Subsidence is every homeowner’s worst nightmare. It can be an ongoing worry if you live in an area prone to this problem and can make your property difficult, even impossible to sell. What’s more, once a claim has been made it can make your property expensive to insure because a substantial premium increase is almost inevitable.
When a building is subject to subsidence all is not lost. There are building methods that can be used to make the structure sound once again. The usual method is to underpin the building by extending and reinforcing the foundations. Once this has been completed to specification, remedial work can be carried out on any internal and external visual faults. When all the work is finished, a good insurance broker should be able to shop around to find you buildings insurance at a reasonable price, but you will, more than likely, be expected to produce an up-to-date full structural survey.
What is subsidence?
Certain types of clay in the ground beneath your home are susceptible to shrinkage in dry weather. These clays are most commonly found in southern England, which is also the part of the country most likely to suffer from drought. Prolonged dry weather can lead to an uneven downward movement of the ground, which in turn can cause cracks to appear in your home’s walls, floors and ceilings.
Leaking pipes and drains can also lead to subsidence, as can mine works, swallow holes, cavities and improperly compacted ground. However, the most common cause is the presence of nearby trees and large shrubs. In dry weather they will send out roots up to six metres below the earth, seeking out water and causing ground movement.
The most obvious step would be to remove nearby trees and shrubs, but if these predate the building of your home then this can cause heave; the opposite of subsidence, where excessive moisture causes an upward movement of the ground. Though this may happen slowly it is often more severe than actual subsidence. These older trees should be pruned and properly managed by a tree surgeon, as the less foliage they produce the less moisture they require.
Avoid planting trees or large shrubs too close to your house and move any that have been planted since the house was built. The safe distance varies according to the type of tree. A holly, laurel, magnolia or yew tree will probably be safe 5-6m away, but a full-grown willow may need to be up to 40m away. Poplars, Oaks and Elms need to be at least 30m away, while most other trees will be safe at a distance of 10-25m.
If you see cracks appearing that are visible both outside and in, are over 5mm wide and remaining open, contact your insurance company immediately. They will send in a specialist to investigate the cause and recommend a course of action. Your buildings insurance will cover subsidence, but there is normally an excess charge of £1,000.
If you’re a homeowner looking for home insurance, a landlord looking for buy-to-let insurance or a commercial property owner, whether affected by subsidence or not, please call Alan Boswell Group for insurance advice on 01603 218000.
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