So what exactly is Subsidence?
You might have heard this term being used by estate agents, home insurance companies and building contractors. There’s a reason why so many people are talking about it. Subsidence is not something you want to hear about any property, especially not your own. That’s why we’ve written this article, explaining exactly what it is and how to identify it.
Subsidence is the sinking of the ground underneath your home, and whether it’s a millimeter or several inches of downward movement, it’s always bad news. It can happen to all or some of your house, causing problems which range in severity from warped windows and cracks to catastrophic structural damage and collapse. Nothing particularly appealing there.
The cost to repair the damage caused by severe subsidence can be absolutely enormous, so the earlier you can catch it, the better. If you’re looking to sell your home, then subsidence is going to be an enormous barrier you’ll need to overcome. That’s why it is so important that you can identify some of the signs of subsidence.
What are the signs?
Luckily, there are several telltale signs of subsidence that will tip you off that something’s wrong beneath your house. The earlier you can spot subsidence the quicker you can get it sorted and the less damage it will have a chance to do.
Rippling of wallpaper.
This is sometimes caused by damp, but if your home is not experiencing damp, then it could be a sign of subsidence and a sign of structural movement.
Warped windows and doors.
As your building experiences shrinkage, the weak areas of the structure, the windows and doors, will be affected. With the entire structure being affected by the subsidence, the shapes of the window and door frames will become warped. This can lead to windows and doors getting stuck or not closing properly.
A relatively minor problem, seemingly, but indicative of something wrong under your foundations and a useful early warning for you to get a professional in to have a proper look.
If you suddenly find cracks in your walls or ceilings, both in your plaster and in your brickwork on the outside of your house, then this could be a sign of subsidence. The sudden appearance of cracks is indicative of fairly major movement under the ground. Subsidence cracks are usually diagonal in direction, going from lower corner to opposite upper corner.
If you’ve got cracks which are getting bigger over time, then this could be a sign that this part of your home is experiencing increasing levels of sinkage. If you see cracks which are wider than 3mm, then this could mean you’ve got subsidence and you should take action.
However, if your home has been built recently, then you may not need to panic. Rather than subsidence, it could be settlement, which is something that you needn’t worry about. Settlement is when the ground adjusts and compacts underneath a newly-built home, this leads to a small amount of movement which is not indicative of anything more severe. Small amounts of movement can also occur within the home, as different construction materials shrink with age or weather. It’s entirely normal and is taken into account by the company that builds the home.
Protruding screw and nail heads.
When you see a crack, check around it for any nails and screws that are protruding. You might have to feel through the wallpaper, but if there are any sticking out then it could be demonstrative of subsidence. The warping caused by subsidence will pull studs, nails and screws out of place.
If there are screws and nails out of place, but not near any cracks, then it could be settlement instead of subsidence. However, you should still get a professional in to survey your home.
Uneven roads and floors.
The sinkage and collapse of soil underneath your structure is going to manifest in uneven footing. On roads and other concrete/tarmac flat surfaces, you may see pits, dents and a generally uneven surface. This will prove dangerous to any people or vehicles that travel over them.
For your floor, even if you can’t see any cracks of dips, you may notice something off about it. Try putting a ball on the floor and seeing if it rolls in any direction. This will give you a good visual demonstration of the extent of the subsidence affecting your building.
Issues with water and drainage.
With all of this movement going on, it’s unsurprising that your utilities might be affected. If you find that drains aren’t working properly, or your water pressure isn’t what it should be, then this could be evidence that your piping is being warped and moved by the subsidence.
If you have an extension then you have another possible indicator of subsidence. Extensions are often badly affected by subsidence and cracks near the point of connection between the extension and the main building could be a sign of subsidence. The subsidence may be causing the extension to break off from your home.
To sum up
As you can see, subsidence has several tell-tale signs. Learn these well and you’ll be better equipped to spot subsidence in your own home or building. If this article has set off any alarm bells in your head, then you should call in a subsidence professional immediately to assess whether the signs are of subsidence or something less severe. In any case, it’s good to know, if only for your peace of mind.