Design & DIY

How can drywall cracks be avoided during the winter?


During the winter, I noticed cracks in the ceiling and walls of my off-grid, drywalled cottage. Can I avoid this?—Giles Allan

Drywall can crack for a few different reasons. If these cracks are numerous, large, and appearing at every seam, they could be caused by a structural problem—the cottage is shifting because the footings weren’t properly installed, for example. But let’s assume the cottage is structurally fine, and the drywall is cracking as 
a result of the temperature fluctuations during the winter.

The problem is, drywall doesn’t perform well in unheated cottages, and if it was installed incorrectly, it’s even more likely to crack. “Every unheated drywalled cottage I’ve ever been in always cracks after winter,” says Jeff Graham, a contractor in Little Britain, Ont. During winter, the cottage frame expands and contracts; drywall, attached to it, doesn’t have much give, and can fracture. (Wood, on the other hand, deals better with winter movement.)

If you’re not willing to remove the drywall altogether, you could leave the heat on low (about 5ºC to 10ºC) all winter—probably impossible in an off-grid cottage—or repair the cracks.

Amanda Galic, the service manager at Newport Interior Wall Systems in Barrie, Ont., recommends a regular drywall compound mixed with a joint compound such as Sheetrock 20. If the cracks are in the corners, try a flexible, plastic drywall bead product such as Trim-Tex. But next winter, “with no interior heat, the cracks will probably reoccur,” she says.

Unfortunately, that may mean repairing the drywall every spring, says builder Andrew Waddell, the owner of Waddell Custom Homes in Apsley, Ont. “And that will get old pretty quick.”

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