Subsidence can be a very serious issue for property owners and one you will want to ensure you are protected from, by both minimising risks and ensuring the correct protection is part of your buildings insurance. There are some tell-tale signs that your property could be affected by subsidence, which are worth knowing. Also, depending on your area your property could be at higher risk than others, which could affect the excess you need to pay if claiming on your insurance policy.
What is subsidence?
Subsidence is when the ground that your house sits on, starts to sink, causing the foundations to also move. It is best tackled with prevention methods, where possible.
Subsidence often occurs on clay soil, which expands and contracts easily, depending on the amount of moisture. During winter months the ground soaks up excess moisture from increased rainfall, which then drys out in summer months.
During periods where weather conditions are unusually dry, clay soil can suffer as it doesn’t get the chance to recover. This is where issues can arise.
Water leaks from below the ground surface can also cause subsidence problems, as it weakens the soil and affects the property foundations.
Beware of the trees!
When rainfall reduces, trees nearby reach out their roots in search of water. To this extent, they can suck up all the moisture reserves in the ground for quite a depth and radius.
Trees and shrubs can be key culprits for subsidence issues, with oak, ash, plane, sycamore, willow and poplar being a few of the worst.
How to spot subsidence
When houses are built there is usually an element of “settling in”.
Sometimes cracks appear in walls where brickwork moves around, but this is normal. These cracks typically appear and then remain the same for years. Subsidence usually causes cracks too, although they are distinctive.
They are typically visible both inside and outside the property and one end of the crack may be wider than the other end.
Doors and windows may also stick on opening due to the structure of the property not being aligned.
If a crack suddenly appears and worsens quite quickly, this could be a tell-tale sign that you have a subsidence problem.
Reducing the risk of subsidence
As with most things, there are ways to reduce the risk of subsidence.
Before buying the property, you can find out if the area is prone to subsidence. Certain soil types will be more likely to cause issues that others.
Because trees are often a cause for concern, ensure you plant any a good distance away from the building. If there are already trees there, it is wise to find out if they were planted before or after the house was built. Those planted after, could be removed and replanted at a safer distance. Those planted before, will need to be managed carefully and may require the help of a tree expert.
Also, some trees are preserved so authorisation is required before you are able to remove them.
All in all, it is best to not go digging things up yourself as you could even find yourself in a worse situation!
Neighbours tress can also be an issue, so be sure to approach them too if you foresee a future problem.
Make sure your insurance covers subsidence
Buildings insurance typically covers subsidence issues. If you notice anything unusual it is important to contact your insurer, or broker, immediately.
A structural engineer is usually sent to the property for an assessment. Repairs may need to be carried out, in the worst case scenario the property may need to be underpinned, but this is rare.
Insurance should cover alternative accommodation whilst any maintenance is being carried out.
On application for buildings insurance, you may be questioned about the types of trees close to your house, and their distance away.
Also, if you do make a claim for subsidence then your excess could be higher than usual and your premium may increase upon renewal.
Working with an insurance broker can ensure you are suitably covered for all eventualities.