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Spotting the signs of subsidence

Subsidence can cause major damage to the structure of a property, and in extreme cases, it’s sometimes easier to knock it down and rebuild it. Catching the signs of subsidence early is recommended to stop it getting any worse.

Spotting the signs of subsidence

Spotting the signs of subsidence

Spotting the signs of subsidence early can allow you to get on top of it, and prevent a costly claim.

What is subsidence?

Subsidence usually involves some form of ground movement, with the word often being defined as a ‘falling away’. It doesn’t necessarily have to affect a property, as areas of land that don’t have any structures on them, such as a garden or a driveway can be affected by subsidence too. The major concern for home owners however is if land next to, or beneath their property is affected, as this can lead to damage to their home itself.

For example properties built in the Victorian or Edwardian eras (1837 – 1910) tend to be built on shallow foundations, and will be practically level with the land they stand on. If part of the ground begins to sink, it will pull part of the house with it, causing cracking as it moves away from the rest of the structure. The ground can rise as well as sink, in a process known as heave, causing damage in a similar way.

Main signs of subsidence

Not every crack necessarily means a property is suffering from subsidence, with cracks in plasterwork, and even external mortar joints, can just be attributed to the drying out of materials over an extended period of time. There are however some signs of subsidence to watch out for, as they are a good indication of potential ground movement, such as:

  • Cracks that are 3-4mm+ in width
  • cracks that are much wider at the top than at the bottom
  • a split within a brick, rather than the surrounding mortar
  • cracks moving diagonally across a wall
  • sticking doors or windows, suggesting the frames may have moved
  • cracks between external features of a building, such as external steps, porches, or other extensions

Steps you can take

As a home owner it may be possible to put a few measures in place that might reduce at least some of the risk of subsidence.

Keeping trees, plants and bushes under contol can be a big help, and that can include making sure not to plant them directly adjacent to your property, or having them maintained at a consistent height following on from advice from a tree surgeon. If you’re purchasing a property, then it’s also worth going through any surveys and environmental searches with a fine toothcomb to pick up on any areas of concern.

Generally though, subsidence can arise with very little warning, and it is worth consulting with a builder or structural surveyor if you think your home is showing signs.

Effects on insurance

Not all property policies are created equal, and will not automatically offer cover for subsidence. This is particularly the case if your home is in an area of the country where subsidence is a regular occurrence, or where there was mining activity in the past. If your home has already suffered some movement that you have to disclose, then it could be something they choose to exclude entirely. It is worth checking your policy carefully to make sure there are no restrictions.

You may need to approach a specialist in subsidence insurance, such as GSI Insurance Services (Southern) Ltd. You can get in contact with us on 0800 612 9376 or click Get a Quote to complete our online form.

Need some more information?

Why not read one of our other subsidence insurance guides?

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