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Hosepipe bans and drought can cause subsidence – we get to the root of the problem

With much of the country experiencing heavy rainfall, there are still many counties under threat of a hosepipe ban, whilst many are already experiencing this. So far, the ban has caused little upset as we have seen enough rainfall to keep the gardens moist. However, drought conditions still continue to be a very real threat – and you need to make sure you manage your trees in these dry periods in order to avoid unnecessary home insurance claims and subsidence problems.

You may think this is far-fetched, but the hosepipe ban coupled with reduced rainfall could create a hidden threat to your homes and result in home insurance claims which you could have avoided. During long dry periods, tree roots suck moisture from clay in the ground and cause it to shrink. If roots are left unmanaged you can end up with subsidence with structural cracking, particularly around windows and doors. Take a look at your neighbours' gardens too – root systems reach out to a radius of 2.5 times the height of a tree.

Here is a table of the most common trees to be found in gardens giving the safe distances to avoid root damage to a property:

Species of tree Mature height the tree will reach Safe distance from your property
Elm 25m 30m
Willow 24m 30m
Horse Chestnut 20m 23m
Oak 24m 30m
Maple 21m 20m
Lime 24m 20m
Sycamore 24m 17m
Cherry 17m 11m
Hawthorn 29m 08m

Perhaps you have bought a property which features trees in the garden, or perhaps you planted some quite small trees which have now grown to a substantial height? Trees are a wonderful feature in most gardens providing valuable shade – and are a ready-made home for all sorts of wildlife – no one is suggesting they shouldn't be there, but be aware of problems they can cause, and if you think you may be heading in this direction, here are a few simple steps you can take to minimise the risk of subsidence and damage to your home's foundations.

> Get independent advice from a qualified arborist/tree surgeon and also a building surveyor.
> Don't panic and remove the tree – surprisingly, sometimes removing the tree can make matters worse!
> You can actually buy root barriers and use these when planting new saplings. However, it may prove to be a better long term option to choose trees which are smaller in stature and will not grow so tall.
> Pollarding may help reduce the potential impact a tree may make by curtailing its root spread. However you must ensure that the tree is not protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). You can check with your local authority and apply to the Local Planning Authority for permission to remove the tree. Bear this in mind too if you live in a conservation area.
> Buildings up to four storeys and which were constructed before the 1950's are most at risk of root damage as their foundations were generally only around 50cm (20") deep.
> Always remember that if the tree is on your property, it is your responsibility – and you could cause damage to your neighbour's foundations as well as your own.

If your property does have a subsidence issue, your current home insurers will probably not wish to re-insure you. If this does happen to you – and surprisingly, it is not rare – then you will need a specialist insurer to cover your property. In the first instance, you need professional advice – call Westhill Insurance Services. They will be able to advise how to proceed, and whether you do indeed need to seek the services of a specialist insurance company. As an independent insurance company, they can shop around to find you the best possible deal to suit your needs.

The friendly team at Westhill Insurance Services do not claim to be expert arborists or tree surgeons, and their green fingers are, by their own admission, almost non-existent! However, they do understand the very real threat to your property that subsidence provides – and they know only too well that this can be caused by a plethora of events, not least of these being the aggressive root action of trees.

If it is gardening advice you need, don't call Westhill Insurance Services – but if you need honest, sensible and cost-effective insurance then pick up the phone and let the professionals get to the root of your subsidence problems!

Contact Westhill Insurance Services, today.

Posted on 10th May, 2012