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Subsidence occurs when there is movement in your properties foundations. If you suspect subsidence within your property, it is important to get advice as soon as possible, but it’s not necessarily as scary as it sounds as in most cases it can be rectified fairly easily.

Subsidence can be caused by several factors, most of which is beyond your control. If your property is built upon clay soils, droughts can cause the concentration of water within the ground to drop and therefore create movement within the ground, which can then cause subsidence. Trees and shrubs with large roots can also cause subsidence as they can uplift the ground beneath the building.

Water can also cause movement within the building as it can wash away soil from around the foundations weakening the support. So be sure to check for leaky drains and pipes. If you live in an area with high sand content, this can also cause instability with foundations. It is always a good idea to research the soil properties when purchasing a property – something fairly essential but often dismissed. Also areas where mining occurs can cause a movement in the land surrounding the property.

Signs of subsidence could include cracks appearing in the exterior walls or widening of existing cracks. There could also be signs of cracks on the inside of the property, as plaster cracks or wallpaper appears to ripple. As your property moves, you may also notice doors and windows ‘stick’, due to movement of the frames. This could also be caused by seasonal temperature changes, so don’t be alarmed. A specialist builder can help to identify the exact problem.

So if you have noticed any of these signs and suspect your property may be at risk of subsidence, contact a builder or specialist as soon as possible who can clarify the problem and help to work out a solution. If your property is mortgaged, the chances are your home will be covered by insurance in the event of subsidence. Your mortgage lender will usually arrange a chartered surveyor to inspect the building, however if you do not have buildings insurance you will need to arrange this independently.

Depending on the outcome, a structural engineer will come and assess the level of subsidence and consequent damage, and then work out a way of rectifying the problem. If left untreated, the building could subside to a dangerous level, and make the property very unstable requiring you to vacate the property. It is also worth noting that any attaching or nearby properties could be at risk of instability if your property has subsidence, and in the same way your property could be at risk if theirs has it, so be aware of that when you have an inspection. You may need to contact any neighbours and discuss the proposed schedule to rectify the problem before it escalates. And remember it is also important that an accredited structural engineer or builder carries out the work on the property.

Also see this article in the Telegraph –

by Cormac Henderson

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