Cracking Times

Lizzie asks:

“After all the cold weather one or two cracks are appearing in my (Edwardian Terrace) house.

While I am hoping it is nothing to worry about I’d rather sort sooner than later. Can you recommend a good structural surveyor, who is willing, for a sensible fee, to visit residential addresses (I tried finding one through RICS website but so far they all seem to want a bigger remit to do anything more than look at emailed photos).”

The Phantom replies:

Lizzie – would it be worth contacting your buildings insurance company? After all, it’s in their best interests too for your house not to fall down – if they can arrest a potential problem before it gets to underpinning stage, it will save them money – a bit like a car insurance company mending a windscreen free because it’s cheaper for them to mend it now than replace a shattered one later.

You don’t say where in Greenwich your house is, but chances are it’s up a hill of some sort (most of them seem to be round here.) If memory serves, the lower, Eastern-y slopes are sand and the higher, Western-y stuff near the heath is chalk (the Subterranean Greenwich guys would know more about this – and for heaven’s sake don’t take my word for it – I’m no geographer.)

There’s a fascinating leaflet called Holiday Geology about Greenwich’s composition that explains it all really well, but which I can’t put my spectral paw on just at the moment. It’s aimed at children but I thoroughly enjoyed it myself – it’s clearly written at Phantom-level.

It’s entirely possible that your house is built, in a biblically-unfriendly way, on sand. The bad news is that Thanet Sand shifts from time to time. The good news is that it’s not often very much.

If you’re up Point Hill-way or near the heath, the chalk has its own way of settling. It’s unlikely your place is built directly over one of the underground caves dotted through the hill, but it would be worth checking out either way before it gets too far. Melting snow and lots of rain can be quite destructive.

Your insurance company will almost certainly send their own surveyor round to take a look, and probably for nothing. If you’re unwilling to get the insurance involved or if you don’t have any buildings insurance, I confess I don’t know any surveyors at all around here myself, but I daresay that someone out there in Phantom Land will…

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