Chats across the garden fence, about anything and everything, are still taking place, from a safe distance, during coronavirus lockdown.  But has your neighbour claimed to have spotted a strange crack in the wall, or leaning of their conservatory?  Did they say they’d had a devil of a job opening a window? Are instant thoughts of subsidence running through your head and, if they’re suffering it, is your property suffering too?

Subsidence is one of those words that strikes terror into the hearts of property owners and it’s true that it can be catastrophic, if left untreated. But, if you detect it early, and you have the right buildings insurance cover in place, it can result in disruption rather than destruction.

step cracking above a window caused by subsidence

Do property cracks and leaning always mean subsidence?

Subsidence occurs when the ground under a building sinks, shrinks or both. If this occurs, it’s unlikely that the sinking will take place in a uniform manner, so one part of the building will move while the rest of it stays in the same place. This means that the walls of the building are under pressure, become misaligned and are likely to crack.  In the worst cases, they could even collapse.

But cracks are not always caused by subsidence.  In some scenarios, damage is caused when the ground moves in another direction. If the ground moves upwards, it is called ‘heave’ and can be caused by the surrounding soil becoming swollen when it is very wet.   This could occur when you have removed a mature tree that grew near to your property.  The water that the tree used to ‘drink’ stays in the sub-soil and causes swelling. Heave can also be caused by a leaking underground drain or water main.

And that’s not all.  There’s another condition called ‘landslip’, which is caused by the ground on which the building stands moving sideways or downhill.

Whatever the cause of movement in your property’s foundations, it isn’t good news and the most common sign that something is awry is the appearance of cracks in the walls.

However, don’t panic if a crack appears on an internal wall or ceiling. That sort of thing is much more likely to have been caused by temperature or humidity changes affecting the plaster.  And, in new buildings, it is common for the house and plaster to have not quite settled in before a new owner gets the keys.

When should you check if you have subsidence?

Call in an expert, to assess whether you are suffering from subsidence, if:

  • a crack more than 3mm wide appears and it is thicker than a 10 pence coin.
  • you can see the crack from both inside and outside the property.
  • the crack is diagonal and wider at the top than the bottom.
  • the crack is close to an opening, such as a door or window.
  • the crack is where an extension joins the main building.

Cracks aren’t the only indication of building movement and a door or window that sticks is also a tell-tale sign, as is rippling of the wallpaper in the top corners of a room where the ceiling meets the walls.

Even if the alarm bells that your neighbour set off prove to be correct, it isn’t the end of the world. Your insurer should arrange a full survey as soon as you alert them.  Just remember that time is of the essence, if damage is to be minimised.  A survey should confirm whether your building is on the move and appropriate action can then be taken.

How is property subsidence put right?

If you do have property subsidence, the actions taken will be defined by the extent of the movement.  This could include strengthening the building’s foundations through a process called ‘underpinning’. This should fix the problem for good and you may be able to stay in the property whilst underpinning is carried out.

If you are worried about subsidence, carry out the initial checks given above.  If you then think the situation could need checking, contact your buildings insurance provider to have an inspection carried out, as a precursor to a property insurance claim.

Are these claims hard to manage?

It is sadly true that some buildings’ insurance policies contain a maze of exclusions and complicated terms and jargon, so you might benefit from having a loss assessor manage any claim you have to make and represent you in negotiations with your insurer’s representative, the loss adjuster.

Getting a loss assessor involved from the start of the claim can be very beneficial but an Aspray property claims management specialist can also assist you mid-claim, when you find that you really need help, or even after you have had a claim rejected.  The benefits are not just those of having someone who is au fait with the terminology used in property insurance policies to help interpret your entitlement but also practical ones. An Aspray loss expert can manage your entire claim and all of its stages, including the project management of the property repairs and reinstatement and the supervision of contractors.  The tradespeople who handle this work will also be vetted contractors, who will work under the supervision of your property claims manager.  The best news of all is that, by allow us to instruct these tradespeople, you will not have to pay Aspray for its services, however any excess agreed with your insurer when you took out your policy, will of course still apply.

Just call 0800 077 6705 to discuss your concerns about any form of property damage, talk about an existing claim that is proving difficult, or notify Aspray that you are ready to make a brand-new claim and want to access help and representation from the start.


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