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Drywall Cracks

Chances are the walls and ceilings of your home are made of drywall (also referred to as wallboard, gypsum board, or Sheetrock). Drywall is both easy to damage and easy to repair.

Drywall gets two kinds of damage: gouges and hairline cracks. Gouges are usually caused by accident -- by you, an angry spouse, a guest, or the previous owner. Hairline cracks are usually caused by movement in the foundation or framing of the house, which is nobody's fault. The frame of your house expands and contracts with the seasons, as temperature and humidity levels change. As we mentioned, both can be easily repaired.

If you have a small crack? Fill it with a flexible silicone caulk. The silicone will flex as the crack widens and narrows with normal house movement. Filling a crack with drywall joint compound or spackle isn't such a good idea. Spackle's brittleness allows the crack to come back year after year, until you take a hammer and pound a dozen frustration holes in the wall. Or maybe that's just how we would handle it.

Caulking is easy -- just follow these steps:

  • Buy a fresh tube of silicone caulking (the paintable kind).

The old tube in the basement has probably dried out, making it useless.

  • Use a caulking gun to spread a thin bead of the caulk into the crack.
  • Wipe the excess from around the crack with alcohol (rubbing alcohol is perfect).
  • Coat the repair with primer.

Don't skip this step or you'll end up with a permanently goofy-looking, non-matching area.

  • Repaint, as necessary.

Silicone caulking also works for little nail holes.

Bigger cracks require a different kind of maintenance. Here's what you need: 

  • 6-inch taping knife
  • 10- or 12-inch taping knife
  • 1 square piece of plywood or a plastic mud pan
  • Drywall compound Drywall tape (paper or fiberglass)
  • Fine-grit sandpaper and a sanding block

Here's how to stop that crack dead in its tracks:

  • Clean out the crack so that there are no loose "crumbs."
  • Put a blob of compound on the plywood or mud pan.

This makes it easy to load compound onto the knife.

  • Use the 6-inch taping knife to apply a light coating of compound to the crack and then immediately embed the tape in the compound.

Use the knife to wipe the tape into the compound and scrape away any compound that squishes out.

If necessary, cut the tape in short lengths to follow the line of a really crooked crack.

Fiberglass tape is self-stick, so you skip the embedding coat of compound under the tape. Otherwise, you do everything the same way. Be aware, though, that fiberglass tape is a little thicker than paper tape, so it is more difficult to make a completely invisible repair. We prefer the tried-and-true paper tape, and we think you'll get better results with it.

  • Apply a thin coat of compound over the tape and smooth it with the taping knife, making sure to feather the edges.

Let the patch dry completely (usually overnight).

  • Apply a second, smoothing coat using the wide knife, again making sure to feather the edges.

Let the second coat dry completely.

  • Apply a third (and, with luck, final) coat.

Let third coat dry completely.

  • Sand the patch until smooth.
  • Apply a coat of good-quality primer.
  • Paint to match.