What does underpinning mean?
Underpinning is a construction method for properties that are suffering from current or previous subsidence. It is possible to buy and sell property that has been underpinned, however it can often lead to complications with insurance companies for both the buyer and the seller.
Normally, underpinning is required when the structure of a property moves (subsidence) and the foundations need to be repaired. The soil beneath the existing foundation is excavated and replaced with new materials to repair the structure of the property.
Does your property need underpinning?
Subsidence occurs when the supporting soil within the foundation moves away from the structure, taking away its support. This causes the structure to move, and although there are many reasons for why this happens, many are a result of either physical problems with the property itself or issues with the ground and the foundations.
You won’t always notice a huge hole appear in the ground before realising your house needs to be underpinned. You may, however, notice smaller signs such as cracks in the walls and more severe cracks around windows and doorframes. In extreme cases, you’ll notice the property leaning to one side, and in all cases you’ll need to have a Building Survey (also known as a Structural Survey) carried out to discover the extent of the damage.
If you’re worried your property might be on the move, read more information about what to do if you think your property has subsidence.
What to do if you think your property has been, or needs to be, underpinned
The first and most important step is to speak to your Chartered Surveyor and have your property inspected by a Structural Engineer. The report will be able to identify any structural issues which will then determine if your property needs to be, or has previously been underpinned.
For properties that are structurally unsafe and in need of underpinning, the best way forward is to seek professional advice and expertise. There are many methods to underpinning a property, but if not carried out properly, it can lead to very serious damage or even the collapse of the existing property. Hire an expert with experience in subsidence and look for companies that specialise in underpinning.
What is the cost of underpinning?
Once you know the extent of the damage, you’ll be able to get a quote from underpinning companies. All costs depend on how much work needs to be done, but there are many other variables to take into account too, such as the location of your property.
If it’s hard to get to or access to the site is restricted, then the construction work will take a lot longer and it will be a more difficult job, which can make the work cost more.
Although underpinning is often an unwanted expense, if left unresolved the cost could be much higher, putting your entire property at risk. For the sake of making your property structurally secure and safe to live in, the cost of underpinning is often worth it in the long run.
Will underpinning affect my insurance?
Residents living in high-risk areas may have to pay a higher premium to take into account the extra risk, as while underpinning property will rectify the problem, it does not guarantee the subsidence risk has gone completely. Even if your property was underpinned in the past and the problem was fixed years ago, you might still have difficulty obtaining standard home insurance, especially if the house is still on a clay soil.
Many specialist insurance providers can provide a competitive quote based on the property’s history and circumstance, so although it might be more expensive, you should be able to protect your home with suitable cover.
Underpinning is a complicated process, and one that costs a lot of time and money. Before you try to fix the problem, be sure to seek professional guidance every step of the way to be certain you’re in good hands. For more information on subsidence and safely securing your home, read more on how surveyors spot underpinning.
Updated August 2020