Don’t let this summer spell subsidence for your property

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The sun and warmth is always a welcome sight and, as it’s often short-lived in our green and pleasant land, we certainly don’t want to put a dampener on it. But with the rising temperatures comes warning of a sharp rise in the number of homes being affected by subsidence issues.

What is subsidence?

Subsidence describes a process where the ground under a property collapses or sinks lower, taking some of the building’s foundations with it. This puts strain on the property structure, causing cracks to appear.

Damage related to subsidence can be severe and costly to monitor and repair, which makes it a scenario homeowners and insurers alike are understandably wary of.

How does warm weather increase the likelihood of subsidence?

Homes built on clay are particularly susceptible to subsidence during long, dry summers due to a lack of moisture retention in the soil, which can cause buildings to shift on their foundations.

Warm weather can lead to subsidence in a number of ways:

  • Clay soil can shrink, crack and shift during hot, dry weather, making the ground unstable and potentially causing foundations to sink.
  • Drought prone areas are particularly at risk because the soil is much more likely to dry out.
  • Trees and shrubs can also be a factor, particularly if they’re close to your foundations. Some species absorb a lot more water, making the soil much drier.

How can I tell if my home could have subsidence?

Firstly, it’s important not to jump to the conclusion that your home is subsiding, as not all cracks are a sure-fire sign. Most are simply caused by the natural movement of the property as it ages.

Signs of subsidence include:

  • ‘Stepped’ cracks, or cracks which appear to run diagonally, and are wider at the top than the bottom
  • Cracks which are thicker than a 10p coin
  • Cracks which can been seen both internally and externally
  • Wallpaper crinkling at wall/ceiling joins
  • Cracks where an extension joins the house
  • Cracks around doors and windows
  • Doors and windows sticking where frames have warped

If you suspect you have a case of subsidence, contact your insurer who can arrange for a structural engineer to visit your property and confirm it. If it is subsidence, there may be an extended period of monitoring to determine the cause. In severe cases, the property may need to be structurally reinforced by ‘underpinning’ – a process which supports the foundations.

What can I do to prevent my home from subsiding?

Some areas of the country are unfortunately at more of an innate risk of subsidence than others due to variations in soil type, but there are plenty of actions you can take to either reduce the risk, or catch it early on.

To cut down the risks of subsidence you can;

  • Check the condition of the property regularly for any signs of subsidence.
  • Avoid planting trees or shrubs too close to your property or outbuildings.
  • If a mature tree is already positioned too close to your property, seek advice from a surveyor or tree expert about how best to manage it and whether it should be removed.
  • Regularly prune trees and shrubs to help reduce how much water is absorbed.
  • Carry out regular maintenance of drains and pipes. You should check for blocked or leaking drains, clear the gutters of leaves and dirt regularly and check pipes to ensure there are no damaging splits.

What can I do if I’ve had subsidence?

Unfortunately, if your home has suffered subsidence, it can be difficult to guarantee that it will not reoccur, and you may find it more challenging to get cover. Most reputable insurers will still provide quotes, but you may find that these contain higher excesses or exclusions relating to subsidence.

Ensure you retain records of any monitoring or surveys which have taken place that explain the suspected cause of the movement and any remedial action which was taken. The more information you can provide when requesting a quotation, the better, as it will allow insurers to consider your case in more detail.

For more advice on insuring your home against subsidence, call us on 01285 885885 or leave us a message using the form below.