Step 1: Spotting subsidence
Subsidence is the downward movement of the ground beneath your home. You can spot it by a number of tell-tale signs but cracks are the most notorious symptom. Cracks will likely appear either internally in plasterwork or externally in brickwork, often expanding over time and tapering diagonally across the walls.
Subsidence cracks often appear around window or door frames, and doors or windows might start sticking for no immediately apparent reason. Wallpaper may also begin to ripple or peel without being caused by damp.
Step 2: Taking action
Before you do anything else, you should contact your home insurance provider immediately. The quicker subsidence is diagnosed, the more likely that it can be rectified. Most insurance companies will send a loss adjuster to your house to assess the potential cost. Your insurer will then be able to recommend the best course of action once subsidence has been confirmed, and will be able to direct you towards any specialist contractors that you might require. Depending on your cover and the magnitude of any damage, you may be required to source your own subsidence repair professionals.
Step 3: Diagnosing subsidence
Determining whether your problem is actually subsidence can take some time. Monitoring may be required over a period of several months to ensure that cracks are indications of anything more than superficial.
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Step 4: Fixing a problem
Underpinning might be required for more severe cases of subsidence. Carrying out this type of repair work will usually prevent further movement of the foundations. The process can be lengthy and expensive, costing anywhere between £5,000 and £50,000 depending on the size of the property and the extent of the damage. Though figures differ, it is estimated that as few as only 10% of properties suffering from subsidence will require underpinning. The Institute of Structural Engineers advises that you should attempt every other possible solution before resorting to underpinning.
Tree root damage is estimated to be the cause of 70% of all subsidence cases (according to Which? consumer magazine), as tree roots draw moisture from the soil beneath your home. This problem can become more pronounced during extended dry periods, particularly in regions where the soil base is comprised mainly of clay.
Sometimes trees may be removed to provide a quick solution to the problem, though in rare cases this can lead to the opposite of subsidence, known as 'heave'. Heave is where the ground beneath a property swells up with excessive moisture caused by the absence of a tree that used to keep the moisture levels low. An arboriculturist (tree specialist) will be able to provide advice on matters involving tree and root control.
Pipework beneath or within your foundations can sometimes cause subsidence, if they leak or burst and cause earth to be washed away. A CCTV drain survey can determine if this might be the problem and, if it is, then remedial work to the drainage system can be carried out. This might eliminate the need for costly and intrusive underpinning procedures.
Step 5: After subsidence
If you have had subsidence problems in the past, it is probable that you will have difficulty finding an insurer to provide you with the home insurance you need to fix it if it happens again.
Though reoccurrence after underpinning might be rare so far, the statistical evidence to demonstrate whether or not a property is more or less likely to begin subsiding again is insufficient and most insurance companies are reluctant to take a chance.
HomeProtect is different!
We assess each case as we find it, not as it was while it was still subsiding and are happy to provide buildings insurance with a history of subsidence. With us, you can get a competitive quote for home insurance even if your home has been underpinned in the past.