Q: Every year, I notice cracks in the walls above some doors, and the latches don’t work. I fix the cracks, but I don’t know how to fix the latch and the door will not lock. I can use a few tools, but I need to know what to do to assure privacy in those rooms.
A: Cracks form as the weather changes and the humidity inside the home changes. The lumber that makes up the frame of the walls, floors and ceiling can be affected by slight changes in humidity.
As the wood used for the floor joists swells, the very slight movement can cause the drywall or plaster to crack. The crack usually appears at a window or at a door that is close to an exterior wall. The crack normally will not grow beyond the openings where the stress is relieved. I often find the cracks above the doors between the master bedroom and the master bathroom.
Once the cracks have been patched, they are likely to reappear with the changing season. When the door does not latch because the door is at an angle with the door’s frame, you can rework the strike plate by making its opening larger. The strike plate is the piece of metal on the door’s frame that accepts the bolt when the door is closed. The bolt is what is attached to the door’s knobs.
Use a crayon or lipstick to mark the end of the door’s bolt. Close and then open the door and the colored bolt will leave a mark on the strike plate indicating whether the bolt is hitting high or low on the strike plate. Remove the strike plate and use a rattail file to enlarge the opening at the top or at the bottom of the plate. Do not enlarge the sides of the plate or file too close to the holes for the screws.
Another type of door-latching problem occurs when the door or the door’s frame is swollen. You'll notice this when you have to push hard on the door for it to latch. For this problem, you can purchase an adjustable strike plate that can be adjusted from side to side or again use the rattail file to enlarge the opening. Adjustable strike plates can be purchased online for less than $10.
C. Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or email him at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.