Subsidence is a geological condition that results in ground falling away downwards or “subsiding”. A related condition is called “heave”, which entails the ground rising up. Subsidence insurance is a specialist product that can’t necessarily be arranged as easily as standard house insurance.
Both can result in major structural damage to buildings on the ground so affected.
More rarely, subsidence can also be a term more loosely or arguably incorrectly applied to typically newer builds where sub-standard work has been done on foundations, causing the building to tilt or partly collapse. As this is typically covered by new property builders’ guarantees, we won’t discuss it further here.
The causes of subsidence/heave
Sometimes, subsidence can be entirely natural and a result of geological processes deep underground. For example, an unground stream might change its course meaning the ground is slowly eroded.
In other cases, it may be caused by human activity either current or ancient. Examples here might include old mine works collapsing deep underground or too much groundwater extraction and a subsequent drying/collapsing of the land as a result.
Heave too can be associated with deep geological conditions but it’s also often found to be due to nearby tree root intrusion etc.
Symptoms and effects
At GSI Insurance, we know well just how devastating the damage can be as a result of subsidence and heave.
The symptoms typically involve seeing cracks appear in external stone or brickwork which are often wider at the top than bottom. They will usually follow the line of least resistance where possible, such as down the lines of pointing and mortar in brickwork.
In severe cases, the property may become dangerous and uninhabitable.
In passing, please don’t worry if you see minor cracks appearing in plasterwork or pointing. All properties move a little and new property in particular may be subject to “settlement”.
This is perfectly normal and not necessarily an indication of subsidence. Contact a builder for an initial assessment if you’re in any doubt.
Each case needs to be assessed by a structural engineer.
In some minor cases, if it appears to be stable, the specialist may recommend no action.
In more serious cases, “underpinning” may be required. This is typically a major and expensive piece of emergency building work.
In some very severe cases, the property may need to be demolished and rebuilt.
As you can imagine, some of these outcomes are likely to be exceptionally expensive and that is why it is important to ensure you have adequate subsidence insurance.
In our experience, some property owners mistakenly assume that their buildings and contents cover will automatically include subsidence insurance.
In fact, that might not be the case. That’s due, in part, to the potentially exceptionally expensive nature of subsidence claims.
In some situations, a standard buildings policy may offer some cover but with many caveats. In yet other circumstances, a standard policy might exclude subsidence claims due to the location of your property– for example, in an area known to be prone to subsidence.
As a result, it’s risky to simply presume that your home cover policy will include substantial subsidence insurance protection as standard. It might be prudent to discuss the issues with us and to consider our own specialist subsidence insurance protection.
If you’d like to know more, why not contact us without delay? In the meantime, you may find our more detailed guide to subsidence and subsidence insurance to be worthwhile reading.