Subsidence is a serious problem that can affect your home and its value. It occurs when the ground beneath your house sinks or shifts, causing cracks, tilts, and structural damage. Subsidence can be caused by various factors, such as weather, mining, tree roots, or poor construction. In this article, we will explain what subsidence is, how it differs from other types of damage, whether your house insurance covers it, and how to avoid it.
Subsidence is the gradual sinking or vertical collapse of the ground’s surface beneath a structure. It can affect any part of your house, but it is more common in areas that have been mined in the past or have clay soil. Subsidence can also occur due to natural causes, such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.
Some of the common causes of subsidence are:
- Weather: Subsidence can occur when the ground below your house shrinks or swells due to changes in temperature, moisture, or precipitation. For example, if there is a drought that reduces the water content of the soil, it can cause it to contract and crack.
- Leaky drains: Subsidence can occur when water seeps into the ground and dissolves or erodes the soil. This can weaken the foundation and cause it to sink. Leaky drains can also create pools of water that accumulate under your house and increase its weight.
- Roots: Subsidence can occur when tree roots grow under your house and exert pressure on its structure. Roots need moisture to thrive, so they may seek out underground sources of water. If they are planted too close to your house or are not properly maintained, they can damage your foundation and cause it to subside.
- Mining: Subsidence can occur when underground mining activities disturb the soil above them. Mining can create voids in the ground that reduce its stability and cause it to collapse. Mining can also release gases or fluids that expand and push against your house’s foundation.
Differences from Other Types of Damage
Subsidence is different from other types of damage that may affect your house, such as:
- Settlement: Settlement is the downward movement of a property caused by its own weight. The settlement does not involve any external force or erosion. Settlement usually occurs gradually over time and does not affect the structure’s alignment.
- Heave: Heave is the upward movement of a property caused by an increase in groundwater level. Heave does not involve any external force or erosion either. Heave usually occurs gradually over time and does not affect the structure’s alignment either.
- Landslip: Landslip is the downward movement of a property caused by an increase in slope angle. Landslip involves an external force that pushes down on your house’s foundation. Landslip usually occurs suddenly and affects the structure’s alignment.
How to Identify?
Some signs that may indicate that your house is subsiding are:
- Cracks on walls: Cracks on walls may appear due to settlement or heave. However, cracks on walls caused by subsidence tend to be wider at one end than at another and run diagonally across them. They may also appear rapidly compared to regular cracks.
- Doors and windows sticking: Doors and windows may stick due to misalignment between their frames and their hinges. This may happen if your house has sunk unevenly over time.
- Wallpaper wrinkling: Wallpaper may wrinkle at joints where extensions join with other parts of your house. This may happen if there has been a change in elevation between these joints.
- Trees growing under your house: Trees growing under your house may push against its structure and cause it to tilt or lean.
Subsidence Insurance Coverage
Is it Included in Homeowners Insurance?
Most standard homeowners insurance policies do not cover subsidence damage. This means that you will have to pay for any repairs or replacements out of pocket if you suffer from subsidence damage.
However, some states have laws that require insurers to provide mine subsidence coverage for certain properties. Mine subsidence coverage covers damage caused by underground mines and mine water breakouts near homes built above them.
If you live in an area where mine subsidence coverage is required by law (such as Illinois), you should check with your insurer if they offer this option. If they do not offer mine subsidence coverage but you still live above a mine (such as coal), you should contact them about adding mine subsidence coverage as an endorsement (an optional feature) to your policy.
Limitations and Exclusions
Even if you have mine subsidence coverage through state law or private insurer (or both), there may be some limitations and exclusions that apply.
For example, some limitations and exclusions that may apply to mine subsidence coverage are:
- Deductible: A deductible is the amount of money you have to pay before your insurance kicks in. For mine subsidence coverage, the deductible may be higher than your regular homeowner’s insurance deductible. For instance, in Illinois, the mine subsidence deductible is 10% of the property’s value or $500, whichever is greater.
- Waiting period: A waiting period is the amount of time you have to wait before your insurance starts to cover your claim. For mine subsidence coverage, the waiting period may be longer than your regular homeowners insurance waiting period. For instance, in Illinois, the mine subsidence waiting period is 30 days from the date of loss.
- Exclusions: Exclusions are the situations or events that your insurance does not cover. For mine subsidence coverage, some common exclusions are :
- Damage is caused by natural causes, such as earthquakes, landslides, or floods.
- Damage is caused by human activities, such as construction, excavation, or blasting.
- Damage caused by faulty design, workmanship, or materials.
- Damage to personal property, such as furniture, appliances, or clothing.
How to Ensure Coverage?
If you want to ensure that your house is covered for subsidence damage, you should take the following steps:
- Check your policy: Read your homeowner’s insurance policy carefully and look for any clauses or endorsements that mention subsidence or mine subsidence. If you are not sure, contact your insurer and ask them to explain your coverage and options.
- Shop around: Compare different insurers and policies and look for the best deal and coverage for your needs. You may find that some insurers offer subsidence coverage as an optional feature or as part of a comprehensive package. You may also find that some insurers specialize in subsidence insurance or offer discounts for certain features, such as soil testing or foundation repair.
- Get a survey: Hire a professional surveyor to inspect your property and assess its risk of subsidence. A survey can help you identify any signs of subsidence, such as cracks, tilts, or gaps. A survey can also help you determine the cause and extent of subsidence, such as the type and depth of soil, the presence and location of mines, or the influence of trees. A survey can also provide you with recommendations and estimates for repairs or prevention measures.
- Make a claim: If you notice any subsidence damage on your property, you should report it to your insurer as soon as possible. You should also document the damage with photos, videos, or receipts. You should also cooperate with your insurer and follow their instructions for filing a claim and getting an appraisal. You should also keep track of your communication and correspondence with your insurer and any contractors or experts involved in the process.
How to Avoid Subsidence?
Subsidence can be a costly and stressful problem to deal with. Therefore, it is better to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are some tips on how to avoid subsidence:
- Regular maintenance and repairs: Keep your house in good condition and fix any issues that may contribute to subsidence, such as leaky pipes, cracked walls, or sagging roofs. You should also check your drains and gutters regularly and clear any blockages or debris. You should also inspect your foundation and basement for any signs of water damage or erosion.
- Proper watering and drainage: Water your lawn and garden properly and avoid overwatering or underwatering. Overwatering can cause the soil to swell and push against your house. Underwatering can cause the soil to shrink and crack. You should also install a proper drainage system around your house and divert any excess water away from your foundation. You should also avoid planting trees or shrubs near your house or remove any that may pose a threat to your structure.
- Monitoring for warning signs: Keep an eye out for any changes or signs of subsidence on your property, such as cracks, tilts, or gaps. You should also monitor the condition of your neighborhood and look for any signs of subsidence on nearby properties, such as fences, sidewalks, or roads. You should also be aware of any mining activities or history in your area and look for any signs of mine subsidence, such as sinkholes, gas leaks, or water breakouts.