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  1. #1
    Tony Klemencic's Avatar
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    Default Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    I am a first time home buyer and I just signed a sales agreement on a home. My dad is a contractor and has been in the business for 20-25 years. We walked though the house and found that the old plaster walls are cracked in 80-90% of the rooms. I asked him if he thought it was something structural. He went in the basement and looked over the stone foundation and said "Definitely not a structural issue". He said it is probably due to moisture (whether from plumbing, leaky roof or other). The house is a brick structure with, as said before, an stone foundation. In order for me to get my mortgage, I need to have someone put it in writing that there are no structural issues with the house. My realtor mentioned a structural engineer, but man are they expensive. I already hired one for another house I was looking at and ended up not getting. What would qualify someone's opinion to be credible for the mortgage company? Do I have any other options? Thank you in advance, I appreciate any and all advice you can provide.

    -Tony

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    How about a plaster contractor?

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  3. #3
    Ted Menelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Klemencic View Post
    I am a first time home buyer and I just signed a sales agreement on a home. My dad is a contractor and has been in the business for 20-25 years. We walked though the house and found that the old plaster walls are cracked in 80-90% of the rooms. I asked him if he thought it was something structural. He went in the basement and looked over the stone foundation and said "Definitely not a structural issue". He said it is probably due to moisture (whether from plumbing, leaky roof or other). The house is a brick structure with, as said before, an stone foundation. In order for me to get my mortgage, I need to have someone put it in writing that there are no structural issues with the house. My realtor mentioned a structural engineer, but man are they expensive. I already hired one for another house I was looking at and ended up not getting. What would qualify someone's opinion to be credible for the mortgage company? Do I have any other options? Thank you in advance, I appreciate any and all advice you can provide.

    -Tony
    A foundation repair company could be relatively low cost and should be able to give you the information the bank needs. The only concern with the who would be.....are they going to find a lot of concerns that need addressing.

    If it is a stone foundation then there can be a lot of movement to the foundation that goes un noted. If it were a concrete foundation and you had all those cracks in all those rooms I guarantee that you would see cracks all thru that foundation.

    I do not care how old the home is. If there are cracks in every single room the home has been moving all over the place. I have seen homes with serious age on them in all three states I have lived in and many more states I have worked in. If the home has a stable foundation and you do not live in the world of earth quakes with relentless tremors then there should be little to no cracking going on with the exception of the ceiling loosening its grip over time and cracking here and there but not in ever room.

    I would go with the structural engineer. A foundation company won't see much with a stone foundation. An engineer that really does his job well will tell you what is going on and why and give you a recommended repair for just the structural end.

    I doubt anyone will walk into that home and find nothing structurally. I hate to say that right off but that is my opinion.

    You can go into most old neighborhoods and go from one house to the next and find varying degrees of concerns. The ones put together well and even a greater concern, maintained well over time will show next to nothing. One put together well but no proper maintenance over time will show more concerns. One not put together well and not maintained well at all will be close to or beyond the point of repair


  4. #4
    Tony Klemencic's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Quote Originally Posted by Gunnar Alquist View Post
    How about a plaster contractor?
    Do you think the bank would deem him/her credible enough to make the call?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Menelly View Post
    A foundation repair company could be relatively low cost and should be able to give you the information the bank needs. The only concern with the who would be.....are they going to find a lot of concerns that need addressing.

    If it is a stone foundation then there can be a lot of movement to the foundation that goes un noted. If it were a concrete foundation and you had all those cracks in all those rooms I guarantee that you would see cracks all thru that foundation.

    I do not care how old the home is. If there are cracks in every single room the home has been moving all over the place. I have seen homes with serious age on them in all three states I have lived in and many more states I have worked in. If the home has a stable foundation and you do not live in the world of earth quakes with relentless tremors then there should be little to no cracking going on with the exception of the ceiling loosening its grip over time and cracking here and there but not in ever room.

    I would go with the structural engineer. A foundation company won't see much with a stone foundation. An engineer that really does his job well will tell you what is going on and why and give you a recommended repair for just the structural end.

    I doubt anyone will walk into that home and find nothing structurally. I hate to say that right off but that is my opinion.

    You can go into most old neighborhoods and go from one house to the next and find varying degrees of concerns. The ones put together well and even a greater concern, maintained well over time will show next to nothing. One put together well but no proper maintenance over time will show more concerns. One not put together well and not maintained well at all will be close to or beyond the point of repair

    I appreciate your in-depth opinion. I have one question though. If the structure was moving all around, there would almost definitely be loose or cracked mortar between the bricks. I could not find one crack in the brick or mortar all around the house. Is it possible to have the house shift to the point where the walls are cracking, but the brick work is still in mint condition? That is what's puzzling me.


  5. #5
    Ted Menelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Klemencic View Post
    Do you think the bank would deem him/her credible enough to make the call?




    I appreciate your in-depth opinion. I have one question though. If the structure was moving all around, there would almost definitely be loose or cracked mortar between the bricks. I could not find one crack in the brick or mortar all around the house. Is it possible to have the house shift to the point where the walls are cracking, but the brick work is still in mint condition? That is what's puzzling me.
    Well, there are a couple points to that. I have seen cracks all over brick and none in the home and I have also seen cracks all over drywall or plaster and none in the brick.

    The brick may have been professional pointed and mortar matched and you just wont see it. As far as cracking from excess moisture I can agree with that to a point but with out movement there would be more deterioration of the plaster and not so much cracking.

    I have seen plaster on walls in abandon buildings. Obviously no heat and air at all and not see a crack in the walls plaster. Again it is more common to get cracks in the ceiling as the plaster starts losing some of it's grip to the wood or metal lathe.

    Now if you took a hammer and just started hitting the plaster here and thee in the abandon building you might see it start crumbling. If the plaster in the home is still hard and not deteriorating I wood more than likely n ot attribute it to excess moisture.


    Again, do not take any of our suggestions on here so literl. We are not there and do not see other possible signs that would give away what the cause may be. That is why I said in the end that it would be better to be on the safe side with the engineer. I doubt, but it could happen, that the engineer is going to walk out of there with out something on his paper work other than appears to be normal settling and or excess moisture.....but it could say that. If he writes up excess moisture your lender may want that remedied before they sign the note or at least have money in escrow for the repairs.

    I hate to be so blunt about the opinion but from past experience and then not getting the full visual I cannot give you and I guess no one can give you the ultimate answer with out the full visual and or measurements around the home.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Lath and plaster walls - it is not uncommon to see cracking and falling plaster, there does not have to be foundation issues to have the plaster crack.

    The cracking could be the result of, age, detached lath, non insulated walls, poor plaster, poor spacing of lath, leakage, vibrations, thin coat of plaster....

    If this house is historical in nature I would contact your local heritage board for recommendations on who may be able to render a proper professional opinion.


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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Tony,

    From what you're describing, it sounds like normal stuff. Plaster, unlike drywall, is rigid - it'll likely crack before it bends. All homes will experience some expansion and shrinkage in the wood framing. A problem crack will generally have one or more "companion" cracks elsewhere in the home. I'll bet that the cracks you saw were random in the home - no apparent pattern to them. I looked at a 110 yr old house on Monday - field stone foundation that was in very good condition. The brick exterior had a little cracking but nothing substantial. Cracks were also on the interior walls. But nothing really tied together and I considered the home to be quite stable.

    If you have some contractor come in and look at things remember - he has a service to sell and may not be as unbiased as you'd like. A structural engineer may be an unnecessary expense. Try to find a home inspector who has some real mileage under his belt - someone who does this for a living and has long list of continuing education credits behind him.

    Eric Barker, ACI
    Lake Barrington, IL

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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    As Raymond mentioned there is nothing about old cracked plaster that needs to indicate that there are structural problems. The plaster has lost its key. Could be from moisture, movement, abuse over the years, a winter or two without heat, poor keying to start with, etc.
    I've been hired many times by owners who need paper for the mortgage company for various types of things. Not a big deal. Call some HI's and hire the right one. You can hire a guy to do a full report or someone to do a limited / item specific report. Don't hire a newbie or a guy who ONLY does HI. You need a guy who provides a range of HI services. He should know how to handle the situation and provide paperwork.
    Be prepared though, if the guy is good he may find structural issues. Not saying your dad doesn't know his stuff, its not about that. A contractor and HI look at a house very differently.

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  9. #9
    Ted Menelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    I remodeled homes for over 30 years. A large number of them were plaster...old plaster.

    You already know that there are cracks all over the home in every room in the walls and ceilings.

    It keeps getting mentioned about movement or vibration and such. Well yeah.

    All the other issues such as water infiltration ??? in every room?

    Not being insulated ?? They did not insulate almost every one of those old homes. Sometimes adding the insulation was the culprit.

    Plaster to thin. All old lathe and plaster has multiple coats of plaster. You can only ,make it so thin with a multi coat job.

    Losing its keys.....yeah, from movement.

    Here is the story. Forget about a home inspector. You are buying this home. You are the one that may need to foot the bill. Go the next step. At this point who cares if the engineer finds movement in the home. You need to know this.

    A home inspector is going to look at it, see cracking and may or may not be be able to give you a full on interpretation. There is no good reason for cracking in every single room unless there is a whole lot more going on.

    The only thing I may go along with wood be a bad mix of plaster but if that were the case it would not be a half century to show up. If it has been repaired in the past and is now cracked again....you might want to know this.

    Again, an inspector is going to do squat at this point but recommend further evaluation by ....whom ever. You need to take the next step.

    Look at it this way. If the plaster or lathe holding the plaster is in as bad a shape as some of these guys think it is ???????? You are not going to throw a quick crack cover up on it because it is going to look the same way in a short time. It will be time to take it down and start over.

    If it is from movement and the home twisted slightly this way and that then it more than likely can be repaired after the movement issue is resolved with out it looking like it does now in a year or 2.

    The inspoection was already done by whomever. It is time to go the next step for a bit more involved review of what may be taking place.

    A home inspector is not the route to go at this point. You would at least want to know how much in repairs are needed at this point just to know what you have to deal with.

    Vibration, movement. I just don't get it. Homes just don't move with out another cause. Homes do not sit there and vibrate all by themselves. Poor plaster mix. It would have been on the floor at this late date. No insulation, none of them did. Water intrusion....like all over the home?

    I don't mean to disagree with any of my fellow inspectors but I am talking of decades of fixing and repairing or just ripping of and starting over again.

    One of the other guys *could* turn out to be right. BUT it has already been inspected. Who cares what the bank wants. You need to find out for yourself. Shoot. I probably have a letter on file that I found no visual sign of movement in the home and could send it to you .....BUT it would be futile for your need to find the real problem.

    Spend the money now or maybe spend a small fortune later


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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    This link provides a good dissertation on plaster

    Preservation Brief 21: Repairing Historic Flat Plaster--Walls and Ceilings


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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Klemencic View Post
    Do you think the bank would deem him/her credible enough to make the call?
    Tony,

    No, a plaster contractor could not evaluate the structure. My thought was to evaluate whether or not the plaster was failing. In older homes, I will find soft/crumbling plaster. A few months back, someone posted information regarding plaster failure and the potential for serious injury as a result. While I believe he was selling something, the reality is that old plaster can fail catastrophically.

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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Klemencic View Post
    I am a first time home buyer and I just signed a sales agreement on a home. My dad is a contractor and has been in the business for 20-25 years. We walked though the house and found that the old plaster walls are cracked in 80-90% of the rooms. I asked him if he thought it was something structural. He went in the basement and looked over the stone foundation and said "Definitely not a structural issue". He said it is probably due to moisture (whether from plumbing, leaky roof or other). The house is a brick structure with, as said before, an stone foundation. In order for me to get my mortgage, I need to have someone put it in writing that there are no structural issues with the house. My realtor mentioned a structural engineer, but man are they expensive. I already hired one for another house I was looking at and ended up not getting. What would qualify someone's opinion to be credible for the mortgage company? Do I have any other options? Thank you in advance, I appreciate any and all advice you can provide.

    -Tony
    Tony, what do you consider to be expensive? $300, $400 or $500?

    Most engineers that I work with will issue a report letter depending on the size of the home for between $300 and $400.

    You need to ask the mortgage lender what they need to make the underwritter happy. My bet is that they will want a PE stamp on the letter.

    Scott Patterson, ACI
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  13. #13
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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Tony
    As a Home Inspector I have looked at many older stone foundations over the years and have been good at noting problems and there has been many. The plaster guy is only going to be able to tell you that the plaster needs repair or replacement. The structural repair company going to tell you that the home needs to be restructured and they would do it for $$$$$$$$. The home inspector can tell you if there are problems with the foundation or not. But that is not what you need. And if he is smart will refer it on to the engineer. Call a good reputable Engineer. Tell him what you are needing for the bank and that you need to know for yourself. There are many reasons old plaster will crack. From the foundation to the weather. Old plaster is not easy to properly repair and can get very expensive. It is hard to find people that know what they are doing when it comes to the old foundation and the old plaster. If you have had a home inspection what did he/she say. If you did not have a inspection then I would recommend you have that done also. You need to know what you are buying. The Home Inspection and the Engineer are cheep in comparison of future cost.
    Bruce


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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond Wand View Post
    This link provides a good dissertation on plaster

    Preservation Brief 21: Repairing Historic Flat Plaster--Walls and Ceilings
    Thanks for the link! Great info especially for those of us who work in a historic area

    The above statements are expressed solely as my opinion and in all probability will conflict with someone else's.
    Stu, Fredericksburg VA

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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Tony
    100yr old house will have laid up plaster on lathing. The plaster is a lime based with hog and/or horse hair in it. Where the plaster slumps behind the lathing to lock it in place cracks from age and vibration. This separation from the surface will lead to cracks. It will also lead total failure resulting in the surface falling (ceiling and walls) personal experience. The answer is to remove all install sheet rock (re-plastering would be expensive) or go over all surfaces with sheet rock sandwiching old plaster to lathing. The cracks may not a foundation problem but may be interiperated as a structural issue as to potential hazard when it fails.

    The question is what will the lender accept. General contractor should be able to give you a structural sign off. Else pay the money to get the engineered report. You will be paying a lot to replace the plaster if only in materials with you and dad providing the labor. Try having the seller pay if back to at settlement, negociate it into the contract of sale. If you don't have the money maybe you really can't afford the house in the first place (fatherly advice from an old fart father with children in their twenties). Hey, get dad to pay since he will be loosing time into the repairs anyhow, what is a little more time and money. As a contractor he knows time is money and you loose it all over the place on a daily basis.


  16. #16
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    Default Re: Cracked plaster in ~1900 Home

    Don't hire a newbie or a guy who ONLY does HI. You need a guy who provides a range of HI services.
    And exactly what would a "range" of HI services be in this particular situation that a HI can't do or "Newbie"? Sure experience will help allot but that "range" of ...what was it again?

    Mike Schulz License 393
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