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Very worried: are cracks in interior walls caused by subsidence?

27 replies

Jenalan · 03/01/2023 19:00

Around September, I noticed a slight crack in the wall of my living room (picture 1). At the beginning, I thought it was just some plastering problem, as we moved to the house three years ago and painted the wall by ourselves. But recently, I found a wider crack on the other side of the same wall (picture 2), which is located in the cloakroom where fuse box is installed. I didn't detect any cracks in the exterior wall or other parts. I'm very worried that the cracks on my walls are due to subsidence. What should I do? Should I contact the insurance company directly or find a structural engineer by myself? I've read lots of reports that a property with historic subsidence will be refused by insurers, mortgage lenders and not sellable in the market? Is that true? If so, does it mean I won't be able to find insurers or lenders for remortgage in the future and I can't sell my house? I'm very anxious. Can anyone have a look at the photos and give me some advice? Thank you in advance.

Very worried: are cracks in interior walls caused by subsidence?
Very worried: are cracks in interior walls caused by subsidence?
OP posts:
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KirstenBlest · 03/01/2023 19:03

Is it a partition wall or a load-bearing wall?

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SuspiciousFinds · 03/01/2023 19:07

You need to arrange for a structural engineer to visit and assess.

Have you had any work completed recently? Any trees located within 10 meters?

What did your local searches return when you purchased the property - did they highlight any ground instability?

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Orangesare · 03/01/2023 19:10

Are the cracks on an outside wall or a load bearing wall?
what is the house built of? Stone brick. Have any bricks cracked outside? It’s common for mortar to crack but not bricks.
Do you have bay windows near the cracks? Do your windows have lintels? Not always easy to tell. There was a phase where they often didn’t put lintels in and if it moves a bit there’s some cracking. If it’s an old house has woodworm or other timber rot damage the lintels and they have moved a bit.

There are many possibilities other than subsidence

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Choconut · 03/01/2023 19:11

We had a structural engineer in recently for similar (plus a door that would no longer shut). He wasn't concerned and said it was due to it being a very dry year and the house shifting a bit. He said with the rain the door might even right itself and I just noticed it will almost shut again. I was worried about a 40 ft tree close to the house and he said it was better not to take it down.

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DancingLedgend · 03/01/2023 19:13

You defo need a structural engineer to look at these cracks,

But, there's still a good possibility there's nothing major going on.
But, get an expert opinion; if it's not so good, you need to address it.
If it's nothing serious, you'll feel such relief as this worry is lifted.

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TheSingingBean · 03/01/2023 19:20

I’m not an expert but I wouldn’t worry about those too much OP. We’ve lived in older properties for decades and hairline plaster cracks are very common. We patch them up every now and then with filler then paint.

We’re in the process of selling our father’s house which has a number of much bigger cracks than yours and I was a bit worried about them. A surveyor had a look and said they were due to the long hot summer which has apparently contributed to small movements and not a cause for concern (unlike the roof which he said needs replacing but that’s another story….)

If you want reassurance I’d start with a general surveyor before going directly to a structural surveyor which can be VERY expensive. A general surveyor will advise you if you need specialist advice.

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May09Bump · 03/01/2023 19:22

Get a survey. We've had lots of different ones - caused by different things. Settlement after renovation, trees removing moisture following that heat wave, new double glazing causing the house to dry out, etc. We definitely thought subsidence and yet report came back clear - we paid for a decent survey from a firm we had dealings with from another property.

Don't panic and if it's subsidence, there are things that can be done like underpinning. But not worth worrying at this point.

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TheSingingBean · 03/01/2023 19:23

Sorry OP, just looked again and they’re a bit bigger than I noticed at first glance (so I was wrong to call them hairline), but still not as bad as the ones at my father’s so try not to panic.

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Helenahandkart · 03/01/2023 19:39

Get a ruler and make marks either side of the cracks, so that there’s a 20mm gap between the two marks. Do that in several places spanning each crack.
You can then monitor the cracks to see if they’re widening. Write the date next to the marks. If you do call in a surveyor they will possibly want to monitor how the cracks progress.

I think that generally if you have diagonal cracks, particularly above windows and doors, then you may have subsidence.

We’ve owned our house for 10 years and have diagonal cracks above every window and door, as well as in the ceiling. I’ve filled them and they return.
We probably have subsidence but it’s happening so slowly that I’m not too worried.
My grandad used to say that you don’t need to worry as long as you can’t fit your hand in it.

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NewYearNora · 03/01/2023 22:58

My grandad used to say that you don’t need to worry as long as you can’t fit your hand in it.

Until you want to sell it, of course!

Better in my view to get this investigated now, and nip any problems in the bud.
I would recommend getting a private structural surveyor in - which will cost you unfortunately but may also reassure you
.
They will either tell you it's nothing to worry about, or will have concerns and suggest you contact your insurer.

If you then do have to tell your insurer, you will be pleased to already have your own private "second opinion" in the bag.

Bear in mind that it's short sighted to try and do structural repairs privately and conceal them from your insurer as you'll then have undeclared subsidence and if that ever comes to light, either to a future purchaser or to your insurers, if you need to claim again in future, it will be very difficult to explain away - and your insurer might not want to pay up. Better to be upfront and honest from the word go.

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Jenalan · 04/01/2023 09:36

KirstenBlest · 03/01/2023 19:03

Is it a partition wall or a load-bearing wall?

I think it's a partition wall. It is between the living room and the doorway.

OP posts:
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Jenalan · 04/01/2023 09:39

SuspiciousFinds · 03/01/2023 19:07

You need to arrange for a structural engineer to visit and assess.

Have you had any work completed recently? Any trees located within 10 meters?

What did your local searches return when you purchased the property - did they highlight any ground instability?

No recent work, but two trees in front of my house within 5 metres.

OP posts:
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Jenalan · 04/01/2023 09:42

Orangesare · 03/01/2023 19:10

Are the cracks on an outside wall or a load bearing wall?
what is the house built of? Stone brick. Have any bricks cracked outside? It’s common for mortar to crack but not bricks.
Do you have bay windows near the cracks? Do your windows have lintels? Not always easy to tell. There was a phase where they often didn’t put lintels in and if it moves a bit there’s some cracking. If it’s an old house has woodworm or other timber rot damage the lintels and they have moved a bit.

There are many possibilities other than subsidence

No cracks on the external walls /bricks. The cracks are not above the doors or windows, but there is a bay window nearby.

OP posts:
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Jenalan · 04/01/2023 09:44

Thank you all for your replies and suggestions. Will get a surveyor to come to have a look.

OP posts:
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ParentsTrapped · 04/01/2023 09:44

We had lots of cracks in our plaster, including diagonal ones around windows and doors. I freaked out and got a surveyor who confirmed it was just settlement/movement of the house (in London so built on London clay) caused by the hot weather. The survey cost about £500 but tbh it was money well spent for peace of mind for me.

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CellophaneFlower · 04/01/2023 10:31

Honestly, I wouldn't lose sleep over these cracks at the best of times, let alone after the ridiculously dry summer we've had.

I just fill cracks like these. I always rake them out first though, as just running a bit of filler over them normally results in them returning.

Worst case scenario and it's subsidence... your insurance excess should be 1k and they'll deal with it. It's true some people will run a mile when they hear a house has been underpinned. I've never understood this, as obviously this means it's been fully investigated, fixed and made safe.

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Porcinimushroom · 04/01/2023 10:37

Those are quite significant op, particularly due to the speed of them occurring. Please ignore anyone telling uou to forget it and fill them.

you need to get them looked at properly.

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RoseBucket · 04/01/2023 14:10

You are making the right decision to get them checked, if I can find some photos of one of my old properties I’ll add them, they are very much the same looking, we had an insurance assessor check and they stated it was settling cracks, settling cracks don’t tend to tear like that, they got worse and we asked for a further inspection, old drains below the property had collapsed causing subsidence, it took 8 months to repair. Hopefully they’ll just give you the all clear.

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Jenalan · 05/01/2023 12:19

RoseBucket · 04/01/2023 14:10

You are making the right decision to get them checked, if I can find some photos of one of my old properties I’ll add them, they are very much the same looking, we had an insurance assessor check and they stated it was settling cracks, settling cracks don’t tend to tear like that, they got worse and we asked for a further inspection, old drains below the property had collapsed causing subsidence, it took 8 months to repair. Hopefully they’ll just give you the all clear.

Thank you for sharing your experience. May I know if you were able to insure the property after the subsidence was rectified? Was the premium very high? Were you able to sell the property afterwards?

OP posts:
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Stickytoff · 05/01/2023 12:33

I would definitely get a structural engineer out to have a look at those cracks. Maybe your insurance company might organise one or else you can find one in your local area.

I will say though that we have a subsidence issue on our own house for the last 10 years of living here. It relates to a localised drainage issue very slowly washing away soil from under the foundation under a porch wall and we will get around to fixing it eventually. I’m a structural engineer so I’m not worried about it.

Once you know what it is causing your issue and once you have it risk assessed you can decide the urgency on fixing it based on that. It might not be a big deal but you need to get that checked first.

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Stickytoff · 05/01/2023 12:37

Thank you for sharing your experience. May I know if you were able to insure the property after the subsidence was rectified? Was the premium very high? Were you able to sell the property afterwards?

All of these are case dependent so what happens for another situation won’t apply to yours. For example once I fix my porch it will never ever be an issue for my house, insurance, resale ever again but if for a house built mining areas these could all be issues but for the whole area not just one house.

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NotMeNoNo · 05/01/2023 12:53

Any chance of a leaking drain (outlet from the cloakroom or gutter downpipe) or is there a nearby tree that has grown large?

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blahblonk · 05/01/2023 13:11

We had subsidence due to tree outside and v hot London summer (many houses on clay soil had same issues). Insurers did monitoring, tree removed, eventually fixed with minimal internal replaster and paint job.

It was incredibly stressful at first so I understand how you feel.

Insurance: covered all work except 1000 excess. Premiums went up from 500 to 1k this year so we found a specialist insurer at much lower premium. Only possible now work has been fixed. A faff but much better.

mortgage - while work ongoing it is difficult but not impossible to move. However once work completed, all fine, again more faff and you may need to go via a good broker.

selling - I agree this is the main stress / unknown. However much subsidence is really minor to fix and as long as root cause identified / it’s fixed before you want to sell I can’t see a problem. Loads of the houses on our street have had minor subsidence issues and they sell fast.

I would contact your insurer as you are covered, so why pay for a private job.

insurers and lenders have to continue to cover you if you have subsidence. You cannot be left high and dry.

Ultimately it was all a lot less dramatic than i expected and worried about.

Hope it proves just to be a few cracks- but subsidence is not the end of days I thought it would be.

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katseyes7 · 05/01/2023 13:16

I have fine hairline cracks similar to those in one of my bedrooms (modern build).
However, it depends where they are. Mine are where the wall gets warm because the gas fire is in the room directly below where the cracks are, and the flue pipe is inside the wall.
That doesn't concern me, but if you're worried l'd get someone to have a look at it.

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ProcrastinatingUntilNextYear · 05/01/2023 13:24

We had similar cracks - we did ask insurers to come out and they said they were just settlement cracks. It was after a long dry spell of weather and they said that was the reason for them. They didn’t get any worse.
From what I remember at the time they said fine hairline cracks are generally normal, but wider cracks that you can fit a pencil in etc are more likely to be subsidence.

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