Buildings insurance explained Flooding and subsidence
Flooding and subsidence are big issues when it comes to getting insurance as certain areas are more prone than others, especially where flooding is concerned.
Defra has produced a guide on obtaining flood insurance in high-risk areas that can help you to get cover if you’re struggling.
How can I tell if my home's at risk of flooding, and what can I do to minimise damage?
The Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency have maps online showing areas of land that may be at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea. The Rivers Agency in Northern Ireland also has a strategic flood map for rivers and the sea.
The Environment Agency also runs Floodline Warnings Direct, a service that provides free flood warnings by telephone, mobile, fax or pager.
You may find it hard to get cover if you live in an area repeatedly affected by flooding. However, if there are plans to improve flood defences in your area, your existing insurer should continue to offer you insurance.
How to make your home more flood resilient
- Replace timber floors with concrete and covering with tiles
- Replace chipboard/MDF kitchen and bathroom units with plastic equivalents
- Move boilers and electrical points well above likely flood level
- Install one-way valves into drainage pipes to avoid sewage backing up into the house
The Association of British Insurers estimates protecting a larger home from prolonged flooding can cost upwards of £20,000 – but the cost of repairing flood damage to properties that have taken such measures can be reduced by 80%.
More help and advice
The National Flood Forum is a community-based network set up by people who have experienced flooding. It provides information on all types of flooding and offers free advice on where to buy flood-protection products or get specialist help or advice on insurance.
What is subsidence, and how does it affect insurance premiums?
Subsidence generally happens when the soil – usually clay – on which houses are built shrinks or swells, depending on the weather. The contraction of the clay can cause structural damage to buildings, especially if the amount of movement varies between one part of the building and another. The problem is exacerbated by the change in our climate, with extremes in the temperature and rainfall we've been experiencing.
While damage to your property is usually covered, there's often a larger excess – normally £1,000 or more. Also be aware that buildings policies usually only cover subsidence damage to the house itself.
Patios, garden walls, driveways and swimming pools aren't usually covered, unless your house is damaged at the same time. Storm damage to gates, fences and boundary walls is normally not covered either.
How to spot subsidence
If you spot cracks appearing in your house, it’s not necessarily subsidence. Your property may be experiencing ‘settlement’, which occurs when a building settles under its own weight. This is common in new buildings and extensions.
However, if new or expanding cracks appear, doors or windows stick for no particular reason and rippling wallpaper is not caused by damp, there is a chance you may have subsidence.
Reducing the risk of subsidence
Try not to plant trees too close to your property, as they take a significant amount of water from the soil, causing it to shrink.
Maintain pipes round your property. Leaking water can wash away soil from foundations.
Effect on house insurance
All insurance companies in our survey provide cover for subsidence, and all specify an excess, typically around £1,000. However, terms and conditions relating to subsidence vary from insurer to insurer, so if you think you may have to claim, check your policy documents carefully.
If you’ve made a claim for subsidence in the last year and are now looking to switch, many new insurers will decline you. More help and advice The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors can provide further practical advice and can recommend a specialist if you suspect your property has subsidence.
I've been asked whether the surrounding area is free from subsidence, landslip and heave. What does 'surrounding area' mean?
There's no cut-and-dry definition and, in any case, insurers shouldn't be asking questions requiring specialist knowledge. If they do, get them to explain exactly what they want to know.
You're legally obliged to mention anything you think might affect your insurance. This would include, for example, that the house next door has had subsidence, or there was a problem locally.
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