Cracking up? Signs of subsidence

Subsidence occurs when the ground under your home sinks lower, taking some of your foundations with it. Cracks appear in your building as one side moves away from the rest of the structure.

Signs of Subsidence

Not all cracks are caused by subsidence, they may be caused by temperature changes causing walls to shrink or expand, and in new homes the structure may take a while to settle. Signs that cracks may be caused by subsidence include:

  1. Cracks more than 3mm
  2. Cracks that are diagonal, and wider at the top than the bottom
  3. Cracks that are visible on the plaster inside and the brickwork outside
  4. Cracks near doors or windows
  5. Cracks where an extension joins the house
  6. Other signs that subsidence may be occurring are wallpaper crinkling and doors and windows sticking

How to deal with subsidence

The solution to subsidence depends on what is causing it. There are a number of potential causes:

  1. Hot temperatures and / or drought causing soil to dry out and shift
  2. Roots of trees and shrubs extending under your property as they search for water
  3. Shallow foundations under older homes
  4. Leaking drains and water mains washing soil away
  5. Local mining, or instability in nearby former mining or quarry sites


  1. You can’t prevent hot temperatures or drought, but you can avoid planting trees and shrubs too close to your building. The ABI has a table estimating how far different types of trees should be from buildings. (1)
  2. If trees and shrubs are already planted close to your home, then it may be worthwhile pruning them to reduce the amount of water they require. A tree surgeon would be able to help you.
  3. Maintain your drains and pipes to avoid leaks that might wash away soil.

Most importantly, if you think your home is subsiding, don’t ignore the problem. Contact your home insurer and they will arrange for a survey. The problem may be monitored to try to find out the cause and how fast it is happening. Usually the cause of the problem will be found and removed; some situations will require foundations to be strengthened.

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(1) ABI: Protecting your home from Subsidence Damage

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