What Is House Subsidence And How Do You Prevent It?

Brown Wooden House Surrounded by Grass

House subsidence can be a common issue in the UK, especially in areas with clay-rich soil. It occurs when the ground beneath your home sinks or settles, leading to cracks in walls, doors and windows not closing properly, and other structural problems. Fortunately, there are things you can do to safeguard your property against subsidence. By implementing these preventative measures, you can enjoy peace of mind and protect the long-term value of your investment.

What Is Subsidence?

Subsidence refers to the gradual sinking that occurs when the ground beneath it loses its support or collapses. What does subside mean in terms of properties? A property can be subsided, meaning it is collapsing. It can be a significant concern as it can lead to property damage, infrastructure instability, and even pose risks to human safety. It is important to understand the underlying causes and potential consequences of subsidence to mitigate its effects and make informed decisions when it comes to real estate. By recognising the signs of subsidence and implementing appropriate measures, such as monitoring, preventive measures, and engineering solutions, we can help minimise the impacts of subsidence and ensure the safety and stability of our environment.

Subsidence can have various causes, such as the extraction of underground resources, natural geological processes, or human activities like mining or groundwater pumping.

At the root of subsidence are movements in the Earth’s crust. It’s essentially the sinking or settling of the Earth’s surface, often caused by natural processes such as the shifting of tectonic plates or the dissolution of underground rocks. These movements can be attributed to either natural processes, like volcanic activity, or human activities, such as mining or construction projects.

This natural phenomenon can have significant effects on the surrounding ecosystems and habitats. When subsidence occurs naturally, though, it often happens gradually and at a slow pace, allowing plants and animals to adapt to the changes in their environment. However, due to its slow progression, nature has the opportunity to respond to these alterations. Plants may extend their root systems deeper into the ground, seeking stability and nutrients, while animals may shift their habitats or change their feeding patterns in response to the evolving landscape. When it’s the result of human activities, however, it happens at a much faster pace. This accelerated subsidence can bring about detrimental consequences, adversely affecting various environments and triggering damage to crucial infrastructures and buildings.

Buying A Home? Keep An Eye Out For Subsidence

If you’re buying a home, particularly an older home, it’s important to understand that subsidence could be a real problem. Fortunately, subsidence is fairly easy to spot if you order a comprehensive survey. Keep in mind that not all surveys are created equally. The mortgage valuation survey, also known as a basic valuation survey, is the most basic type of survey required by mortgage lenders. Its purpose is to determine the property’s value and whether it is suitable collateral for the mortgage. Although it provides some information about the property’s condition, it is not a comprehensive assessment and should not be relied upon as a detailed survey. It won’t offer you the information you need about subsidence on your property.

A homebuyer’s report is a widely recommended survey option for properties in reasonably good condition. Conducted by a surveyor, it provides a more detailed assessment than a mortgage valuation survey. It covers both the interior and exterior of the property, highlighting any visible defects, and potential issues, and advice for necessary repairs and future maintenance. Homebuyer’s reports are typically suitable for properties that are relatively new or in fair condition, but if you’re concerned about subsidence, you may want to ask for something a bit different.

A building survey, which is sometimes called a structural survey, is the most extensive option available. It is highly recommended for older properties, larger properties, or those undergoing significant renovations. The surveyor evaluates all accessible parts of the property, including the roof, walls, floors, plumbing, electrical systems, and more. This type of survey provides a detailed analysis of the property’s condition, identifies major and minor defects, and offers advice on necessary repairs and potential future problems. It will typically help you spot subsidence issues.

You can also ask for a specific subsidence survey, which allows you to gain valuable information about the property’s foundation and any signs of movement or sinking. This can help you make an informed decision and understand the potential risks involved.

Don’t forget, too, to take the time to personally inspect the property thoroughly to get a more comprehensive understanding. Pay close attention to signs of structural damage, such as cracks in the walls or ceilings, discoloured areas on walls or floors, or any other indications of wear and tear that may have been overlooked during the professional inspection. By conducting this detailed assessment, you can identify potential issues that may not have been addressed, ensuring that you make an informed decision.

If your survey or the professional survey suggests any repairs or renovations before you buy, you’ll want to obtain an estimate from a qualified contractor before finalising the purchase, including any steps that must be taken to deal with subsidence. This ensures that you won’t be caught off guard by unexpected costs after the sale is made. By taking the time to have a professional assess the property, you can better understand its condition and what needs to be done to repair it. This estimation helps in planning your budget effectively, allowing you to factor in any additional expenses that might arise from necessary repairs or renovations.

Homes At Greater Risk For Subsidence

Some homes are simply at a much higher risk for subsidence than others. How can you watch for properties that may be at risk if you’re shopping for houses? These are the main risk factors.

  • Homes that have plants with large root systems like trees and big shrubs that are planted far too close to the home may be more likely to experience subsidence. The plants tend to make the soil around the house drier, as they use that moisture to survive. That can cause the home itself to sink.
  • Homes built on clay soil tend to experience subsidence more than other kinds of homes. The reason for this is fairly clear; clay soil tends to change a lot with the weather. If it’s hotter and drier than usual, clay will shrink, which creates instability in the ground, causing the home to sink.
  • Homes in drought-prone areas are also more likely to experience subsidence. This is because the soil gets quite dry in these locations, which causes it to contract, forcing the home to sink.
  • Homes that have extensive leaks can also experience subsidence at higher levels. Leaking drains or even water mains nearby tend to make the soil very soft, and that forces the homes in the area to sink.
  • Homes near former quarries or mining pits experience subsidence at fairly high rates too. The material used to fill these sites tends to shift as it decomposes, and that may cause real problems.
  • Homes with poor foundations are also at risk for subsidence. The foundation work has to be strong before the home is constructed or it will experience subsidence.

Preventing Subsidence: Ensure Your Foundations Are Appropriate And Maintained

Already own a home and you’re concerned about subsidence? When it comes to the safety and longevity of your property, the foundation plays a crucial role, which is why recognising the potential problems subsidence creates is an absolute must. Whether it’s your home or business, the foundation serves to provide a stable base, ensuring the structure’s integrity and preventing potential issues in the future. A strong foundation is fundamental for any building, and it is imperative to understand its importance. By having a solid foundation, you are safeguarding your investment, ensuring the structure’s stability, and protecting against possible damage caused by shifting soil or natural disasters.

Regular inspections and maintenance are vital to help you notice any issues early and address them right away. Taking care of your foundation will not only give you peace of mind but also contribute to the overall value and durability of your property. Remember, a strong foundation is the key to the longevity and safety of your home or business!

Fortunately, there are a few different ways to prevent subsidence and maintain your home’s foundation. It starts with working with a qualified surveyor who can routinely inspect your home for subsidence. In the event subsidence is discovered, you’ll want to prioritise hiring an experienced professional contractor who understands how to handle the complexities involved in constructing and maintaining a solid foundation. By working with an experienced professional, you can have peace of mind knowing that your foundation will be in capable hands, fostering a strong and stable structure for years to come. We’ll talk more in the next section about how to choose a qualified surveyor to help.

In addition to having your foundation regularly inspected you’ll also want to maintain proper drainage systems. They play a crucial role in preventing water from infiltrating any subsidence cracks that may have formed. This is especially important because if these cracks are left unattended, they can result in significant and costly damage over time. By ensuring that your property has an effective drainage system, water seeping into these cracks and causing potential harm simply won’t happen. Taking proactive measures such as installing gutter systems, downspouts, and sump pumps can help channel water away from your foundation, ultimately protecting it from long-term damage. So, if you’re looking to safeguard your property and save on potential repair costs, it’s essential to implement and maintain proper drainage systems, allowing you to rest assured knowing you’ve taken the necessary steps to maintain the integrity of your foundation.

If you want to add trees around your home, you’ll want to be aware of some key tree-planting guidelines, too. Take the time to learn more about the appropriate location and soil conditions that suit the specific tree species. Understanding these factors is essential because planting a tree in the wrong spot can result in various growth issues and subsidence in some cases. The proper location ensures that the tree receives adequate sunlight, water, and nutrients necessary for healthy growth and healthy development of a solid root system, which can help to prevent subsidence. Furthermore, the type of soil is crucial as it affects the tree’s root growth and nutrient uptake. Remember, subsidence occurs when the ground beneath a structure sinks or collapses, and that can be due to the presence of trees with extensive root systems close to buildings. By doing your research and planting the right trees in the right places, you can minimise the risks of subsidence.

You may also want to pay attention to groundwater levels around your home. Groundwater levels play a crucial role in maintaining the overall water balance of our environment. Several factors such as precipitation, temperature, evapotranspiration, and water usage can significantly influence these levels. By monitoring groundwater levels, you gain a comprehensive understanding of the water dynamics in your area. It can also help you identify areas where excessive water usage might cause land subsidence, enabling you to implement measures to prevent further damage.

Choosing A Qualified Surveyor

As we mentioned earlier, one key to fighting subsidence in your home is to have it regularly inspected by a qualified surveyor. How do you choose the right professional to meet your needs, though? Start by looking for surveyors with experience in your specific location. They will likely be more familiar with the geological conditions and potential causes of subsidence in that area, which may help them better identify potential problems before they happen to your home.

You’ll also want to seek recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues who have previously dealt with subsidence problems. Personal referrals are likely to help you better understand the service provided by the surveyor.

As you start to create a list of possible surveyors with whom you’d like to work, look for those who are members of professional bodies like the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in the UK. RICS surveyors are regulated and adhere to high professional standards.

Don’t forget, too, to verify each surveyor’s experience in dealing specifically with subsidence issues. Check their track records and ensure they have a significant amount of experience in conducting subsidence surveys.

Additionally, look for online reviews and testimonials from past clients. Websites like Google, Trustpilot, or Yelp can provide valuable feedback about the surveyor’s services.

Once you’ve chosen a few who can help, contact them to request quotes for their services. However, be cautious about choosing solely based on the cheapest option, as expertise and quality are more important in this situation.

If possible, conduct a brief interview with your top choices to discuss their experience, approach to subsidence surveys, and how they plan to handle your specific situation. You’ll also want to ensure that each one carries professional indemnity insurance, which covers any potential mistakes or negligence on their part during the survey. Additionally, you may want to request examples of previous subsidence survey reports to gauge the thoroughness and clarity of their assessments.

As you work to make your decision, be sure that you choose a surveyor who can clearly explain their findings and recommendations in a way that is easy to understand, as this will be crucial in helping you make informed decisions. Also, make certain you inquire about the expected timeframe for completing the survey and delivering the final report. Timeliness is vital when dealing with house subsidence issues. Finally, review the terms and conditions provided in each surveyor’s contract, including the scope of work, fees, and any additional charges. Make sure you understand the full extent of their services before you select the one who is right to meet your needs.

Suspect Subsidence? Here Are The Signs Of Subsidence

Subsidence is a common issue that many homeowners may encounter, and it is essential to be able to recognise the signs. One of the key signs of subsidence is cracking walls. These cracks may appear suddenly or gradually, and they can be seen both internally and externally. Cracks may appear in walls, ceilings, or floors, and those that are wider than a 5mm pencil certainly indicate a serious problem. These minor subsidence cracks are usually diagonal, and in some cases, you can see them both on the inside and outside of the home. They’re often near doorways and windows. It’s important to note, however, that one crack is not necessarily an early sign. Internal signs of subsidence can be cracks, but homes swell and shrink over time thanks to temperature changes, and supporting lintels over doors can fail, too, causing cracks that may look like subsidence. Often, however, only a surveyor can tell the difference.

Another tell-tale sign of subsidence is sticking doors and windows. If you find yourself struggling to open or close these fixtures, it could be due to the ground beneath your property sinking or shifting.

Additionally, bulging walls can be one of the many clear signs of subsidence in a house. If you notice any irregularities in the shape or alignment of your walls, it is crucial to investigate further.

You may also notice that any rooms with wallpaper seem to experience a rippling effect with that wallpaper at the ceiling joints or on the wall. The wallpaper may also rip and tear in spots.

Being aware of these signs of subsidence will enable you to identify potential subsidence early on and seek appropriate assistance. Remember, addressing subsidence promptly can help prevent additional harm and keep your home safe.

Swift action is essential, as early detection and treatment can help prevent further damage and minimise costs. Remember, the safety and stability of your home come first, so be proactive and seek professional assistance if you suspect subsidence in your property.

Contacting a qualified surveyor is the best course of action, as they can see just how bad it is and offer you recommendations on how to fix subsidence. These professionals can provide valuable information regarding the causes of subsidence and guide you through the process of rectifying the problem. By using their services, you can gain a better understanding of the situation and take the necessary steps to protect or restore your property’s structural integrity.

Check Your Insurance Policy For Subsidence Cover

When it comes to protecting your property, it is vital to have a thorough understanding of your insurance policy, particularly regarding subsidence cover. Subsidence can pose a significant threat, capable of causing extensive damage to your valuable asset. Therefore, taking the time to review your building’s insurance policy for subsidence is crucial. In the unfortunate event of subsidence, you’ll know your insurance will provide the necessary financial support to repair and restore your property. Don’t underestimate the potential harm that subsidence can inflict on your home; prioritise checking your subsidence insurance policy to safeguard your investment.

If you are concerned about potential damage caused by subsidence, it is important to understand how house insurance for subsidence works. Subsidence cover is typically available either as a standalone policy or as an add-on to your existing insurance policy. This type of cover is designed to protect you and cover the cost of repairs from damage caused by subsidence. Whether it’s cracks in the walls, foundation problems, or other structural issues, subsidence cover can help alleviate the financial burden of necessary repairs. By having this coverage in place, you can have peace of mind knowing that you are protected against the expenses that may arise from subsidence-related damage. If you’re unsure whether you have this cover or would like to explore your options, it is always helpful to reach out to your insurance provider for further information and advice.

How Is Subsidence Addressed In Homes?

If an inspection uncovers that your home is experiencing subsidence, you may be wondering “What is subsidence repair?” Initially, an engineer may decide to simply monitor the problem. Often they’ll monitor it over the course of a year to better determine if the ground is sinking.

If it is, the engineer will typically look at the root cause of the problem. If, for example, it’s a tree, the best solution may be to remove the tree, as that will cause the roots to die off, which will help create more stability in the ground around your home.

If the cause is a leaky pipe, often repairing the leak is sometimes all the subsidence repair required. Typically your engineer can tell which pipe is creating problems, and whether or not it is yours, thus helping to determine who is financially responsible.

In the most severe cases of subsidence, a home will have to be underpinned. This is possibly the worst-case scenario, as the cost of underpinning a house can be as much as £50,000. Fortunately, underpinning a house is not that common. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has issued estimates that less than 10% of properties with subsidence need a step this drastic. House underpinning is a way to help build up the foundation of your house when the existing foundation is insufficient or unstable. It involves reinforcing or extending the foundation to provide additional support and prevent further settlement or subsidence of the structure. Underpinning methods can vary depending on the specific needs of the building and the underlying soil conditions. Traditional mass concrete underpinning means the excavation of small sections of the existing foundation at a time and the pouring of new concrete to extend the depth or breadth of the foundation. Pile underpinning is another choice. In this situation, steel piles are driven deep into the ground under the current foundation. The building’s load is then transferred to these piles, providing additional support.

Beam or base underpinning is another option. In this scenario, reinforced concrete beams are constructed below the existing foundation, and new concrete bases are built between the beams to increase support.

Reisen injection is another fairly new form of underpinning. In these cases, a specialised resin is injected into the ground to stabilise and strengthen the soil beneath the foundation. It’s fairly inexpensive, and it hardens like concrete in just a few minutes. It can be far less disruptive than other techniques, but it’s not right for every home.

No matter how the subsidence is repaired, underpinning is a complex and expensive process that requires careful planning and execution, and working with the right professionals who can advise you of the ideal solution is an absolute must.

The Bottom Line

Subsidence is a serious issue that can affect properties and homeowners in various parts of the world. Whether caused by natural factors, human activities, or structural issues, its impact on buildings can be detrimental, leading to foundation settlement, cracks, and compromised structural integrity. Understanding the underlying causes of subsidence and promptly addressing the problem is crucial to prevent further damage and costly repairs.

Ultimately, subsidence is a complex issue that requires a holistic approach to address effectively. Collaboration between homeowners, surveyors, engineers, and relevant authorities is a must to help create the long-term stability of our buildings and communities.

Remember, if you have noticed some signs of subsidence inside your house, don’t delay in seeking professional assistance. Early intervention and proactive measures are key to maintaining the structural integrity and value of your home. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and do what you need to so you can protect your property from subsidence.

Faqs About Subsidence

Can You Get A Mortgage On A House With Subsidence Problems?

Getting a mortgage on a house with subsidence problems can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Mortgage lenders are generally cautious about financing properties with known structural issues, including subsidence, as it poses financial risks to both the borrower and the lender. A lender’s decision, then is based on a few different factors. The extent and severity of the subsidence problem will play a significant role in a lender’s decision. Minor or historic subsidence that has been effectively addressed and remedied might be viewed more favourably than ongoing or severe subsidence issues. Additionally, the lender will likely require a detailed subsidence survey conducted by a qualified structural engineer or subsidence specialist. This survey should outline the cause, extent, and remedial measures taken or required to rectify the subsidence issue. If subsidence has occurred in the past and has been successfully remedied, having guarantees or warranties for the work carried out can give lenders more confidence in the property’s stability, as will obtaining a certificate of structural adequacy. That will help make buying a house with minor subsidence no problem. If you cannot get a mortgage from a traditional lender, some specialist lenders or those who offer non-standard mortgages may have more flexibility in considering properties with subsidence problems. However, these lenders often have stricter lending criteria and may charge higher interest rates.

Why Does Subsidence Affect The Value Of A Property?

Subsidence can have a detrimental effect on property value because of the long-term financial implications it holds. When a property experiences subsidence, it requires substantial repairs and stabilising measures, which can be both costly and time-consuming. The expense of hiring experts, engineers, and contractors to address the issue can deter potential buyers and lead to lower offers when trying to sell the property. It also affects the value because subsidence problems often require ongoing monitoring and maintenance, which can be a burden for homeowners. Insurance companies tend to view properties affected by subsidence as higher risks, resulting in increased premiums. This may be costly for homeowners, making their properties less desirable to potential buyers. It’s worth mentioning, however, that not all instances of subsidence have an equal impact on property value. The severity and extent of the subsidence issue play a significant role. Minor subsidence problems can often be resolved relatively easily and may not result in a significant reduction in property value. However, properties that have experienced extensive subsidence or require extensive remedial work will likely have a more substantial negative impact on their market value.

How Much Does Subsidence Devalue A Property?

It depends a bit on how severe the subsidence was. If you have had it addressed, it should be no problem. If the problem was extensive, though, and you haven’t had it repaired, you could be looking at an unsaleable property.

Do You Have To Put Subsidence On Your TA6 Form?

Yes! One of the sections in the TA6 form typically pertains to “Notices and Proposals.” In this section, the seller is required to disclose any notices or proposals that may affect the property. If there has been subsidence in the property in the past or if there is an ongoing subsidence issue, it is considered a material fact that may affect the property, and therefore, it should be disclosed in this section.

Sellers need to be truthful and transparent when filling out the TA6 form. Providing accurate and complete information helps potential buyers make better decisions about their properties and also protects the seller from potential legal issues later on.

We are proud members of...

  • NAPB
  • RICS
  • The Property Ombudsman
  • Trading Standards

We are proud to be the most regulated property buyer operating in the ‘Quick House Sale’ industry. We are an active member of the NAPB (National Association Of Property Buyers) and are RICS regulated, which means you can have every confidence of selling your home with us quickly & easily.