Does Farm Insurance Cover Subsidence Of Farm Buildings?
Caeva O'Callaghan | December 1st, 2023
Subsidence and ground heave can bring farm outbuildings crashing to earth – but will a standard farm insurance policy cover the risks?
In order for your outbuildings to be covered for subsidence by your insurance you need to tell your insurer that you want to include them on the policy. If there is subsidence on your farm, you need to be aware of the facts before you buy.
In this article, we’ll cover the following questions:
- What is subsidence?
- Why is subsidence dangerous?
- How do I protect my outbuildings against subsidence?
There are many perils involved when insuring farm outbuildings, so it’s important to have the necessary insurance in place.
What is subsidence?
Subsidence is when a building’s foundation sinks into the ground as a result of shifting earth. As the ground moves lower, the foundations of a building will shift out of alignment. Bigger problems arise when different areas of the ground sink at different rates, causing warping.
Ground heave is the opposite, but still classified as a subsidence risk. Ground heave happens when parts of the ground under a building are pushed upwards, shifting foundations higher. Again, uneven movement causes the most potential risk.
Landslip or landslide happens when the ground your outbuilding was built on is unstable for any reason, and moves down a slope or is washed away. This is a very serious problem but is only a high risk in coastal areas.
The main causes of subsidence or ground heave are as follows:
- Changes in the normal water content of the subsoil under the foundation (particularly clay)
- Trees planted too close to buildings
- Man-made, reclaimed land, or peat underneath foundations
- Poor design or construction of a building
- The location of the site (eg on a steep slope)
Subsidence, landslip or ground heave of the site on which the buildings stand is not usually easy to predict. Therefore, it is an insurable risk. But this doesn’t apply everywhere. Cork has a higher rate of subsidence, so if you live in that part of the country it might be more difficult to get insured.
Why is subsidence dangerous?
The damage caused by subsidence and ground heave risks is substantial. Often, the first evidence of ground heave you see are cracks in exterior and interior walls which appear overnight.
You can usually tell subsidence cracks apart from other damage by their diagonal, jagged appearance. They are also much thicker than hairline cracks from other causes. These cracks, if serious enough or neglected long enough, can cause walls to fall inwards, which may bring down the roof and pose a risk to members of the public and livestock.
Other signs include doors and vents sticking, as the walls of the shed or outbuilding shift with the foundations. Also, if any concrete floor or path starts to lift or crack in certain areas, this could also be a sign of subsidence and could pose a danger to anyone walking in the area.
Another clue to watch out for is if there are very large trees in the area around the outbuilding. Neglected buildings can produce an abundance of plant life which can soon take over. Apart from the risks posed by falling branches and storms, trees can cause subsidence. Large roots remove a lot of water from the soil, which can accelerate the drying and shrinking process and lead to ground heave.
How do I protect my outbuildings against subsidence?
The biggest thing you can do to reduce the risk of subsidence as a farm owner is to ruthlessly manage any trees close to your outbuildings. Secondly, try to minimise the presence of excess water in the soil.
Avoid the land around your sheds and outbuildings becoming waterlogged by using water butts to collect rainfall and distribute this evenly around your land later. Keep guttering, pipes and plumbing well-maintained to avoid leaks.
Use hedges to help naturally manage waterlogging. While large trees dehydrate the soil and their roots can shift your foundations, large shrubs and a balance of thirsty versus drought-loving plants will stabilise the soil and help regulate water levels.
Dealing with a possible subsidence claim will involve experts and we recommend that you get in touch with a loss assessor to help you prepare your claim. Sometimes the subsidence can be fixed by underpinning the foundations and other times, it may be worth tearing down the outbuilding and starting from scratch.
Confused about farm insurance? Give us a call today and talk to our farm insurance experts.
All Information in this post is accurate as of the date of publishing.