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What is subsidence?

Subsistence occurs when the structure of your property suddenly or gradually shifts downwards because of the changes in soil that surround it. This is caused either naturally or by human activities.

If you see the signs of subsidence and leave it untreated, the building can begin to lean and damage the structure. Causing even more to repair damage. 

Subsidence can be one of the most serious issues to happen to your property. It can damage the whole structure of your property making it uninhabitable and also devalue your home. 

As the process of subsidence is causing movement to the property from the floors to the walls, you will find cracks in the property giving you a sign of what is happening, causing destabilisation to the building. 

Subsidence shouldn’t be confused with heave, which occurs when the ground moves upwards as well as the foundation beneath it. A landslide is another term that you might hear, this happens when the land beneath the home moves down a slope consequently taking the house with it.

The easiest way to remember the difference between subsistence and heave is that subsidence causes the downward movement of a property, whereas heave causes the upward movement.

What does subsidence home insurance cover? 

Subsidence home insurance will usually be covered under usual non-standard home insurance policies. Providing cover for non standard risks.

However, the cover will normally be considered based on whether the house has suffered from subsidence before. So while you check out comparison quotes bear in mind your house's history.

The best policy for you might be one that includes repairs required as a result of subsidence damage, as well as costs for replacement contents and temporary accommodation.

When you get quotes the insurance provider will take into consideration:

  • The type of property, including irregular features. 

  • The location of trees surrounding your property 

  • How close your property is to water

Properties that have a history of subsidence might find that their premiums are higher than one without such history. 

As the damage resulting from subsidence can prove costly to fix, it’s worth making sure your policy will cover you for subsistence damage.

Causes of subsidence

Some common forms of subsidence include:

Trees and vegetation

The roots of trees surrounding the home can trouble the soil beneath the home, causing subsidence to occur.

These trees are likely to be involved in such damage are :

Oak, Willow, Sycamore, Ash, Poplar and Plane trees.

Clay soil

Clay soil is another major cause of subsidence. As soil shrinks in dry weather, homes built on this foundation will cause more shrinkage when the weather becomes warm. In some cases this will be worse if there are also trees surrounding the area. 

This results in your home sinking slightly, and cracks appearing in the walls. 

Heat and drought

Similar to the effects of clay soil, heat and drought will cause shrinkage because of the dry weather, causing gradual sinking and making it appear lopsided, also causing cracks in the walls. 

Water leakage

When water spreads beneath the property, it could affect the foundations ability to properly support the house, by softening the soil. The weight of the house can no longer be supported, which will cause it to sink.

How the house was built and age

Older homes can already have many issues due to how the house was built. Cracks could already appear in the walls as the result of the building materials originally used. This will also cause movement.

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Check for signs of subsidence

There are some signs that you’ll be able to notice around the house that would suggest subsidence might be occurring. 

  • Large cracks

  • Sloping floors

  • Wallpaper wrinkling

  • Not able to close windows and doors properly

Ways to prevent subsidence

By adopting the habit of regularly checking your property and adopting ways to maintain the home, this could help you gain cheaper non standard home insurance quotes.

Here are a few things to consider :

  • Avoid planting trees too close to your property

  • Prune plants already surrounding the property 

  • Regularly check for cracks and other signs of subsidence 

(Are there cracks in the walls? do the windows and doors close properly?)

  • Look after your underground pipes

What to do if you believe subsidence has occurred

If you believe that your property might have incurred damage as a result of subsidence it’s important that you contact your insurer as soon as possible. 

A specialist engineer might be sent out to inspect your property to make sure that it is subsidence and advise the next steps. If it’s minor and considered short term, then they might be able to assist with repairs straight away, otherwise a longer term plan will have to be arranged if the issue is more severe.

By having building insurance you will normally be covered for the damage, which is caused to the structure of the building and the outbuildings. The excess might be higher than you would usually pay, due to the fact that repairing buildings can prove quite expensive.

Any damage that has occurred to driveways, walls, patios, gates or fences is not usually covered, unless it occurs at the same time as the subsidence.

Within your policy make sure that it also includes cover for alternative accommodation, that will support you whilst work is being done to fix the damage.

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