Most old buildings show a degree of settlement, especially where they are built on clay subsoils. Settlement can be apparent on external walls, around window and door openings, presenting as distortion in frames and cracking in masonry. Settlement is often apparent where a new extension has been constructed against an old building causing differential movement. Depending on severity and newness, these cases may warrant a closer inspection.
Internal settlement is often also apparent in older buildings, with uneven and sloping floors, movement in internal/external wall junctions and settlement and movement in staircases. Much of this goes unnoticed on the causal look around and only becomes apparent on a closer inspection, during a Building Condition Survey or Homebuyer survey. Reference in these cases will be made to the movement and reasons given where possible, or further investigations recommended as appropriate.
Subsidence of part of a building usually occurs as a result of either a fault in the construction or change in ground conditions, when movement and opening of cracks in walls and floors can be rapid and extensive, requiring more immediate inspection. Subsidence is normally included as an insurable risk – see Insurance claims under the buildings insurance policy. There is often an excess covering subsidence, ie you have to pay the first part of any claim. This can be several thousand pounds if you are in a high risk area. If you suspect, or are aware of subsidence you can instigate a claim yourself, or have a surveyor inspect and provide a report. The insurers may not pay the fee your surveyor charges for his initial report, so check with insurers first.
Repairs to buildings suffering from subsidence may involve underpinning works, rebuilding of affected areas and associated superstructure repairs, depending on the cause(s). To date I have been involved in claims for subsidence caused by shallow foundations on clay sub soils (1976 drought), tree roots in clay subsoils, mining operations, inadequate foundations on filled land, change of course of underground streams, building works on adjoining lands, burst underground water mains and leaking drains and properties built on inadequate foundations.
From my experience in building survey work, an inspection can be made, oral advice given and a report provided if needed, usually within a week.
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