How to Spot Signs of Subsidence

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The start of summer 2010 brought with it spells of hot, dry weather – BBQs were out in force as Britain braced itself for a summer of sun. News reports even claimed that it was the driest couple of months in 60 years.

With the prolonged  warm, dry weather,  homeowners were warned to be extra vigilant in keeping an eye out for signs of subsidence. Home insurers were also bracing themselves for a potential surge in home insurance claims.

The Association of British Insurers reported a significant increase in subsidence claims following a dry spell in 2003. This is because, as the temperature heats up, the ground becomes dry and contributes to increased movement in the earth beneath some properties. Soils with a high clay content can be particularly affected. It looked like 2010 could follow the same pattern.

Although things have now taken a distinctly wetter turn, it’s still worth noting how to spot the signs of subsidence.

Subsidence is defined as a downward movement of the earth under the property. Over time, this movement can cause structural damage which can be expensive to put right. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • New cracks in your walls that are more than 3mm wide, normally wider at the top (but don’t panic, not all cracks mean subsidence – minor cracks are fairly common).
  • Cracks forming around weak spots in your home (for example, around doors and windows).
  • You might find that doors and windows start to stick. This could be due to the movement of the building.
  • If you have an extension, look out for cracks where the extension meets the main part of your house. Due to the movement of the ground underneath, it could be ‘pulling away’ from the main building.

Some key causes of subsidence:

  • A high concentration of clay in the soil combined with a prolonged period of dry weather can equal an increased risk of subsidence. Clay soils are particularly vulnerable as they shrink and swell in accordance with their water content.
  • Large trees near a property can be problematic as they suck water out of the soil. Their roots can stretch out and down towards the foundations of your property, removing moisture from soil and causing it to shrink.
  • If you have a leaking drain it can cause the ground to soften or wash away beneath your property’s foundations.

If you’re worried you may have a subsidence problem, you should seek expert advice and check your home insurance.  Policies may vary, but your home insurance provider will probably need a chartered surveyor to assess the situation to determine the extent of the problem.

It’s true; subsidence can certainly give you a sinking feeling – with corrective work often being a costly and lengthy process. However, with sufficient cover, it is possible to rectify a subsidence problem without sinking in expenses and being left out of pocket.  Trying to insure a property with an existing subsidence problem could be tricky and you may face high premiums. Look out for specialist home insurance companies who specialise in insuring this particular problem.

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The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Policy Expert.