As talk of a drought this summer hits many part of the UK property owners are being warned of the dangers of subsidence.
Such dry conditions can also affect property buyers and sellers with both advised to check that insurance policies are in place during the purchase procedure.
There is evidence that subsidence is on the increase, perhaps due to climate change. Halifax Home Insurance said it had almost 3,000 claims for subsidence last year, up 22% on 2008 and it paid out over £2 million in subsidence claims.
The cost of repairs can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds and in extreme cases homes can be completely destroyed.
According to the insurer, around 70% of subsidence damage is caused by shrinking clay soil. As moisture is leeched out of the soil by trees and hedges planted in close proximity to the property, the ground shifts and foundations crack, causing serious structural damage.
‘Trees and shrubs close to buildings are not generally a problem during the winter and spring as there is plenty of rainfall to satisfy the vegetation and keep soils stable. As drier warmer weather arrives, clay soil can become unstable as it dries out and shrinks.
The larger and closer to the property trees are, and the older and shallower the foundations of the home, the greater the recipe for damage,’ said senior claims manager Neil Curling.
The most obvious indication of subsidence damage is cracks in the walls. While most cracks are superficial and structurally insignificant, cracking caused by subsidence can be expensive to repair, as the cause of the subsidence has to be stopped first to prevent further damage.
‘Tell tale signs of subsidence include cracks that begin at the corners of windows and doors, can be seen from both sides of the wall, and get wider from one end to the other.
Windows and doors that are no longer easy to open or close can also be a sign that something is amiss. We’d recommend anyone who thinks they may have a problem to contact their buildings insurer for advice,’ added Curling.
Subsidence is more likely to occur in areas of shrinkable clay soil, common across many parts of the UK and particularly in the south east. As a general rule if the soil can be rolled into a ball easily, it has a high clay content. The good news is there are several measures homeowners can take now to avoid subsidence problems.
The Halifax recommends that buyers should not skimp on surveys and searches. Information on historical activity such as mining can be valuable as around 15% of subsidence claims are due to previous mining activity beneath a property.
Tree removal solves 84% of tree related subsidence claims. But before removing trees, property owners should check with the local town planning office that there is no tree preservation order or other restrictions that could result in a considerable fine for breaching the rules. If removal is not possible, reduction followed by regular maintenance can be the solution.
‘If you suspect a problem, contact your insurer as soon as possible. The sooner the cause is identified and remedied the sooner repairs can be carried out and the value of the property preserved,’ said Curling.[Property Wire News]