By their very nature, many buildings tend to have long histories, and as part of that, they may have become an underpinned property. There are times when that past record may point to problems that linger on into the future – especially when it comes to arranging that most critical of safeguards for any property, buildings insurance.
Past problems that might make it difficult to insure your property now, for example, might include subsidence and any remedial work that may need to have been taken by way of underpinning.
Subsidence is a worrying and potentially serious defect which may affect a building of practically any age. The condition may be difficult to detect and require complicated and costly building works to remedy.
If your property has suffered from subsidence in the past and has been underpinned as a result, you are likely to require specialist cover for a buildings that does not conform to standard construction techniques – in a word the subsidence insurance supplied by experienced experts in this corner of the insurance market, such as those of us here at GSI Insurance, where we have written a detailed guide specifically on the problem of subsidence
Extent of the problem
According to a study by the Forestry Commission, quoting statistics supplied by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), some 35,000 claims a year on standard home insurance policies are made as the result of subsidence. Claims are settled at a cost of some £250 million.
This figure may rise considerably during years of long, dry and hot summers – not uncommonly reaching as many as 55,000 separate claims, for instance, which are settled at a cost of some £400 million.
In short, therefore, subsidence is a major problem for insurers and property owners alike, the premiums needed to meet the cost of settling claims tend to be high and the requirement for specialised subsidence insurance may be more widespread than you imagined.
Roots of the problem
As the soil in which the foundations of a building dries up, it tends to shrink – and in the case of clay soils that shrinkage may be significant. As the soil shrinks, therefore, the foundations may suffer a disturbance or collapse, leading to subsidence of the building. It is for this reason that one of the remedies for subsidence is to shore up the property by underpinning it.
Where trees and large shrubs are also planted in the clay soil close to a building’s foundations, the risk of subsidence may be exacerbated. Trees such as sycamore, oak, ash and willow in particular are especially thirsty and suck up a great deal of water from the ground, spreading out their roots over a large area – including the foundations of buildings in order to do so. During dry weather, the roots are forced to spread further and further in order to satisfy the tree’s thirst for water.
When insuring your property – but especially if you are looking to arrange subsidence insurance for a property that has been underpinned – you are likely to be asked about trees that may be growing within a certain distance from the walls.
Control need not always involve the felling of trees and removal of stumps – which might itself leave a crater which encourages further settlement of the foundations – but a careful pruning regime to reduce the growth of foliage and so lessen the amount of moisture needed to sustain the tree.