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Subsidence is one of the nightmare scenarios for any homeowner. It may be rare, but it can leave you with a huge repair bill if you do not have adequate home insurance. Here is what you need to know about subsidence, including what it is, how to spot it, how to prevent it and how to get insurance.

Why does it occur?

Subsidence is caused by ground shrinkage below a property, which causes the building to sink. This contraction could be caused by:

  • periods of drought in soil with a high clay, chalk, sand or gravel content;
  • trees near to the property that suck up the water in their roots.

In addition, it can be caused by an excess of water from underground leaks, which washes away the supporting soil, or in land affected by mining activity.

It is a greater problem in the south east of the country due to the high amount of clay soil. However, it can also occur anywhere else. It is not to be confused with heave, which is where the soil expands.

How to spot a problem

Cracks are the most common signs that appear when a building is suffering from subsidence. These often appear suddenly, and they are typically 1mm to 3mm in width, as well as being narrower at one end. They are often quite deep, and they typically occur after long spells of dry weather.

Another classic problem sign is when doors and windows become stuck and refuse to open or shut properly. Ripples in the wallpaper or paint in the interior could also indicate a problem

It is important to remember that any of these signs could relate to a completely different problem. However, it is always worthwhile getting them looked over by a specialist to rule out subsidence.

Reduce the risk in your property

There are a number of ways to take preventative measures against subsidence. These include:

  • clear the trees and shrubs that are too near to your property. Be careful with this, however, because removing too many suddenly can cause an excess of water in the soil. If the trees have been there since before the property was built, it may be best to leave them or to just cut them back instead;
  • get a professional to check the drains on your land on a regular basis to ensure there are no leaks;
  • if you plan to carry out a renovation, always use a professional company. Structural renovations that are not done properly could cause the soil to settle badly and cause subsidence;
  • the best thing to do is to simply research a property’s history before buying it, and if you find it has suffered from subsidence in the past, consider whether you still want to buy it.

What you need to know about subsidence insurance

There are a number of things that you should know about insurance when it comes to subsidence, and BIBA provides a useful guide that you may want to read. Some of the key issues include:

  • some insurance companies do not provide cover at all for subsidence, whereas some include it as standard;
  • you may want to consider getting insurance even if you have never had a problem;
  • insurance many be more complicated to get when your building has experienced subsidence in the past;
  • excesses can be high, often £1,000 or more;
  • policies usually only cover your main property, not including the shed.

Look after your property

If you are worried about subsidence, it is a good idea to get covered by finding a provider that specialises in this. Not all policies include subsidence cover as standard, so check your policy documents.

Don’t just assume it won’t happen to you because if it does, the repair costs can be very high. Instead, take precautions to prevent it and always look out for the telltale signs. And if you spot any potential problems, always contact your insurer immediately.