4.4 MILLION HOMEOWNERS DON’T KNOW WHAT SUBSIDENCE IS OR HOW TO SPOT IT

  • Over half (51%) of homeowners identify false signs of subsidence when asked what to look out for.
  • Almost one in five have noticed potential signs of subsidence, yet 26% didn’t take any action.
  • Worryingly, over half (53%) don’t know if subsidence is included in their current buildings insurance policy, and LV= GI reveals larger claims can cost around £30,000 or more.

When it comes to spotting subsidence, understanding the signs is key, and new research from LV= General Insurance (LV= GI) highlights that 51% of homeowners don’t know what the signs are.

With mini heatwaves and scorching temperatures expected this summer, homes across the nation are at their most susceptible to the risk of subsidence, and LV= GI is urging homeowners to understand the signs to ensure any issues can be identified as early as possible and dealt with quickly.

In the last year, LV= GI has seen a 49%2 increase in subsidence claims, with larger claims costing around £30,000 and some even reaching in excess of £500,000. The peak in volumes has been sparked by the huge increase in building surveys related to house sales, as well as the summer last year with the UK’s third hottest day on record in July and a significant heat-wave during early August3. The last major spike in subsidence claims occurred in 2018, with a 51%4 increase from the previous year due to another exceptionally hot year.

Show me the signs

Subsidence is when the ground beneath your property sinks because the soil is unstable, and a large majority of UK homeowners (87%) do claim to understand what subsidence is. Despite this, when quizzed about the signs, homeowners in fact appear to have a limited range of understanding.

Data from LV= GI highlights the percentage of the population who managed to spot true and false signs of subsidence, revealing that homeowners and prospective buyers need real guidance on what to look out for.

TRUE FALSE
Large cracks in walls (indoor and exterior) – 71% Tilting large trees outside the home – 30%
Sinking foundations or sloping floors – 68% Bulging floorboards – 28%
Sinking or dips in pathway or driveway – 53% Damp patches appearing – 13%
Doors and windows difficult to open or stick – 48% Signs of mould – 9%
 Wallpaper tearing (with no signs of damp) – 25% Musty odour – 8%

 

Amongst those who have spotted signs of subsidence in their homes, the most common response was to call their insurer (51%), while just over a fifth (22%) had professional checks undertaken by building surveyors. Worryingly, over a quarter (26%) didn’t do anything at all.

On top of this, 53% of homeowners don’t know if subsidence damage is even covered by their current buildings insurance policy.

Cover for subsidence is included in LV= GI’s buildings insurance as standard, which includes cover to rectify the damage and alternative accommodation should customers need to move out of their home while the work is carried out.

To buy or not to buy

The research revealed more than two out of five homeowners (43%) would still consider buying a property with a history of subsidence. However, of this number 29% of homebuyers would only commit to a property if a building survey confirmed it was safe and a further 7% admitted they would strategically use it to negotiate a price cut. Another 7% of homebuyers said they wouldn’t be concerned at all.

Soil… what’s your type?

Clay shrinkage and soil erosion are some of the biggest causes of subsidence in the UK, accounting for over 90% of claims, yet over half of the nation’s homeowners (55%) don’t know what type of soil their home’s foundations are built on.  

Almost a third of UK residents (31%) were unaware of the precautions needed when living in a subsidence-prone area with clay or sandy foundations. With clay soil, homeowners need to keep the area around their home hydrated to stop shrinkage and cracking, and laying gravel or grass can help water to drain through naturally. Checking pipes and drainage systems for leaking water is important in sandy areas, which can wash away or soften the soil.

Prevention is better than cure

Almost half (47%) of homeowners don’t carry out precautions at all to protect their home from subsidence. The most common reason amongst this group was because they currently don’t believe their property is at risk (57%).

However, LV= GI found that some 53% of homeowners are taking precautions seriously with over two thirds (38%) inspecting their property for possible cracks or signs of movement. Another 18% professionally remove or prune trees and shrubbery growing near their home. To manage the weather’s impact on soil dryness resulting in clay shrinkage, 11% are keeping the ground near their home hydrated whilst 10% are removing hard/non-porous surfaces, such as patios or concrete to allow rainwater to drain directly into the ground.

Martin Milliner, Claims Director at LV= General Insurance says: “During the summer months, intense heat can affect our foundations and lead to subsidence, especially if your home is built on clay soil. Our research has found that many homeowners don’t fully understand the significant signs of subsidence, and we want to help consumers be confident enough to spot them at an early stage.

“It’s also a good idea to carry out any precautions on your home, as making small changes early on can help make a difference. From our research, we can also see that a high proportion of homeowners don’t know if their buildings insurance covers subsidence, and I’d encourage them to check so it’s not a potential costly problem in the future.”

Top tips to help prevent subsidence:

  • Prune trees and large shrubs to prevent soil from drying out. Seek professional advice from a tree specialist if you need to.
  • Check water pipes and guttering for leaks which can wash away or soften soil.
  • Lay porous materials around the home, like gravel or grass, to allow water to drain naturally.

Spotting the signs:

  • Distinctive diagonal cracks appear at the edges of windows and doors – usually wider at the top than the bottom and around 3mm thick or thicker than a 10p coin.
  • Doors or windows stick for no reason, or close easily in winter but not summer.
  • Tearing wallpaper not caused by damp.

For more information about spotting signs of subsidence and preventative measures, head over to our handy guide here.