Subsidence – a word that strikes fear into the hearts of homeowners and buyers alike. This problem can have a negative impact on the property’s structural integrity, both making it unsafe and reducing the property value due to its instability.
When the ground beneath a property becomes unstable, the foundations can become misaligned. This affects the load distribution of the building above, causing the structure to shift – either laterally or downwards, or even both at the same time.
If a structure begins to sink into the ground, this is known as subsidence. It usually happens when the soil underneath the building shrinks from loss of moisture or swells from too much moisture. The movement of the soil pulls the foundations and the structure above with it.
If you don’t know how to recognise subsidence, or the steps you can take to prevent it – such as getting a building warranty – then keep reading to learn more. This blog explains what to look out for and what to do about subsidence.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to identify subsidence right away. There are problems caused by subsidence that could also be caused by something else, and other issues that you might believe to be signs of subsidence that actually aren’t.
The most noticeable signs that indicate the possibility of subsidence are:
The most specific sign is the cracks. While cracking can be a common result of poor workmanship or materials, it’s likely that subsidence is the cause if they are long cracks running diagonally – thinner at one end and thicker at the top, and usually at least 3mm wide.
If the cracks are visible from both the inside and the outside of the walls and located near door or window frames, there’s an extremely high chance that they’re a result of subsidence. At this point, it’s definitely worth calling in a professional to diagnose the issue.
A building warranty, structural warranty, or latent defects insurance policy – whatever you decide to call it – is designed to reduce the risk of subsidence happening in the first place, and to provide financial support for repair costs if it does happen as a result of faulty workmanship.
This type of warranty offers at least 10 years of cover for a new building from its completion date. While minor defects can be addressed by the builder/contractor responsible for them in the first 2 years, the remainder of the policy term covers structural defects only.
This means that it only applies to the cost of repairing faults in the load-bearing elements. The foundations are a key component in load distribution and transfer, so if subsidence occurs down the line as a result of faulty materials or poor craftsmanship, the policy is likely to cover it.
Building warranties are generally supposed to be taken out during the planning stages of a build, so that the provider can send a chartered surveyor to inspect the construction at regular intervals.
They can assess the plans and watch the laying of the foundations, allowing them to step in if they notice an issue, so the responsible party can course-correct before it can cause further problems.
If the builder or developer doesn’t take out the warranty at the beginning to pass onto the buyer, then the buyer may have to set one up themselves much later in the process.
If the foundations have already been laid at this point, it will be harder to inspect them – but if a problem with the foundations and/or the underlying ground becomes apparent later, the warranty will be there to back you up.
If your property is experiencing signs of subsidence, it’s essential to contact your insurer or warranty provider as soon as possible. Don’t be tempted to ignore it and hope it doesn’t get any worse – the longer you leave it unchecked, the more serious the consequences could be.
At the very least, a house with subsidence will suffer from a combination of lower property value and higher insurance premiums. At worst, the structural damage could become so severe that the building partially or completely collapses.
The faster you can get an expert to assess the building, the better. Even if their analysis reveals a different cause than subsidence, you’ll be able to address whatever the problem may be with their recommendations anyway.
If it is subsidence, they can tell you what to do right away to prevent it from destroying the building. Depending on how severe the subsidence is, you may need to get your home underpinned – which can, unfortunately, be an expensive and disruptive process, involving replacing the foundation material with something stronger to restore structural support.
In such a situation, having a building warranty to help you with the costs could be invaluable.
If you haven’t noticed any signs of subsidence yet, but are worried about it happening, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risks.
Make sure that the materials around the house are porous enough to allow for proper drainage away from the foundations, and keep plants like trees and shrubs cut back from the building so their roots don’t draw moisture out. This should help to prevent the soil under your house from swelling or shrinking and causing the foundations to move.
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