Building Problems Please Help

Hi Everyone.

Hope someone can help me. We have suddenly aquired cracks in the walls of our home ( we have been here 11 1/2 years ) and don't know how to go about going to the insurance or if it is wise to get someone to look at them first.

Please message me on here and let me know by email. I am really worried...

Gina Hams

Hi Gina

I am a consulting Structural Engineer based in Paris, METZ INGENIERIE. 01 42 46 83 90.

I would be happy to discuss the problem with you.


Derek METZ

Hi Gina, uretek can provide solutions, especially for subsidence, but you really need to achieve a better understanding of the cause of your problem before commissioning expensive works which may be unnecessary. Your house is modern, so these cracks could well be due to cavity wall tie failure, amongst many other above-ground causes - underpinning the property in such circumstances would be pointless.

John's point about being able to trust the tradesmen (and women) is perfectly valid - just make sure they have had the proper technical training and experience to correctly identify causes and solutions, have a good 'livre d'or' of references and are properly insured.

Gina, sorry to hear of your issues but thanks for the URETEK notification, I wasn't sure if that technology existed in france yet. If you do meet them I would be interested in knowing how you get on.

I see David mentions the builders having a vested interest but sadly because he is from that side of the fence doesn't mention all the suits who have a vested interest in not helping you and wriggling out of any insurance claim despite getting well remunerated for not helping out the policy holder who is the one funding the whole operation.

Gina I wish you well and hope it's a minor issue.

Gina- what I think you need is an independent structural engineer consultant who can advise you as to the nature of the problem and the best way of dealing with it and without a vested interest in selling a particular process or building operation. This is one firm I found on the internet- I know them not :

HI again. It appears I did not post one of my replies.. I have contacted a structural engineering company in Agen called URETEK. They are back from holiday on 12th January .. they do structural repairs using a fast expanding resin under pressure. I will of course get advice to the real nature of the problem before taking any course of action.

Sorry I seemed a bit lame about this - I was in shock... we have been here for 12 1/2 years and the house is 36 years old so was not expected anything like this to happen... GH

Your first step must surely be to get advice from a structural engineer. As said before there can be many reasons for such movement and it's really not a good idea to go to a builder first without a proper evaluation. Such an evaluation will take at least three months and often takes twelve months to get the whole gamut of seasonal movement, after the installation of tell tales. A builder is simply not qualified and could easily have a vested interest. Insurance is another side of it, but does not affect the structural considerations. Can you scan the terms of your insurance policy? Most (but not all) policies in the UK cover such issues (after an excess) but could easily depend on where you are. I have no personal experience of structural movement claims in France, and am not a structural engineer, but I was CEO of a company in London that dealt with such events. Main likely reasons are inadequate foundations, poor structural alterations or design, clay heave, limestone sink holes, mining issues. You could post some photos of the cracks, internally and externally, for informal comment but a proper evaluation is absolutely essential, with or without insurance. I have a few cracks in my old house, and the floors are not level, so I am not a panicker! Structural movement usually has nothing whatever to do with catastrophes as movement is usually and thankfully slow and often cyclical with seasons. Therefore declaration with 5 days is really not applicable, unless you have a landslide or something very sudden like a sink hole..

PS I have been in touch with MMR and they do not want to know. They will not even send someone up to take a look. We went to the Mairie who said there was movement in 2012 but you only qualify for an insurance claim if you claim within 5 days of the declaration of a "catastrophe". So I guess it is down to us to sort it out... never occurred to me that we would not be covered. !!! GH

PPS neither I nor any of my Friends in Montcuq, knew that there had been movement in 2012 !

Hi and thank you for the response from you all... We have lived here for 12 years and the house is 37 years old and never had a problem until recently. I live in Montcuq in the Lot. Does anyone live near enough to come and have a look. We have had 2 builders around who have assured us we are not in danger and are going to get Uretek in Agen to come and do a survey when they come back from holiday on Jan 14th..

thanks for taking the trouble to answer my questions, my hubbie is really laid back about the whole thing but it is still a worry.... Gina Hams

Just seen that 2014 has proved to have been the hottest year in France since about 1900. You have good advice below but consider that depending on subsoil, foundations, proximity and type of trees that in dry weather tree roots seek water to survive. This they do by entering drains if there are any. If the drain is near the foundations then you need to consider if they are at right angles or parallel to the foundations. I owned a company specialising in doing surveys of houses for insurance purposes in the UK (mainly Direct Line) and we surveyed thousands of houses after dry summers. I find that foundations of houses, particularly older houses, here in France are often extremely shallow compared to British foundations. In fact plenty of French houses just don't have that much in foundation terms. A qualified engineer is a must and you will need trial holes dug to establish what foundations exist and the ground conditions too. If you are on clay it's usually more problematical. In the UK foundations are usually at least 900mm (3 feet) below gound level to avoid the danger of frost action. However each case is different and if the house has been built in areas of poor soil, peat, mine workings, sinkholes (have been more and more of these in limestone areas), rubbish pits etc then you can be in for major investigation and works. An engineer can advise on the habitability or otherwise of the house for the time being.

You might also like to speak to your local mairie. Many communes have suffered from ground heave due to dessicated clay soils becoming saturated and expanding in wet weather over the last three or four years. This has affected new builds as well as existing housing.

Hi Gina,

I'm a retired structural engineer with 40 years experience of structural and subsidence problems. If you would like to forward some photo's I'll see if I can help. Have you had a lot of rain recently as leaking drains are a major cause of subsidence issues. I would also suggest that you contact your insurers without delay to confirm that you have subsidence cover on boards.


Graham Pratt

Hi Gina, if your house has developed a series of cracks all of a sudden, it suggests something potentially serious has occurred; like a loss of stability. You need to know what risk there is of 'catastrophic failure' and the threat to life and limb, by establishing the cause;- your insurance may not cover everything, but you need to protect your asset. Notifying your insurers at the earliest opportunity is important.

Have any works been carried out (inside or out) at the property over the last year: new roof / new drains - failure of old drains / demolition of internal walls / felling an old tree / digging-out the flower beds (yes, it can happen with old houses with shallow 'foundations') - it can be a long list, but the starting point should be the basic question to think of anything which has changed recently.....and it can be something as apparently innocent as a neighbour installing rainwater guttering which has chanelled and concentrated water at surface level.......

It may help to think of your house as a simple 'house of cards' (although significantly more complex and solid); where every component of the structure both gives and receives strength and support to the totality; so anything sudden is to be taken seriously; you / your insurers need to consult with appropriately qualified building surveyors / structural engineers.

As an immediate step, you should collect any debris underneath these cracks and keep a careful watch for more falls; stick home-made "tell-tales" across the cracks (a light ribbon / piece of paper;- anything which will break or tear if the cracks enlarge or the walls move) / or place nails into the cracks - if they enlarge, the nails will fall out. Take photographs. Check that all windows and doors are opening and closing easily -differential movement in the frame will induce distortion.

Finally - and not want you'll want to hear at this time of year; consider what you can do in the worst case scenario of feeling physically intimidated by the building and / or the structure being declared unsafe by a qualified professional.

Wishing you all the best, and hoping this is only a minor problem.

Thanks for the advice Vic Gina got a friend coming round in about an hour to have a look then we will probably do what you suggest...

Gina. I'm no structural engineer but can tell you that the cause of the crack is usually at right angles to the crack thus if you have horizontal cracks it would normally be some form of subsidence or ground heave. These things are impossible to diagnose remotely (photos might help) so I would suggest you talk to your insurance company who will no doubt instruct an engineer to visit. Good luck !