what is nail pop?

What is Nail Pop? Is it a Sign of Foundation Issues in My Home?

You are seeing small circles bumping out of your drywall surfaces, maybe it’s just one or two or a whole series of them. Ack! What is happening here? 

Anchor Foundation Repair

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “nail pop” and know it’s *probably not* the latest and greatest in women’s nail polish trends . . . but what IS it then and is it a sign of foundation problems for your home?

At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have gotten inquiries from homeowners about nail pop many times in our 35+ years in business serving Bryan, College Station, and other Brazos Valley communities like Madisonville and Caldwell. We can for sure tell you what we know about nail pop and its relationship to home foundation settlement.

This article will define nail pop and explore its most common causes. We will also discuss whether or not nail pop is a true sign of foundation problems for your home.

What Is Nail Pop? What Does it Look Like?

Nail pop is aptly named since it basically looks like nail heads are popping out of your walls or ceiling. The round head of a nail either forms a circular (but still enclosed) bump in your wall surface or breaks through the wall a bit and the metal of the nail head is partially exposed.

Nail pop can happen occasionally in just one or two random spots or run along a drywall seam with several lined up in a row.

It is unsightly and sometimes embarrassing to homeowners because it is a flaw in your otherwise flat wall surfaces and calls attention to the spot. It can be noticeable especially if there are several in a row or they are in a place that you can’t easily camouflage or cover up. 

Nobody likes imperfections in their home. Even if they are small, they are bothersome to some people (i.e. people like me with heightened *flaw detector disease*). Also, conscientious homeowners start to worry about whether nail pop is just a cosmetic thing or something serious like a foundation problem. 

Is nail pop something to be concerned about? Let’s find out what most often causes it in the next section and see . . . 

what causes nail pop?

What Causes Nail Pop? 3 Most Common Culprits

Nail pop has a few common causes, and they depend somewhat on the age of the home as there is an “old-school” cause of nail pop and a “modern” cause too. The third common cause can happen in any age home.

1. Common Cause of Nail Pop in Older Homes

In older homes, different materials were used to secure drywall in place. There was a time when large roofing nails were used for this purpose instead of the drywall screws that are used today. Or maybe a more recent repair was done on your home by an *old-school repair guy* who used them in a few places. 

nail pop

Roofing nails have an inherent flaw in that they are smooth and don’t grip into the wood they were pounded into. That’s fine for a roof where all the nails are pointing downward but not as good for walls and ceilings where they have more gravity to resist and other forces to contend with.

Timber is used for studs in walls, and framing throughout the home. Over time, timber dries out and experiences shrinkage. So in older homes where all the framing timber has dried out over 50 or more years, the framing can move slightly from its original position or shrink away from walls and ceilings. 

This drying and shrinkage leaves the nails to loosen in their locations. Then, there’s the fact that the roofing nails have no real gripping power and are resisting gravity and other forces. When the nail loosens from the timber, then it can poke into your drywall and create a nail pop.

2. Common Cause of Nail Pop in Newer Homes

So they’ve solved the old-school problem of using nails to secure drywall by inventing drywall screws. Way to go engineery/construction-like people!  But now in newer homes, we’ve got another problem that creates susceptibility to nail pop. It’s building really well-insulated houses.

You wouldn’t think that building really well insulated and sealed homes would be a problem, but modern solutions cause modern problems too . . . oops! So anyway, what happens in newer homes is related to the outside weather in combination with the well-sealed and expertly insulated home. 

Here in Central Texas, we’ve got what some call *mixed climate conditions* which is an adorable way of saying that sometimes it’s real hot and dry, sometimes it’s hot and humid, and sometimes it’s rainy and chilly too. It’s a lot of extremes and inconsistencies.

My husband likes to remind me at these unpleasant weather times that it’s always 80 degrees and sunny on the beach in Cozumel, Mexico. But I digress . . . 

So your new home is well-insulated in the part where you live, but the areas where your framing lives (attics, inside walls) are still subject to more significant weather fluctuations. Now the difference between the insulated and uninsulated areas is greater too. 

In a *mixed climate* area, that’s more expansion and contraction due to moisture levels on your timber framing and less on the inside of the house. The well-insulated home creates a greater divide between the conditions on the finished interior and in your unfinished areas.

twisting timber can cause nail pop
There’s a lot of timber in attics.

The timber in the unfinished areas of your home still adjusts due to ambient outside humidity (i.e. another really cute way of saying oppressive humidity). The wood framing expands in conditions with more moisture in the air and contracts in drier conditions (kinda like expansive clay soils under your foundation). 

Timber can also twist, warp, and change at varying rates on each dimension of the wood in these conditions in the years just after the home is built and beyond.

This back and forth movement or shrinking and bending of wood causes drywall screws to poke in and out of your drywall and creates or worsens nail pop. This can even happen within the first year of construction for brand new homes as timber adjusts.

3. Common Cause of Nail Pop in Any Age Home: Poor Construction

Any home can be subject to poor construction methods. Typically, poor construction that causes nail pop has to do with the original drywall installation.

  1. Improper spacing of screws or nails
  2. Screws or nails that are too short for the job
  3. Overdriving the screws or nails
  4. Screws or nails installed at an angle instead of straight
  5. Inappropriate amount of drywall fasteners securing to stud
  6. Missing the stud during fastening
  7. Using nails instead of the better choice of drywall screws

In other words, the drywall installer has a lot to get right. If they make the same mistake repeatedly throughout your home, you could wind up with a lot of nail pops.

Is Nail Pop a Sign of Foundation Problems?

As we have shown in the last sections, there are several common causes of nail pop that are much more likely causes than foundation problems. We’re not saying that nail pop cannot be a sign in a home that had foundation issues. But it’s not going to be the only sign you see or the only concern you have.

If a foundation problem is present, you would be seeing several other signs in addition to nail pop. So if you just have nail pop and nothing else, it’s likely coming from one of the other causes and not from foundation settlement.

How Do I Know If I Have a Foundation Issue or Not?

If you see nail pop in your home and some other issues too, you could have some foundation settlement or a foundation problem. Some signs that have their most common root causes in foundation settlement are:

signs of foundation problems
  1. Diagonal wall cracks coming off of window and door frames or other cased openings
  2. Stair-step cracks in exterior brick walls
  3. Doors and windows that stick or don’t lock, latch, or close properly

At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have been assessing and repairing settled foundations in Central Texas since 1985. We know all the signs and symptoms to look for and what signs can throw homeowners off.

We’ve got an article and picture guide that reviews the real and misleading signs of foundation problems called, “Is Foundation Repair Needed? Real and False Problem Signs.” Check it out and see if what you are seeing in your home matches up with any of them.