‘Damage can escalate’: Property problems that could cost up to £250,000 – warning signs

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Subsidence can cost Britons thousands of pounds if left untreated yet many don’t know what to out for. Alex Finch, a subsidence expert at Geobear with over 25 years of experience, has shared his ultimate guide to subsidence damage and what to look out for.

He explained that recent research shows that 4.4 million homeowners understandably don’t know what subsidence is or how to spot it.

However, if left untreated, subsidence damage can cost homeowners anywhere up to £250,000.

The expert said: “Subsidence is when foundations of a property sink into the soil beneath, resulting in damage to the property above ground.

“If left untreated in its early stages, damage can escalate and it can leave a huge hole in the pockets of homeowners.

“But there isn’t any need to panic just yet, it’s actually normal for some new-build properties to sink into the soil slightly. This is known as settlement. This is different to subsidence however settlement occurs when the weight of a new house settles into the soil. 

“This may result in some very small cracking within your home but this will stop and shouldn’t be a long-term issue. This minor cosmetic damage is usually picked up by the house builders.

“Subsidence on the other hand, requires immediate action to limit the cost and the damage it can do to your property. It usually occurs where there’s an external factor that makes the foundations go downwards and as a result, causes damage to your property.”

According to Alex, the most common cause in the UK is “clay shrinkage”, with an estimated 70 percent of all problems as a result of clay shrinkage.

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This is because many houses in the UK are built off what is known as shrinkable clay soil, meaning the weather and surrounding trees can have an enormous impact on its behaviour.

The expert added: “During very dry and hot spells, moisture is reduced and the clay soil shrinks up like a sponge which causes fissures and cracks to appear.

“As a result, the weight of the property can cause the foundations to move downwards into the weakened soil. This downward movement can lead to cracks appearing in the property above.”

Common solutions for these problems include the removal or managing the height of nearby trees, and allowing the soil to rehydrate over a long period.

Alex went on: “However, subject to the soil conditions, some stabilising of the foundations in that area may also be required. Thereafter, when stability has returned, structural crack repairs and redecorations can be carried out.”

What are warning signs in a property to look out for?

Alex explained: “Cracks in walls. While not all cracks in a property will be a result of subsidence, it is important to be vigilant. 

“Cracks caused by subsidence are normally diagonal. They are often found around doors and windows and will suddenly appear in plasterwork inside the building, and on the brickwork outside. Cracks usually emanate from ground level.”

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Sinking floors as well as windows and doors sticking are also other warning signs.

The expert said: “Even windows and doors can be affected by subsidence. 

“If you are having difficulty opening and closing your windows then this could be a result of the foundations of the property having moved.”

Extensions moving away from the property is also another sign homeowners should look out for.

Alex said: “Subsidence cracks are common at points where an extension or projection meets the main building, indicating that the extension is pulling away from the main structure and that an intervention may be required.”

If Britons suspect they may have subsidence, the expert recommends getting in touch with your buildings insurance provider.

The subsidence expert explained: “They will employ specialists to assist with a thorough investigation into the cause.

“When you see a new crack or something that concerns you, don’t consider leaving it and keeping an eye on it over the next 12 months, because it will usually get worse.

“Contact your insurance provider as soon as possible to get started with the process.”

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