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Subsidence is the gradual caving or sinking of land, and it can be a very scary thing to hear as a homeowner, especially when trying to insure your property. Subsidence is the downward shift of a building’s foundations, often the result of moisture in the earth’s soil. For homes built on clay soil, extreme moisture, as well as periods of exceptionally dry weather can both affect a building’s foundations, with moisture causing the soil to shrink, and dry weather causing the soil to swell.
The are a number of reasons why there may be movement in buildings and causes of subsidence may include:
Trees, shrubs, and other forms of vegetation are other known causes of subsidence and heave. When trees grow for a long time close to a property, the roots are long, and in periods of dry weather, the roots will stretch to extract moisture from the soil. This causes the clay soil to shrink, causing subsidence. However, if a tree is removed from an area close to the property, the removal can also cause the soil - the moisture of which was being extracted by the vegetation - to suddenly become very moist, causing heave. This upward movement of the property can create cracks similar to those of subsidence.
This is why the questions you complete during the insurance quote process often include reference to trees, their maturity, species and their proximity to the property.
Another possible cause of subsidence is leaking drains and insufficient drainage pipes near your property. Leaking drains can cause moisture to sit in soil surrounding the property, often leading to soil erosion and subsidence.
A common sign that subsidence and heave may be occurring is cracks appearing in the walls of your property. However a property can also often have cracks which form naturally because as your property gets older, the walls and general structure of the building may shrink and expand. These cracks are usually where ceilings and walls meet, and may not be a need for concern.
If you begin to notice these cracks increasing in number and size, then it may be best to contact your insurer, get professional advice or have your property inspected by a structural engineer.
One of the most common ways to stop the continuation of subsidence is underpinning the existing building foundations of the property.