What Are The Early Signs of Subsidence?

House falling down Subsidence is a common issue that can affect any type of building, from residential homes to commercial properties. It refers to the gradual sinking or settling of the ground beneath a structure, which can lead to a range of problems such as cracks in the walls, doors and windows that no longer operate smoothly, and uneven floors. If left unaddressed, subsidence can cause serious damage to a building’s structural integrity, potentially rendering it unsafe to inhabit.

While subsidence is a complex problem that can have many underlying causes, there are several early warning signs that property owners can look out for to identify the problem before it becomes too severe. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common signs of early subsidence and what to do if you notice them in your property. By being aware of these warning signs and taking action promptly, you can help to prevent subsidence from causing significant damage to your building and avoid costly repairs down the line.

Ten common early warning signs –

  1. Cracks in walls, ceilings, and floors that become more visible over time, especially near doors and windows
  2. Doors and windows that stick or don’t open and close properly, and suddenly become difficult to operate
  3. Gaps opening up between walls, ceilings, doors, and windows, and between walls and the floor or ceiling
  4. Uneven floor surfaces or sloping floors
  5. Walls or ceilings bulging or sagging
  6. Unusual marks on outside walls such as horizontal cracks or crumbly render
  7. Water stains on the walls or ceiling
  8. Cracks in the foundation or basement walls
  9. Separation of the chimney from the house
  10. Tilting or sinking of outdoor features such as patios, sidewalks, or retaining walls

Sink Hole

Main signs of subsidence


Cracks in Walls, Floors, and Ceilings

Cracks are one of the most common signs of subsidence and these minor cracks can appear on both the interior and exterior of a building. These cracks may start off small but can gradually widen and become more visible over time. Horizontal cracks that appear above doors and windows are particularly concerning, as they can indicate that the weight of the building is no longer evenly distributed.

Can You Fix It?

The fix for cracks depends on the severity and underlying cause of the subsidence. In some cases, filling the cracks with a suitable filler may be sufficient. However, if the subsidence is severe, the building may require underpinning or other structural repairs. It’s important to find out the cause and employ an expert who might be able to do structural survey to help identify and fix the problem.

NOTE – Not all subsidence is equal! Mostly it is the settling of land due to natural or human activities. This can lead to cracks in walls as the foundation shifts and causes structural damage. Other causes of wall cracks include wood studs, posts or beams warping or shrinking, ceiling joists that are overspanned, faulty taping of drywall, and lack of maintenance in homes left vacant for long periods of time. It’s important to identify the cause of any wall cracks so appropriate action can be taken to fix them.


Quick checklist –

  1. Check the direction of the cracks. Vertical or diagonal cracks that appear wider at the top than at the bottom are typical of subsidence.
  2. Measure the width of the cracks. If they are wider than a few millimeters, they may indicate subsidence.
  3. Look for other signs of subsidence, such as doors and windows that stick or won’t close properly, or uneven floors.
  4. Check the building’s foundations for signs of movement, such as cracks or bulges in the walls, or gaps around the doors and windows.
  5. Inspect the outside of the building for signs of subsidence, such as cracks in the brickwork or stonework, or gaps around the roofline.
  6. Look for signs of subsidence in neighboring buildings, as this could indicate a wider problem in the area.
  7. Contact a qualified structural engineer or surveyor to assess the severity of the subsidence and recommend appropriate repairs.
  8. Notify your insurance company of the problem and follow their procedures for making a claim.

Remember that subsidence can be a serious problem that requires professional attention, so it’s important to act quickly and seek expert advice.

The Caution of trees –

tree Subsidence caused by trees is a common problem, especially in areas with clay soils. Tree roots can draw moisture from the clay soil, causing it to shrink and leading to subsidence. Here are some steps you can take if you suspect subsidence from trees:

  1. Identify the trees that may be causing the problem. Look for trees close to the building with large, visible roots.
  2. Check the species of the trees. Some species, such as willows and poplars, are more likely to cause subsidence than others.
  3. Consider the age of the trees. Older trees are more likely to have extensive root systems that can cause subsidence.
  4. Check the distance of the trees from the building. Trees that are within 10 meters of the building are more likely to cause subsidence.
  5. Look for signs of subsidence (see our checklist!)
  6. Have a qualified arborist assess the trees and their root systems to determine if they are causing subsidence.
  7. Consider having the trees removed or having their roots trimmed back to prevent further subsidence.

When is a crack not subsidence?

there can be many different types of cracks that may occur in buildings that are not necessarily caused by subsidence. Here are some common types of cracks and their potential causes:


  1. Hairline cracks: These are thin, narrow cracks that are usually less than 1mm wide. They are typically caused by minor settlement or shrinkage of building materials and are generally not a cause for concern.
  2. Settlement cracks: These are wider cracks that can occur as a building settles into its foundation. Settlement cracks are typically diagonal and occur near the corners of doors and windows. They are usually not serious unless they are wider than 5mm.
  3. Thermal expansion cracks: These cracks occur when building materials expand and contract due to changes in temperature. They are typically vertical and can occur in areas exposed to direct sunlight, such as south-facing walls.
  4. Lintel failure: Lintels are load-bearing structures that support the weight of the wall or building above them. If a lintel fails, it can lead to cracking or other damage to the structure. Signs of lintel failure include cracking above windows and doors, sagging or uneven walls, or doors and windows that stick or are difficult to open and close. Lintel failure can be caused by a variety of factors, including age, poor installation, and exposure to moisture or other environmental factors. They are typically wider than other types of cracks and may be accompanied by other signs of structural damage, such as sagging floors or uneven walls.
  5. Cracks caused by moisture: These cracks occur when moisture penetrates building materials and causes them to expand and contract. They are typically horizontal and occur near the base of walls or near windows and doors.
  6. Vibrations from traffic: Vibrations from nearby traffic can cause damage to buildings, particularly in areas with heavy or frequent traffic. This can lead to cracking, particularly in older or weaker buildings. To minimize the risk of damage, it’s important to ensure that the building is structurally sound and that any repairs or maintenance are carried out as needed.
  7. Cracks in new plaster: plaster falling It’s not uncommon to see some cracking in new plaster, especially as the plaster dries and settles. This is generally nothing to worry about, and small cracks can often be filled with additional plaster or filler. However, if the cracking is severe or widespread, it could indicate a problem with the underlying structure or moisture issues.

Doors & Windows sticking ?

If a building is affected by subsidence, doors and windows may begin to stick or become difficult to open and close. This can be a sign of underlying issues such as structural movement, foundation issues, warped frames, or environmental factors like humidity and moisture.

window If you notice that your doors or windows are sticking, it’s important to have the issue assessed by a qualified professional. You may want to contact your insurance first to see if it’ll be covered. You’ll get help determine top understand any underlying cause and recommend appropriate repairs, which could range from minor adjustments to the doors or windows themselves to more extensive repairs to the building’s structure or foundation.

Sticking doors and windows should not be ignored as they may be an indication of a more serious problem and may require urgent attention to prevent further damage to the building. Older properties might find some minor sticking in colder and wetter months especially with wooden windows and doors which can absorb some mosture in wet weather and make them a bit larger and so harder to open.

Slopping floors

Sloping or sinking floors can signal subsidence, indicating that the ground beneath the building is collapsing. Act quickly if you notice any gaps appearing beneath your skirting boards and contact your insurer to discuss the next steps. If considering purchasing a property with sloping floors, seek a report from a structural engineer for valuable information about the extent of the subsidence and any necessary repairs.

No damp but wallaper creasing

wall paper If you notice your wallpaper creasing or rippling with no signs of damp, it may be a cause for concern. While dampness is often the primary cause of wallpaper creasing, it can also be an indication of underlying structural issues like subsidence. If you suspect that subsidence occurs, it’s important (like all of our points here) to have your property checked by a professional as soon as possible to identify any issues and take appropriate action. Additionally, it’s worth noting that this issue can also occur with tiled walls. So, keep an eye out for any cracks or gaps (e.g. in grout) appearing between tiles, as these could be signs of similar structural problems. It’s always better to be cautious and investigate any changes in your walls or wallpaper to ensure the safety and stability of your home.

Extension seems to be moving

If you have an extension that appears to be moving away from your home, it could be a sign of a serious problem that requires immediate attention. It’s important to note that properties built in the Victorian and Edwardian eras typically have shallow foundations, while newer extensions have deeper foundations to comply with modern building regulations.

Furthermore, the materials used in the construction of the extension are usually more rigid than the more flexible materials used in older properties. The combination of different foundation depths and materials can cause the soil beneath the two parts of the home to move at different rates, leading to damage and cracking. This issue is especially prevalent in homes built on cohesive soils.

If you suspect that your extension is moving away from your home, it’s crucial to seek professional help. A structural engineer can assess the situation and determine the underlying cause of the problem. They can then recommend appropriate measures to prevent any further movement or damage and ensure the stability and safety of your home. Addressing this issue promptly can save you significant costs and prevent further structural damage to your property.

Leaning property?

leaning house A property leaning noticeably can be a sign of subsidence, but it doesn’t always mean it’s an ongoing issue. The subsidence problem could be historic, and the building may have stabilised and not moved in years.

If you’re considering buying a property and notice any noticeable leaning of the walls, it’s crucial to get a structural engineer to inspect the property. They can determine if the subsidence is ongoing or historic and nothing to worry about.

However, it’s important to note that purchasing a house with historic subsidence may make it harder to sell in the future or obtain insurance. It’s recommended to read more about subsidence and insurance before making a purchase decision.

What to do if you are concerned about your property?

Subsidence can be caused by several factors, including trees located close to your property, properties located in mining areas, and poorly maintained drainage systems. To reduce the risk of subsidence, have any trees near your property inspected by a qualified arborist, check if your property is located in a mining area, and ensure that your drainage systems are properly maintained. Look for signs of subsidence on your property, such as cracks in the walls or ceilings, doors and windows that stick, or uneven floors, and seek professional advice from a structural engineer or surveyor if you’re concerned. You can also check to see if your neighbours have any historic subsidence as it can help inform the likelihood of it affecting your property.

If you notice any signs of subsidence in your home, it’s important to inform your insurer as soon as possible to prevent the issue from escalating. Ignoring early sign minor subsidence can lead to more severe and costly repairs in the future.

Your insurer (if you have insurance) will send a registered structural engineer to your property to diagnose the problem, which usually costs between £700-£1,000. Although the survey cost is typically covered by insurance, your excess for a subsidence claim is usually the same amount, meaning you’ll have to pay for it. IF you do not have insurance you’ll need to arrange this yourself.

After the final report is filed, most insurers will organize the repairs through their approved contractors and cover the costs.

The cost of fixing subsidence can vary greatly depending on the severity of the damage and the cause of the subsidence. Minor cases of subsidence may only require cosmetic repairs, such as filling cracks in walls, and could cost a few hundred pounds. However, more serious cases of subsidence may require underpinning, which involves strengthening the foundation of the ground underneath the building, and can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

How long and how much to fix subsidence ?

Subsidence can be a costly and time-consuming issue to fix, depending on the severity of the damage. The cost of repairs can vary greatly, ranging from a few thousand to tens of thousands of pounds, depending on the extent of the damage and the required remedial work. On average, homeowners can expect to pay around £10,000 – £15,000 for subsidence repairs.

The length of time it takes to fix subsidence can also vary, depending on the severity of the issue and the required repairs. Minor cases of subsidence may only take a few weeks to fix, while more serious cases can take several months or even years. It’s important to act quickly and seek professional help as soon as you notice any signs of subsidence, as leaving the problem untreated can result in more severe damage and higher repair costs.

Note on insurance –

glasses on paper While many insurance policies do cover subsidence-related damage, it’s important to check the specific terms and conditions of your policy. Some policies may exclude subsidence altogether, while others may cover only certain types of subsidence or provide coverage up to a certain limit.

In addition to checking your insurance policy, it’s also important to take proactive steps to reduce the risk of subsidence on your property. This may include maintaining proper drainage around the building, avoiding planting trees or other vegetation with deep roots near the foundation, and regularly inspecting the property for signs of subsidence. Early detection and reporting of subsidence-related damage to your insurance company can help ensure that you receive the coverage you need to repair or rebuild your property in the event of a subsidence-related incident.

Selling a house with subsidence

Selling a home with subsidence is not a straightforward one, as it depends on various factors, including the severity of the subsidence and the steps you have taken to address the issue.

If the subsidence issue is minor and has been resolved, or if you have taken steps to prevent further subsidence, then it may be possible to sell your home without any major issues.

However, if the subsidence is severe and has caused significant damage to the structure of the building, it may be more difficult to sell the property. In some cases, it may be necessary to repair the damage or obtain a structural engineer’s report to provide potential buyers with more information about the extent of the subsidence and any necessary repairs.

It is also important (and a legal requirement) to disclose any subsidence-related issues to potential buyers, as failure to do so could result in legal action against you. Disclosing the issue upfront can help to build trust with potential buyers and ensure that the sale process is transparent and fair.

In short: Selling a property with subsidence depends on the severity of the issue, the steps you have taken to address it, and whether you have disclosed the issue to potential buyers. If you are considering selling a home with subsidence, it is recommended that you seek professional advice from a real estate agent or property expert.


If you are unable to sell a property or want to sell quickly why not get a free quote from us and see how much you could get, the answer might just surprise you!

frequently asked questions and a magnifying glass FAQ

What are the early signs of subsidence?

Early signs of subsidence can include visible cracks in walls, particularly around doors and windows, doors or windows becoming difficult to open or close, and wallpaper or paint cracking. Other signs can include rippling or buckling of wallpaper or carpets, sloping or sinking floors, and noticeable leaning of the property.

Can subsidence stop on its own?

Subsidence can stop on its own if the cause is a one-off event, such as a burst water main. However, if the cause is ongoing, such as soil erosion, subsidence is likely to continue, and it’s important to address the issue as soon as possible.

What are the signs of subsidence in a garden?

Signs of subsidence in a garden can include cracks in garden walls or paving, leaning or tilting of garden features, such as sheds or decking, and sinkholes or dips in the ground.

Are minor subsidence cracks a cause for concern?

Minor subsidence cracks should not be ignored as they can indicate an underlying issue that may worsen over time. It’s important to have any cracks, no matter how small, assessed by a structural engineer or a building surveyor to determine the cause and severity of the subsidence.

What are the signs of subsidence internally?

Signs of subsidence internally can include cracks in plaster or drywall, particularly in the ceiling or upper part of the walls, doors or windows sticking or becoming difficult to open or close, and sloping or uneven floors.

How can I check if my property is at risk of subsidence?

You can use a subsidence risk postcode checker to determine if your property is in an area that has a higher risk of subsidence. However, it’s important to remember that even properties outside of high-risk areas can still experience subsidence.

What are the signs of subsidence in a terraced house?

Signs of subsidence in a terraced house can include visible cracks in walls, particularly where the properties meet, doors or windows becoming difficult to open or close, and uneven floors or sloping of the property.

Jonathan Rolande

Jonathan Rolande

Jonathan Rolande began in the property industry in 1987 and has extensive knowledge of the property buying sector. Jonathan is also an avid supporter of greater regulation in the industry. Founding the National Association of Property Buyers to offer essential information to property sellers.