Should We be Worried About Ground Heave?

Tree Removal Can Cause Ground Heave and it Can be Nasty

Rustlings felling narrow.jpg

A tree removes a lot of water from the ground, it’s how they make their living. When a big tree has been in place for a long time the ground around it will be dry compared to other similar areas. The roots cover up to three times the area of the canopy removing water from a big area.

When that tree is removed the rainwater will start to build up in the ground. Over a few years this could make a significant difference and the ground may swell.

That can cause ‘Ground Heave’ when the swelling is sufficient to cause damage to buildings and other structures. This is most likely in clay soils, found in many areas of Sheffield.

For example a resident in Meersbrook found, two years after a large tree was felled nearby, her garage floor started to hump up and crack.

It is assumed that heave is only a danger if the tree predates the building. However a huge number of Sheffield’s older houses have been modified, or subjected to various shocks and stresses, so they have changed since they coped with removal of ground water when the tree was planted.

How does this affect you?

Insurance Companies don’t like this and they charge a £1000 excess on any claim for Ground Heave (if you are a homeowner check your policy). Once somebody has made a claim, their lives become more difficult. An insurance broker has advised us that they will probably have extra conditions and checks imposed and may not be able to switch to another company, so no shopping around for the best price once you’ve had Ground Heave

You may not be able to claim on insurance for some kinds of serious damage from Ground Heave. For example some insurers will not pay out for heave damage to solid floors although damage to floors is one of the most likely consequences of heave. If the main structure of your house is not damaged, you may not be able to claim for damage to surounding walls, patios or other structures. As heave damage can take several years to appear, if you change insurers after the tree felling, your new insurer may refuse to compensate for damage caused by the felling.

If Insurers are aware that a tree felling is implicated they will seek to recover the costs from Amey, but Amey are a huge company with expensive lawyers and they will fight these claims very hard to deter others. It’s not like making a claim against the council.

If you are aware of a potential felling near your house, or a big tree has been felled, you should check your insurance policy to see if you are expected to notify the insurer, even if heave has not yet occured. Your policy document will have a section about what you are required to notify. However tree campaign members have asked several insurance companies about this and those we asked did not require such notification.

What Can You Do?

If you are a householder and the City Council plan to fell a big tree near your house, you could check what your insurance policy says about claims for Ground Heave. If in doubt you can always phone the company or your broker for advice.

Ask Streets Ahead for a written assurance that they have carried out a proper assessment of the risk of Ground Heave for the particular trees you are concerned about, paying attention to the soil structure in that location. Warn them that, if ground heave occurs after the felling,you will ensure that your insurer has evidence of the felling when you make a claim and this may lead to a claim for compensation against the Streets Ahead (under the contract it’s their responsibility).

It is in your interest to give this information to the insurance company when making a claim as they will seek to recover your £1000 excess from Streets Ahead (Amey) as part of their compensation claim. While this could be a huge problem for the taxpayer, it’s equally important that your rights are protected.

Make sure you have a photograph of the tree showing its location in relation to your property, and keep a copy of the felling map and schedule of trees to be replaced issued by the council as part of the Independent Tree Panel Consultations. Many of those maps and schedules are available on this website and we hope to add the rest soon.

How do I tell my neighbours?

Here’s a one page flyer about Ground Heave and tree felling aimed at householders with big trees nearby. It includes a link to this web page.

More Reading

The Association of British Insurers publish a useful set of advice about Subsidence & Ground Heave. You’ll see that they are very concerned about the removal of big old trees and recommend pruning to control the tree rather than removal.

The Daily Telegraph has published a very useful article about Ground Heave, prompted by flooding incidents, but they go on to talk about the role of trees saying:
“…if you have any large trees in your garden, the last thing you should do is cut them down.”

Professor Ian Rotherham, Sheffield’s leading expert on planning and trees, has written about Ground Heave and big trees close to old houses. in his blog, Ian’s Walk on the Wild Side