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Why Steel Works Best For Subsidence-Prone Ground

If you are choosing how to have a building constructed for your business, there are clear choices to be made between traditional building methods and steel frame buildings.

The advantages of the latter certainly include speed and ease of construction. But there is another issue that may depend on the ground where your premises will be.

Any planned building project will require a ground survey and that may find all kinds of potential issues. Often these will be minor, but the simple rule of thumb is that if an area of ground can be prone to some form of subsidence, this indicates anything constructed there requires a novel solution.

In some locations, there is a clear and obvious reason for such issues. Where mining has taken place, the presence of old tunnels and caverns underground can lead to ground shifting and may affect the structures on the surface above.

While that might occasionally just leave a building lopsided and an ideal candidate for a novelty-themed pub like the Crooked House near Dudley, often it will cause traditionally-constructed buildings to crumble.

In another example, the risk of subsidence above Cheshire’s salt mines led to some novel responses. In Northwich, many Victorian buildings used wooden frames that could be jacked up to reverse the effects of subsidence. But many homes in the town are built using steel frames, which is good for holding the structure firm.

A problem with steel frame homes, highlighted in an article in the Northwich and Winsford Guardian, is that they are not well suited to cavity wall insulation as this tends to hold in moisture, which leaves the steel prone to rust.

But homes are built rather differently from factories with steel frame buildings, with walls made from sheet metal instead of bricks and mortar.

Old mine workings are one possible form of subsidence risk, but there are others. Erosion, a low water table that dries out the ground and the impact of adjacent tree roots sucking up moisture and causing soil to contract can all cause subsidence. A tree might be removed, but some are under preservation orders so this is not always possible.

In such cases, a steel frame that can hold a structure steady is the obvious answer. True, the UK is one of the very few countries where it is possible to get insurance for commercial and residential buildings against subsidence, but the better option is to build something less at risk of damage from subsidence in the first place.

Overall, the UK is literally on more solid ground than many other countries. True, the east coast may suffer erosion that causes small villages to crumble into the sea, but these islands are not prone to major earthquakes, nor do most buildings sit on large beds of limestone at risk of sinkholes - unlike, for instance, the US state of Florida.

Nonetheless, where the ground is a little less firm than normal, having steel frameworks can make buildings much more robust, helping to ensure your premises will stand the test of time and the occasional shift of the ground beneath.


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