It is not just storm damage or flooding that poses a risk to your property during the worst of this winter’s storms. Recent reports by the BBC, for example, are just a few of the nationwide coverage that storm Barney and storm Desmond have caused.
Of course homeowners in the affected regions are concerned about the damage caused by extensive flooding, but there might be a more insidious threat that becomes apparent even when the waters have subsided.
The longer term problems may be related to subsidence – the potential washing away of foundations by the unusually high water table.
Subsidence is invariably a complicated problem to diagnose. There are a number of possible symptoms and not all of these may point to subsidence as the cause. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has published a guide about subsidence and not unreasonably recommends a professional assessment if you are concerned about the problem affecting a property you own.
Because the possibility of subsidence is a complicated matter, because its detection may be difficult and because the remedial works may be very expensive, property owners are likely to be concerned about the extent to which subsidence is covered by their home insurance or landlord’s insurance.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Some insurers may include the risk of subsidence as a standard part of the cover they offer, others might include it as an option, whilst still others may specifically exclude that risk
Reasons for exclusion might include:
- the property being located in an area kwon to be susceptible to past incidents of the problem;
- this might include areas known to be especially vulnerable to flooding – a searchable map of those areas most vulnerable to flooding from rivers and coastal incursion is published online by the Environment Agency;
- areas in which there has been mining or other mineral extraction activities also raise doubts;
- clay soils are perhaps more susceptible to subsidence than others; and
- consideration may be given to the number of trees and large bushes growing in close proximity to the building.
Subsidence insurance considerations, in short, might prove as complicated as the very nature of subsidence itself. For that reason, here at GSI Insurance, we have published a guide to subsidence insurance and offer specialist advice on this particular, niche insurance product.
If you are worried about the possibility of subsidence in your property, early signals are likely to be spotted only by a qualified surveyor or engineer.
Nevertheless, early detection is likely to be the road to less costly remedial action, so you might want to be aware of some of the most usual tell-tale signs – which might, or might not, be provide some warning:
- cracks in external and interior wall, especially if they appear suddenly;
- they are often quite distinctive and may be quite deep and the areas around window and door frames might be among the first places they appear;
- alternatively, doors and windows might start sticking unexpectedly as the frames warp out of shape and they become difficult to open.
Neither of these are conclusive symptoms, however, so if you have any doubts it is important to contact your insurer as early as possible. No property is 100% immune from the risk and the problem may be in its early stages or relatively advanced. There are also usually a number of possible remedies that may help. So your insurers are likely to want a proper, professionally conducted structural survey in order to determine the next steps.
If a claim does follow on from these inspections, you might want to prepare yourself for the excess that invariable attaches to claims for subsidence – excesses that are commonly rather higher – typically around £1,000 – than others on your home building insurance policy.