Ground stability issues aren’t something the average homeowner considers when putting in an offer on their new home. It is more likely that thoughts will turn to BBQ’s on the lawn whilst the sun is shining, rather than focusing on what lies beneath the property, and this can so easily turn the dream home into a nightmare purchase.
In recent years, ground stability risks such as sinkholes have become more apparent and with the expected worsening of weather conditions, they are projected to increase in volume. According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, at least nine sinkholes appeared in England in February 2014 caused by heavy rain and flooding. However, heavy rain is not the only culprit, as there are a range of factors that can be responsible for subsidence and ground instability issues.
Peter Brett, a leading development and infrastructure consultancy who hold a national database of non-coal mining and natural cavities define such instability issues as “natural cavities, such as sinkholes and caves, occur widely in diverse geological settings.
Most are formed by the dissolution of soluble rock, such as chalk or limestone. Some are formed by slope instability resulting in fissures that are in-filled with loose materials. Such features can pose a serious hazard to buildings and infrastructure.” (http://www.peterbrett.com/land-instability)
Ground instability issues from sink holes or natural cavities are usually covered by the homeowners’ buildings insurance policy; and as a result Insurers will usually pay for the property to be repaired. However, it is unlikely that they will fund the repairs for the damage to the garden. The Guardian Newspaper reported in 2014 how one homeowner had to fund a £10,000 bill to fill the hole that appeared overnight in their garden. The insurer stated “Damage to garden features is excluded under your policy unless your home is damaged by the same cause and at the same time. In this instance as there is no damage to your home the cost of filling the void is not covered under your policy.” This does not just apply to sinkholes but to any subsidence damage.
With changing rainfall and ground water conditions there has been a dramatic upturn in the number of cases of ground collapsing through natural causes known as sinkholes. Large areas of the country are underlain by surface deposits or rock formations such as limestone, chalk, salt, and gypsum. These types of rocks can be removed or readily dissolved by surface flooding, heavy rainfall, water abstraction, or by drought conditions removing the support of water in underground cavities.
A recent case in Sidcup, Kent saw an 8ft hole open up underneath a recycling lorry and at the start of 2014 we saw buyers pulling out of their transactions in Hemel Hempstead1, as a 20 foot deep cavity opened up underneath a development of new homes. In High Wycombe, a car was swallowed up by a 30 foot hole in a driveway, thought to be associated with old chalk mine workings2.
So, identifying ground stability issues is a vital part of any home buying process. FCI’s Environmental Reports, allow home buyers to assess any potential ground stability issues, before purchasing the property. Ground stability data is included in every Future Climate Info Premium and Standard environmental report for both residential and commercial properties. With the FCI reports conveyancers can satisfy both themselves and their clients whether any issues are associated with a property, safe in the knowledge that a Professional Opinion has been provided from a RICS qualified surveyor.
Avoid that sinking feeling, and start ordering ground stability as ‘Standard’!