Does Home Insurance Cover Subsidence?

Caeva O'Callaghan | May 5th, 2020

Will my home insurance cover for subsidence on my property

Subsidence and ground heave can prove devastating for homes. But, the good news is, you’re probably covered by your home insurance.

Yes, your standard home insurance policy will include damage connected to subsidence, as long as you don’t live in a high-risk area. These areas, such as large areas of Cork, will have subsidence excluded on their policies. This is because ground heave and subsidence is significantly more common there.

In this article, we’ll go over questions like:

  • What are the risks of ground heave and subsidence?
  • Is subsidence covered by my home insurance?
  • What should I do if my home is affected by ground heave?

Subsidence and ground heave are big issues that can cause significant damage to your property. You should consider these risks carefully before buying a property in a high-risk area. But, if you already live in a place where it’s an issue, you don’t need to panic. This is because ground heave and subsidence is covered by most standard home insurance policies.

What is subsidence?

Subsidence occurs when the earth underneath your house sinks. As the ground moves lower, the foundations of your house shift out of alignment. Bigger problems arise when different areas of the ground sink at different rates, causing warping.

Ground heave is the opposite, but still as big a risk. Ground heave happens when parts of the ground under your house are pushed upwards, shifting your foundations higher. Again, uneven movement causes the most potential risk.

Meanwhile, landslip or landslide happens when the ground your home was built on is unstable for any reason, and moves down a slope or is washed away. This is a very serious problem but is only a high risk in coastal areas.

An important note to make is that subsidence is different to settling. If you buy a brand new house, you may see hairline cracks in the plaster or find doors and windows sticking. Normally, these are symptoms of subsidence or ground heave. However, whereas these happen when the ground rises or sinks, settling occurs as a result of the soil under a house being compressed by its weight. If your house is new, the ground won’t have adjusted to the weight yet. This usually evens out ten or so years after construction. 

It’s important to keep an eye out for these differences, as most standard home insurance policies don’t cover settlement. It’s a normal after-effect of the construction process. If settlement is causing significant damage, get legal advice as you may have to take it up with whoever built the home.

Damage caused by ground heave and subsidence

Subsidence, landslip or ground heave of the site on which the buildings stand is not usually easy to predict. Therefore, it is an insurable risk. But this doesn’t apply everywhere. Cork has a higher rate of subsidence, so if you live in that part of the country it might be more difficult to get insured.

The damage caused by these risks is substantial. Often, the first evidence of ground heave you see are cracks in exterior and interior walls which appear overnight. You can usually tell subsidence cracks apart from other damage by their diagonal, jagged appearance. They are much thicker than hairline cracks from other causes, and they will appear in the plaster indoors as well as outdoors. Subsidence cracks also tend to be thicker at the top.

Other signs include doors and windows sticking, as the walls of your house shift with the foundations. Also, if your patio, driveway or path starts to lift in certain areas, this could also be a sign of subsidence.

Another clue to watch out for is if there are very large trees in the area around your property. Apart from the risks posed by falling branches and storms, trees can cause subsidence. When large roots remove a lot of water from the soil, this can accelerate the drying and shrinking process and lead to ground heave.

Dealing with a possible subsidence claim will involve experts and we recommend that you get in touch with a loss assessor to help you prepare your claim. Sometimes the subsidence can be fixed by underpinning the foundations and other times, a part of your house needs to be rebuilt.

How to avoid subsidence

The biggest thing you can do as a property owner to decrease the risk of subsidence is not to plant any trees close to your home. Secondly, try to minimise the presence of excess water in the soil.

Avoid your land becoming waterlogged by using water butts to collect rainfall. Distribute this evenly around the garden later. In addition, keep your guttering, pipes and plumbing well-maintained to avoid leaks.

Mindful landscaping can also decrease the risk of subsidence. While large trees dehydrate the soil and their roots can shift your foundations, large shrubs and a balance of thirsty versus drought-loving plants will stabilise the soil with their roots and help regulate water levels.

If you are concerned about subsidence on your property, pick up the phone and call us today.

If you notice any cracks appearing on your property or if you are buying a property and you need advice about subsidence or ground heave, feel free to call and talk to our home insurance experts. We have been helping our home insurance customers in Ireland for over 30 years and have seen every eventuality you can imagine. Our team of home insurance experts are always available for contact between 8.30am and 5.30pm each weekday on 0818 224433 or 042 9359051.

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