Put simply, subsidence means that your property is gradually sinking into the ground, usually as a result of soil shrinkage. There are many factors which can cause this but clay soils, nearby trees and long, arid summers can all contribute.
As you can imagine, the cost of putting a subsidence problem to rights can be (very) high.
However discovering subsidence doesn't have to be the disaster you may fear. We take a look at insurance for houses with subsidence and how you can use it to protect your home.
A closer look at the causes of subsidence
Every house will experience certain shifts and movement due to soil moisture. As soil dries during the summer months and dampens again during the winter, it's normal for the ground to contract and expand.
This usually happens by such small degrees it will be almost totally invisible to the average homeowner. However, if the soil is clay, the summer long and hot or the winter unusually dry, the ground may never get the chance to rehydrate. This is when damaging subsidence can occur.
Trees such as ash, poplar, willow, sycamore, oak and plane are also particularly known to contribute to subsidence. Their roots can burrow six metres underground with a radius (sideways reach) that can be even greater. These tentacles suck moisture from the earth leaving the soil parched and shrunken.
Leaking drains can be another cause for subsidence. Drains below the surface which are damaged and not functioning as intended can cause excess amounts of water to flood the soil, collapsing the structure of the ground and eroding the foundation base.
Add in freak weather events such as flash or prolonged flooding, and you can easily see that subsidence is a potential worry for most homes. That's why it can make sense to guard against it.
Is subsidence covered by home insurance?
If you discover subsidence in your property, you won't usually need a special home insurance for subsidence policy in order to make a claim. Most companies include this cover, but ALWAYS check just to make sure.
Your buildings insurance should cover the subsidence although they may require a structural engineer to assess and monitor the damage over a period of time first. If you need to claim on your subsidence insurance cover, contact your insurer immediately even if the damage only seems to be very small.
If you have switched insurers recently and discover subsidence, the Association of British Insurers have special guidelines which helps to determine which of the companies will have to pay for the cost of a claim.
If you are buying a property, your surveyor should flag up if they think the house is suffering with subsidence and can advise on your best course of action.
Do companies offer insurance for properties with subsidence?
If you have discovered subsidence in your property, your existing insurer should normally offer to continue to offer home insurance. However it is worth bearing in mind that the effect of subsidence on insurance at renewal time is likely to be very significant.
The subsidence insurance cost may seem like a steep increase but this reflects the possibility of future claims on the property. If you prefer, you can look to find insurance specialists instead. These types of companies will offer subsidence home insurance and are experts at assessing the risk. They will be able to offer home insurance for subsidence even in properties which have a home insurance subsidence history.
How to compare home insurance subsidence cover
If your property has a known history of subsidence, you may need to obtain subsidence insurance advice because the options for cover will be very limited. Very few companies, other than those found through specialist subsidence insurance brokers, will be willing to extend cover for a property which has been identified as a risk.
Of those willing to offer house insurance subsidence cover, you will need to have lots of information to hand when you apply.
As well as the extent of the damage previously sustained, the insurer will be trying to assess the likelihood of a possible future claim. Therefore, don't be surprised to have questions about the types of trees in or near to your garden, and the proximity to your house.
When you carry out a house insurance subsidence comparison, cost will undoubtedly be a major priority as this kind of high risk insurance often works out far more costly. However finding home insurance with subsidence on your property already means that you need to check the fine print more closely.
For example, the excess is something every homeowner needs to bear in mind as one which is particularly high can almost make the cover meaningless. Even if you have not yet had to make a claim on your cover, if you live in a high risk area for subsidence you may find that your insurer insists on a policy excess of as much as £5000!
It's also worth checking exactly what buildings insurance subsidence cover will pay out for. In many cases damage to gates, fences, walls and outbuildings will not be included.