Dealing with the subsidence that affects your home is, sadly, never a fast fix. There is a procedure that you need to follow, which begins with finding the first symptoms and getting a reliable diagnosis of subsidence before you can go on to try and address the issue and clear up afterwards. In this article, these measures are discussed in more detail.
What Are The Signs of Subsidence?
To identify if your home is subsiding, you need to know what you’re looking for. Some of the telling-tale signs are:
Cracks – Cracks are the most common symptom of subsidence. These are likely to occur either internally in plasterwork or externally in brickwork.
Sticking doors or windows – If, for no apparent reason, the features of your home begin to stick, the cause could be subsidence.
Rippling or peeling wallpaper – Damage caused by subsidence also manifests imperfections in your wallpaper. Look beneath, and you’re likely to notice cracks.
Step 1: Spotting Subsidence
Subsidence cracks frequently occur around windows or door frames, so be especially careful about any unexpected damage you see in these areas. These cracks will sometimes spread over time, tapering diagonally across the walls, so if you see a fracture that appears to be developing, it’s worth checking out.
Step 2: Taking Action
You must contact your home insurance company immediately before you do anything else. The more quickly the subsidence is detected, the more likely it can be reversed. Most insurance providers will send a risk assessor to your home to determine possible costs. The insurer will then be able to prescribe the best course of action after the subsidence has been verified and will be able to guide you to any specialist contractor you may need. Depending on your coverage and the extent of the damage, you might need to have your own subsidence repair professionals.
Step 3: Diagnosing Subsidence
Determining whether your problem is actually subsidence will take some time. Monitoring may be needed over a period of several months to ensure that cracks are indicative of something more than superficial. If the movement of the house persists and the damage continues to worsen, the insurer will decide to track the property for several months before deciding to repair the property.
Step 4: Fixing A Problem
Underpinning may be needed for more severe cases of subsidence. Such form of repair work would normally avoid further movement of the foundations. The process can be lengthy and costly, costing between £ 5,000 and £50,000 anywhere, depending on the size of the property and the extent of the damage. While the estimates vary, it is estimated that as few as 10% of properties suffering from subsidence would need underpinning. The Institute of Structural Engineers recommends that you should try every other possible approach before resorting to underpinning.
Tree root damage is believed to be the cause of 70 percent of all subsidence cases (according to Which? consumer magazine), as roots of trees extract moisture from the soil beneath your house. This problem may become more prominent during prolonged dry periods, especially in regions where the soil base is mainly composed of clay.
Often trees may be removed to provide a fast solution to the problem, but in extreme situations, this may lead to the opposite of subsidence, known as ‘heave.’ Heave is where the soil under the property swells with excessive moisture due to the absence of trees that previously kept the moisture levels down. The arboriculturist (tree specialist) should be able to provide guidance on issues related to tree and root management.
Pipework under or inside the foundations will often cause subsidence if it leaks or bursts and causes the earth to be washed away. A CCTV drain survey will decide whether this may be an issue and, if so, remedial work can be performed on the drainage system. This might remove the need for expensive and invasive underpinning procedures.
Step 5: After Subsidence
If you’ve had issues with subsidence in the past, it’s possible that you’ll have trouble getting an insurance provider to insure the home which you’ll need to repair if it happens again.
While recurrence after underpinning may be uncommon so far, the statistical evidence to prove whether a property is more or less likely to start subsiding again is inadequate, yet most insurance firms are reluctant to take a risk. You may find companies who specialise in insuring properties that are at risk or have had their subsidence issues rectified however in 2016 the Guardian newspaper reported that homeowners who had previously made subsidence claims through their insurance companies were then unable to switch to new insurance providers because no other company would offer them any cover.
If you have ever experienced this personally, we would love to hear from you to find out the outcome of not only your insurance claim but also if you managed to ever switch to a new insurance provider. Leave us a comment below or email us and we may feature you in one of our blogs or news stories.