What to do if your home is affected by subsidence

House‘Don’t panic!’ – To paraphrase the immortal words of Dad’s Army’s perma-anxious Corporal Jones – would be our first piece of advice, immediately followed by suggesting that you contact your home insurance provider ASAP.

On a serious note though, subsidence is certainly no laughing matter and has fast become a major headache for homeowners residing in various geographical locations across the UK whose properties have grown more and more susceptible to being swallowed up by the earth beneath their footings.

According to alarming statistics provided by the Association of British Insurers, the industry has a whole in this country has acknowledged a 50% increase in the number of subsidence related claims since 2002, with on average 40,000 claims recorded each year since.

Now whilst subsidence is not normally as destructively wholesale as sinkholes (and images of coastally-situated homes slipping into the sea are rather sensationalist examples here and now), there’s no denying that the sight of part of your home giving way to the ground on which it stands is very much cause for concern for all parties.

Characterised by small cracks starting to appear in walls and ceilings (although by no means always pointing towards subsidence being just around the corner), diagonal cracks in particular can manifest themselves suddenly in both brickwork and plaster, found on interior and exterior walls and often after lengthy spells of dry weather.

Windows and doors tend to present the first physical rumours of the property’s unrest and are noted to be markedly wider at the top than bottom. In addition to this, these described portals may begin to stick on opening and closing, while floors may also start to appear uneven or distorted to some degree.

Keep your eyes peeled for new wall and ceiling cracks suddenly appearing

However, there are a number of preventative measures to take to help avoid the onset of subsidence in and around your own home, irrespective of where your dwelling is located.

But before you can employ these anti-subsidence steps you have to learn just what the root causes of subsidence are.

One clue is found in the question here, with excessive roots box-ticked as amongst the key causes, especially those belonging to moisture-sapping examples of common or garden trees such as willows, ash, poplar, oaks and elms. The roots of which seek out constant moisture from the surrounding soil which in turn reduces soil (and therein, earth) volume in proximity to the tree.

Other trigger mechanisms include water leaks around the soon-to-be under-threat property which subsequently washes soil away from the house, as well as certain types of soil itself, chiefly the more clay-like the soil is – which has a propensity to absorb large quantities of water. Aside from this, research shows that homes which have been constructed on sites previously used for mining will historically find themselves more prone to subsidence.

Armed with the above facts then, it will come as no surprise to the homeowner to discover that experts suggest any future planting of trees and shrubs to take place what’s considered a safe distance away from your property (generally agreed rule of thumb states a distance no less than the expected full height of said tree), while regular pruning of existing and mature trees and shrubbery are also advised in a bid to stave off the prospect of subsidence taking hold. And again, ensuring that all external gutters and drains remain unblocked along with regular checks for leaking pipework are imperative. Other, admittedly more extreme propositions include extra-curricular building work to under-pin your des res, which essentially deepens, replaces or reinforces the foundations on which it stands.

Although not a cheap option (in the region of £1,000 per metre), it’s nevertheless one which could pay dividends in the future. Alternative means of additional rigidity and poise include piling and mini-piling, which sees extended steel or concrete columns pile-driven into the surrounding earth so as to better distribute the property’s weight.

Avoid thirsty, water-sapping trees planted close to your property

Unfortunately – and with the best will in the world – avoidance measures alone are not always a steadfast safeguard where subsidence is concerned, although early detection and reporting could save the homeowner a small fortune.

Having said that, what IS absolutely crucial from the outset is arranging home insurance which covers the potential eventuality of subsidence within its policy DNA. Most building insurance policies will offer this, although be aware that subsidence excesses can be high; with recent statistics intonating anywhere between £500 and £1,000 on average.

Also worth noting that it’s your responsibility as a home-owner to make your insurance provider aware if your property has any subsidence history or risk prior to rubber-stamping a policy agreement, otherwise you might find yourself liable or un-covered in a future subsidence scenario.

In summary – and in the event of you experiencing what you believe to be subsidence issues with your home – you’ll need to adhere to the following protocol.

Firstly contact your home insurance provider with immediate effect. They will dispatch an expert to come and inspect your property and counsel you on what action then needs to be instigated at that juncture.

Conversely you could opt to bring in an independent surveyor who will be able to determine whether or not subsidence is actually to blame and afford an official diagnosis. Yet that process is time-consuming in as much as they’ll need to monitor cracks, conduct drain inspections and possibly instruct specialist geological surveys.

By taking the home insurance route, costs will be kept to a minimum, as will any further upheaval and inconvenience.

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