Subsidence can cause critical damage to any property. It often occurs over a prolonged period of time or as a result of structural issues caused by flooding, roots from trees and other natural disasters. Homes also tend to settle once they are built, which can cause minor cracks to appear, but this isn’t necessarily a sign of subsidence.
So while it doesn’t afflict all homes, it’s certainly something that everybody should watch out for. After all, repairs can be costly and it could also have a major impact on your insurance policy – or even ineligible with certain companies.
What are the warning signs?
The most obvious indication that a property is suffering from subsidence is often when cracks start to appear on internal and external walls. This is caused by the structure shifting on its foundations, effectively pulling one side away from the other. These cracks can start small and then grow significantly over time if they aren’t treated.
This is one of the reasons why it’s important to carry out a survey when buying a house. A building inspector will be able to quickly identify any damage or potential causes of subsidence. If it is found to be severe, it may become extremely difficult to secure a mortgage due to the added risk of future devaluation.
So watch out for cracks and keep an eye on nearby trees. If you have suffered a major flood then it is also worth seeing if there are any long-term structural issues. Again, these will become more evident over time, although you may wish to consider carrying out a survey if you have genuine concerns.
What can you do to counteract subsidence?
A great deal will depend on the cause and the extent of the existing damage. If it is a situation that has worsened progressively, it may simply need a little shoring up.
The first step, particularly when it comes to external cracks, is to look at filling exposed brickwork and mortar. This will prevent moisture from seeping into the structure and potentially causing further damage. While this particular process won’t necessarily cure the problem, it will at least help to prevent it from worsening,
In cases where there are visible gaps that can be measured in inches rather than millimetres, you may want to look at firming up the structure of the wall. Pinning the masonry with brackets can help to maintain structural integrity and stop this expansion in its tracks. In some instances this will be enough to prevent any further issues.
Wherever possible, you should always look to bring in a professional builder or structural engineer to carry out any major work to your property; particularly if you don’t wish to make a bad situation worse. Underpinning will generally take time and can cost thousands of pounds, so you will need to prepare yourself for a little upheaval in the interim as well as freeing up a decent budget.
If roots of a nearby tree are causing subsidence to your property, then you may need to consider having it removed. Again, you shouldn’t attempt to do this yourself, so find a reputable tree surgeon and seek their advice. They will be able to identify the quickest and safest way of felling the tree without putting your home (or your neighbours) in any further danger.
Similarly, if leaking pipework is found to be causing instability in the earth beneath your home, then it’s important that this is fixed before carrying out structural work and underpinning. Without solving the underlying issue, there’s a good chance that any building alterations you make will only prove to be temporary fixes.
So how can you protect your property?
In most subsidence cases there is very little that the homeowner can do to prevent it outright. The only real solution is to look out for warning signs, such as ripples in wallpaper or the emergence of small cracks. This can help to limit the scale of the damage and also make it easier to find a solution.
If you’re already at a stage where underpinning is essential, then things have probably gone too far. It’s not always possible to see warning signs, but if you’re aware that a pipe may be leaking, there are visible signs that tree roots may be encroaching on your property or you’ve suffered a flood, then keep a close eye on things.
Subsidence is a menace, and one that causes millions of pounds worth of damage every year. It can make it difficult to secure a mortgage and even though we include it as standard, repairs may not be covered by all insurance policies. So don’t ignore the warning signs and wherever there is any doubt, seek the advice of a professional builder or surveyor.