Subsidence and how it affects home insurance

Just the mention of the term subsidence could cause homeowners to panic, but what is subsidence, how can you identify the warning signs, and what does it mean for your home insurance?

Subsidence is an issue that affects the stability of a property. Subsidence occurs when the foundations of your property start to sink lower, as a result of problems with the ground below it. If the ground underneath your property starts to collapse, the structure of the building can be affected. For example, one side of the property may be affected more than the other, so your house could lean at an angle and/or cracks may start to appear in the walls.

What causes subsidence?

Subsidence is caused by problems with the ground underneath and around a property, when the soil becomes unstable. Clay soil can be especially problematic, as it can shrink when it gets too dry, and expand when it gets too wet. This causes movement in the ground, which in turn could potentially affect the foundations of a property.

However, subsidence doesn’t just occur in properties built on clay soil – it can be caused by other factors too. Excess water – from a leaking drain or water main – that saturates the ground can result in subsidence, and trees can cause issues too. If you have large trees or shrubs close to your property, be aware, as roots can grow under the ground and soak up water and moisture, drying out the soil around your property.

Subsidence is not the same issue as heave, which is a similar problem that might affect the structure of a property. Heave – sometimes also called ground heave – is seen as the opposite to subsidence. While subsidence is caused by the downward movement of a property, heave is caused by the upward movement – when the soil expands and swells, pushing the foundations up. Nonetheless it can still prove as problematic as subsidence.

How can I tell if my property is suffering with subsidence?

A tell-tale sign of subsidence are cracks in the walls of your property. However, cracks in a property caused by subsidence tend to look different to the usual cracks that commonly occur in a house. Little cracks often appear in the home due to natural shrinking, and then swelling, as the temperature changes. This is known as settling, and often happens when a property is a few years old, and when walls have been newly plastered.

Subsidence cracks can occur inside and outside your property – so inspect the exterior of your home as well as the interior. The cracks can worsen quickly, and may run diagonally. They can also be wider in comparison to hairline cracks that might appear internally on plaster.

My house is subsiding – what should I do?

If you suspect your property might be suffering from subsidence, contact your home insurance provider to check you’re covered. Many home insurance companies will include subsidence as part of their buildings insurance cover. With RAC Buildings Insurance or combined Buildings and Contents Insurance, subsidence is covered as standard.

If you’re covered, your insurer can advise you of next steps. This may involve your insurer arranging for a surveyor to assess your property to establish whether subsidence is present. They may monitor your property for a period of time to see how severe the situation is. Minor repairs might fix the problem, though in more serious cases, the building might need to be underpinned to strengthen the foundations.

Be aware that you may only be covered for the subsidence issue to be fixed, not to prevent problems from occurring in the future.

If you’re getting a new quote for home insurance and your property has a history of subsidence, you should declare it. If you don’t, and later your property experiences subsidence again, it could affect your claim.

Reducing the risk of subsidence

There are steps you can take yourself to help reduce occurrences that could increase the risk of subsidence. Other things you can do include clearing any debris and gunk from gutters, to prevent water leaks or overflowing. Check for blocked drains, too. If you suspect your drains might be blocked, seek help to get them cleared.

Get a quote for RAC Home Insurance online today.

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