Mention the word subsidence to most insurance underwriters and it will send a shiver down their spine. Here at AJ insurance we like to take a slightly different approach. With many years of experience in this rather specialist field of insurance we have a panel of underwriters available to us who will listen to the particular circumstances of each client, and will asses each case on its own merits. In most instances, if the property has a full structural engineers report, which was carried out after the repairs were completed to the building, the insurers will normally provide terms for cover including subsidence, and sometimes at surprisingly favourable premiums. If however, you do not have a structural engineers report, but the subsidence occurred more than 20 years ago and there have been no further incidents since, we can normally offer cover without the need for you to provide any documentation.
So what is subsidence?
Although many people have heard of the word, what does subsidence actually mean?
Subsidence literally means the gradual caving in or sinking of an area of land. However, it is not as straightforward as this, as insurers would also be wary of previous incidents of heave (the rising up of the land) or landslip (the land falling away) at a property, or in the neighbouring area.
So how do you determine what is Subsidence and what is merely cracking due to settlement of the property?
Many properties have some evidence of cracking to the walls, but this is not always a case of subsidence. Some cracks can be longstanding and may be as a result of settlement at the property. Cracks can also be caused by thermal movement or poor design. The best way to ensure that your property is structurally sound is to have the property checked by a qualified structural engineer or surveyor. The Institute of Structural Engineers are a professional trade body for structural engineers, and have a search facility on their website to find a list of registered members in your local area. For more information go to www.istructe.org.
What causes Subsidence?
There are many reasons why a house may suffer with subsidence but some of the most frequently occurring are:
Tree roots or vegetation:
This is becoming more of a common issue. Trees or other plants which have long growing roots and have been planted close to the property can cause subsidence damage. They may have been planted many years earlier, but over a period of time the tree will grow to many times its original size and the roots will grow accordingly in search of moisture and to support the tree itself. This can lead to the ground supporting the property to becoming unstable, thus causing cracking to the exterior or interior walls. Some trees are more liable to cause subsidence than others, such as Oak Trees and Elms. However, even if you have other mature trees in close proximity to the property, it may be wise to obtain an arboriculturalist’s report, and have any trees which are close to your property inspected by a professional tree surgeon on a regular basis to ensure they are not likely to damage the property.
Construction of the soil the property is built upon:
Properties are built in many different areas and the soil they are built upon can vary widely. Areas consisting of particularly high clay content can cause subsidence. This is normally caused by clay’s ability to absorb large amounts of water and expand when the surrounding ground is wet, which can cause movement in the foundations, but also, when the ground is very dry the clay can shrink, thus causing a similar problem. Problems can also occur if the property has been built on reclaimed land or poor ground (see section on previous activities).
Damage by water:
A prolonged period of water soaking an area of land can lead to a washing away effect of the soil around or under the property. This may be due to a burst underground pipe or a leaking gutter which has not been fixed. A regular inspection of the property looking for signs of damaged drains, gutters, pipes etc can prevent further damage to the property.
Previous activities in the area:
If your property is built in an area which has been mined in the past there is a possibility of subsidence issues. Although this is not a very common occurrence it is certainly worth looking into if you propose to buy a property in an area of this nature. Some newer housing estates may also have been built on reclaimed land (or previous landfill sites) which can also be a problem, as when the fill decomposes it loses volume causing the land to start a downward movement which then affects the structure itself.
So what next?
If you would like more information or advice on Subsidence and how it affects your insurance, or you would like to obtain a quotation from us, please call one of our experienced quotations team who are here to listen to your enquiry.