How to identify subsidence?
Subsidence can take many forms. When the entire building settles evenly, problems rarely occur. However, if one corner begins to subside faster than another, tensions and cracks appear in the structure. As a consequence of subsidence, doors and windows get stuck and floors become uneven. Heavy stone houses tend to be more sensitive to subsidence, while a timber house can withstand stress better.
If you suspect that your building has settled, check for these things:
Cracks on walls or floors
A major sign is the appearance of cracks in buildings in their walls and floors. Cracks caused by subsidence are typically diagonal, i.e. they move from the lower corner to the opposite upper corner. Inside the building, cracks suddenly appear on plaster walls/plastered walls while outside they are visible on the brickwork. Cracks caused by subsidence are usually large and tend to be wider at the top, unlike hairline cracks that may occur because of the natural movement of the structure. Cracks are especially common in areas where an extension meets the main building. If it cracks at the seams, it means that the building is being detached from the main building.
On roads and streets subsidence problems can often be seen as pits, dents and uneven road surfaces.
If cracks are not visible on the floors, but it still feels like they are uneven, this is easily tested by putting a round object such as a marble on the floor. If the ball starts rolling, the floor leans against the direction that the ball rolls. The floor can also start to settle, then a gap between the floor and skirting occurs.
Doors and windows are stuck
Look for possible signs of subsidence around the weak points in the building, such as the doors and windows. You may find that the doors and windows stick because the building has moved. Cracks caused by subsidence are common even at construction joints in the floor between the extension and the main building, which may mean that the extension is moving or has moved away from the main building.
Drains not working as they should
If the drains function poorly or not at all, it may be because the pipes under the foundations are moving. One can also see that the building has settled if the water in the showers or in the bathtub flows in the wrong direction. In the worst cases it can lead to water damage when the building moves.
Cracks on the plinth and chimney
In addition to walls and floors, cracks may also occur on the plinth and the chimney. The chimney can also be skewed if the house settles.
How do I know if my building has settled?
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Common signs of potential subsidence
- Cracks appear in the plinth, walls and floors
- Floors become uneven or are tilted
- Unexpected structural damage occurs
- Doors and windows do not open/close properly
- Gaps appear between frames and doors/windows
- Structure appears to lean to one direction more than expected
- Water starts to run in the wrong direction the sink or bath
- Water damage may be caused by structural movement
- Drains work poorly or not at all
- Chimney stack or chimney breast shows sign of leaning and cracks