Emma Myrie

Written by

Emma Myrie

Insurance Underwriting Expert

David Joyson

Reviewed by

David Joyson

Home Insurance Expert & Customer Champion

Less than 1 minute

Updated: 21 Mar 2024

Some degree of movement is likely to occur at some point in every old building’s operational lifespan, but this movement is not always a problem.

Cracks appearing in your walls are not always a harbinger of a terrible subsidence issue, as period properties are built to different specifications to modern structures and can often tolerate ground movement with relatively little need for concern.

Reasons for structural movement

The movement of an old house might be related to the seasons changing, or it might be historic in nature. When movement is ongoing and places the building’s structural integrity at risk, then you need to be concerned. If subsidence is an immediate concern, then underpinning probably won’t be the first resort.

Structural movement in old houses may be linked to a number of factors other than the conventional ground movement related subsidence issues. Material decay could be a potential cause, as could the reactions of different materials to changes in temperature when they shift or move at varying rates to cause warping and separation. Both problems can compromise the stability of a structure with extremely detrimental effects. If the movement is found to be ground related, then underpinning may be required in more serious cases.

Common house alterations such as roof structure modifications and the partial removal of chimney breasts which can lead to the overloading of floors, may also cause structural movement. In turn, theis can lead to subsidence (either directly or indirectly), and may necessitate underpinning to prevent further movement in the future.

What to do if you suspect structural movement

When you have reason to suspect ongoing movement, you should contact your home insurance provider immediately. The first task will likely be to appoint a structural engineer with proven expertise in dealing with old properties. The engineer will undertake an inspection to assess the stability of the house and determine whether the subsidence is in fact ongoing and serious in nature.

The structural stability of an older property will usually depend on the security of the connections between roof, walls and floor. If they are not adequately secured to one another, then the chances of severe damage occurring are increased.

When underpinning is required

Underpinning might be required if subsidence is so severe as to require the strengthening or enlargement of existing foundations. Because older houses tend to be built with simple shallow foundations, they are often prone to settlement over long periods of time. More often than not, the flexible nature of older houses’ construction allows them to cope with this settlement with ease.

It is usually after modifications or alterations to the building have been made, that the original foundations prove insufficient. If you do have to have your property underpinned, you should be aware that home insurance might be harder to come by than conventional cover.

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