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In a few days, my husband and I will be celebrating the end of our first year as homeowners. We're still getting used to the perils of home ownership (like a tree falling on our roof a couple of months ago!) and thinking a lot about how to protect our investment.
So when cracks appeared in our ceilings and walls over the winter, we had an inspector take a look. It turned out we were experiencing "shrink-swell soils," meaning that our house slowly heaves upward when the underlying soil is wet, and slowly sinks when the soil is dry.
Shrink-swell soils are common across the U.S. So common, in fact, that many standard home insurance policies -- including the policy on our home -- don't cover this "natural settling." So what does that mean in a warming world, where our dry spells are getting drier and our wet spells wetter [PDF]?
In Europe, companies like Swiss Re are taking the growing threat climate change poses to buildings seriously. The reinsurance company warns in a new report that rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall will increase the risk of foundation damage.
Economic damages from sinking in France have already increased more than 50% since 1990, making shifting soils as costly as floods. This increase is related to many factors, including the age of existing homes and where and how people build new homes. Looking ahead to 2040, however, parts of the U.K., France and other European countries could see another 50% increase in damages due to the combination of building patterns and increased frequency and severity of drought. As the report authors write: "A long and intense dry spell can lower the ground so much that it creates fissures in the earth and tears apart the foundations of houses, bridges, industrial sites and other structures."
And what about my house? It's fine ... which is more than many drought-stricken Texans and Oklahomans can say right now about their own homes. It's just another reminder that the pollution we put up in the air can affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives -- including the roofs over our heads and the (one hopes) level floors under our feet.
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