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Everything you need to know about property subsidence

Few property problems are more serious than subsidence. It can adversely affect your home’s safety as well as its value. There are solutions to the subsidence issue, but many are expensive, so the sooner you address the problem, the better.

What Is subsidence?

Subsidence occurs when the ground beneath your house sinks or collapses, putting the structure under strain. It usually manifests itself as cracks appearing in walls and ceilings as one part of the house sinks lower than the other.

Which homes are at risk?

Many different factors can lead to subsidence. Clay-based soil can shrink and shift in dry weather, and the hot weather in drought-prone areas can also make the ground more unstable. The presence of water-absorbing tree roots close to your property can also lead to subsidence, along with local mining activity and leaking drains or water mains.

How do I know if my property has subsidence?

The first reaction of many homeowners to a crack in their property is to fear the worst. Often, however, cracks can be caused by relatively harmless phenomena such as natural shrinkage or temperature change, and newly plastered areas often develop small cracks. 

Cracks caused by subsidence are likely to be wider than 3mm, diagonal, and will be visible both internally and externally. They are most likely to be found close to doors and windows, and may also extend beneath the damp-proof course. Subsidence can also be the cause if you notice wallpaper crinkling at the joins between walls and ceilings or if you find doors and windows sticking more over time.

How can I prevent subsidence?

You can take steps to minimise your risks. For instance, it’s a good idea not to plant shrubs or trees too close to your property, although if you have moved into a property and the trees or plants are already there, it’s a good idea to get the advice of a tree surgeon on how to remove them. It’s also a good idea to ensure that guttering and pipes are well maintained.

How to fix subsidence

If you suspect subsidence, it’s important to contact your insurance company, who will arrange a survey. Identifying the cause can take time and may involve monitoring the extent of the subsidence over a long period of time. If subsidence is identified your home may need to undergo a process known as underpinning while its foundations are rebuilt.

Many solutions to the problem of subsidence are costly. Ultimately, if subsidence is a problem that you cannot afford to fix, it can be better option to consider alternatives. For instance, you might decide to cut your losses and go for a quick house sale.