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Is your house cracking up? Blame the drought.

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Is your house cracking up? Blame the drought.

by Megan Macpherson

Statistics from Archicentre show that one in five homes they inspect have cracking damage, estimated to be worth $400 million in repairs across Australia. The Royal Australian Institute of Architects building advisory service estimates that 750,000 homes across Australia could be facing similar problems.

Dry weather causes cracking, as there is no moisture in the soil surrounding the house, particularly on the north wall and on side paths. This is usually characteristic of a hot dry summer, however with the drought cracks are appearing in winter, as well as through the rest of the year. Homes which are at risk include those built on slabs on the ground, older homes, and double storey brick homes built in the 60s and 70s on clay soils which expand and contract.

Clay soils swell when they take up water, and contract when they are dry. Therefore any structure built on top of shifting ground is prone to cracking as the foundations move. Clay bricks take up moisture, and concrete or silica blocks lose moisture. Mortar between bricks can also expand and contract. The weather can affect all these materials that your home is built from, causing the overall movement.

Robert Caulfield, the Managing Director for Archicentre, said that the cracking problem was significant.

"This is not a problem which will get better and we are already experiencing an increase in calls from home owners who have serious cracking problems, which can lead to structural concerns," he said. "Where there is cracking in a home, home owners need advice to see how serious it is to ensure that they have a perspective on what can be an extremely emotional and worrying problem."

Caulfield advised that cracks 10 mm or less can be rectified by watering the garden, installing a drip irrigation system, or removing or pruning some trees surrounding the house.

The suburbs most affected by cracking around the country include North Carlton in Victoria, Albury in New South Wales, Kenmore in Queensland, Westbourne Park in South Australia, Mt Hawthorn in Western Australia, and Invermay in Tasmania.

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