Home-owners could be living with the risk of subsidence caused by trees

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Subsidence - How little acorns could cause cracks in your home.

It may well be your dream combination. A house in the country, surrounded by giant oak trees or beautiful horse chesnut trees. Or even a town semi with a cherry tree in the back garden and birch trees lining the street. It may look pretty, but you could be living with a subsidence timebomb and the planting of trees too close to properties could be putting our homes at risk. So are you now looking at that lovely Laurel in your garden and asking yourself the question can Laurel roots cause subsidence?

What is subsidence?

Subsidence is the name given to the structure of a house becoming unsound caused by the drying out of the ground surrounding a house or the ground on which a house stands.

How common is subsidence caused by trees?

It is believed that up to 75% of successful subsidence claims can be blamed on trees that have been planted near a house.

The likes of the Oak and the Willow can look beautiful but are some of the worst offenders. The Elm can be just as bad.

Are you wondering "can magnolia trees cause subsidence"? Well the Magnolia, which can be found outside the front door of thousands of homes in the country is least likely to cause subsidence problems according to research done by the Subsidence Claims Advisory Bureau. While yew, laurel, holly, pine and spruce are also believed to be "subsidence friendly".

Reports say that around 37,000 people were affected by subsidence in 2004 and cost the insurance industry around £200 million.

One of those insurers, Zurich, have said that people are "prioritising the look of the gardens over structural stability" and that many homeowners were "complacent" about the risks associated with planting a tree.

Zurich also said that it found that one in ten people had paid out, or know somebody who had paid out, more that £30,000 to repair damage caused by subsidence. And one in five had suffered from subsidence or know someone who had.

What can be done to reduce the risk of subsidence?

It is vital that home-owners do their research either before they plant a trees near their property or before they buy a property with tress nearby.

The insurance industry has recommendations about the sensible distance between a tree and a house, although it depends on type of soil, the age of the house and other such factors.

The subsidence risk isn't necessarily directly related to the height of tree, it is more likely to be to do with the "thirst" of the tree and the root spread. A mature deciduous tree can drink around 50,000 litres of water a year. Most subsidence is caused by "thirsty" trees and dry weather.

Subsidence - The danger signs to look for

Don't ignore fresh cracks. Let your insurers know as soon as possible, and if they think there is a problem you will have given them an early headstart to getting the potential problem sorted.

Diagonal cracks wider at one end than the other appearing in walls around doors and windows, both inside and out, can be a sign of subsidence.

Cracks that are wider than 5mm, doors or windows that are sticking, cracks around bay windows and floors beginning to slope are also signs that your house could be suffering from the effects of subsidence.

Does subsidence affect houses of all ages and types?

Although in theory subsidence can affect any house, houses built since 1991 had adhere to certain building standards to meet buildings regulations. Detached houses are believed to be more at risk than others.
Houses with basements or deep cellars have deep foundations so should be less likely to be affected by subsidence.

Does subsidence affect houses in all areas of the country?

Again, in theory subsidence can affect houses in all areas of the country, but the clay soil of the South East, particularly London, is the worst affected by subsidence. This is because clay soil is most likely to shrink during long periods of hot dry weather.

Subsidence - The Last Word

Spend some time examining your house, using the danger signs to look for (detailed above) as a basis for your examination. If you are worried that your house is being affected by subsidence contact a good builder for advice, and your insurance company so that you can ensure you have the best home insurance for a house with trees.

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