and is due to be replaced - it requires a sufficiently hefty slam that the vibration is felt upstairs. The cracks are worse nearest to where an internal load-bearing wall has been removed and replaced with a structural beam, we think in the 1970s.

Do I need an opinion from a structural engineer or should I watch and wait? When it comes to redecorating, can this be taped/caulked?

Should a surveyor be able to determine whether the beams are decorative or structural? If the former, I'm tempted to take them out and redo the whole ceiling with some kind of coving.[/img]
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Forgot to say, no wall cracks. The only other visible cracking is around the upstairs interior door above the RSJ, between the ceiling and plasterboard wall on a downstairs stud.
First of all, do not remove the beam. If the indications are the floorboards run in the same direction, then the joists would definately be passing over / up to the beam. Even if not, you need an expert to look at them.

As for the cracks, they are not major for a house of your age. At this point in time I would suggest you caulk up and decorate but keep a note on where thay are.

Small cracks can appear in any house at almost any time. once in a while you get very small tremors even in the UK. That can be enough to pop a crack or two. Even extreme conditions such as drought etc can cause movement.

The issue is only if the cracks continue to open up that you should have any real concern. Thats why I suggest you take a note or better keep the photo(s) handy.

Edit: That crack is almost certainly around the beam where it goes into the wall, not a crack in the beam itself.
Thanks - so it's likely the joists run perpendicular to the visible beam, which is attached to the joists?
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Thanks - so it's likely the joists run perpendicular to the visible beam, which is attached to the joists?

If the floor boards above run in the same direction as the beam then the joists to the floor above will run perpendicular to the boards (and so also to the beam).

What is attached to the "beam" is from my point of view an unknown. The dangers of a forum are working with only the information that is presented. So I would always advise on any potential structural item that you leave well alone until it has been seen by some-one who can give
advise from an actual iinspection.

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