Sinkholes have been making appearances in movies and television shows for several years. Although the directors usually have the right idea about these giant depressions in the ground when they depict them in their films, there is much more to a sinkhole than what is shown in the action movies.
The details of real sinkholes should be important to everyone who owns a home or property, especially in the areas that are prone to these types of disasters. If you are a homeowner who might be at risk for experiencing sinkhole damage, it would be beneficial to learn more about what they are, how they could possibly affect you, and how you can prepare yourself.
What Are Sinkholes?
A sinkhole is an opening that is formed in the ground that happens as a result of the surface collapsing inward. Some other names for sinkholes include cenotes, swallets, swallow holes, and dolines.
Sinkholes regularly occur all over the world in different countries. In the United States, certain areas are at a higher risk of being affected by sinkholes.
These are the states in which sinkholes most commonly occur:
The event of a sinkhole forming can be dangerous to everyone in the surrounding area. Depending on where they appear, they can cause damage to structures, vehicles, homes, and can even be fatal in some circumstances.
The danger and severity of this event will depend on the type of sinkhole that forms, however.
The Causes Of Sinkholes
There are several scenarios that can lead to the formation of a sinkhole. However, there are two main causes of these disasters: humans and natural causes.
Sinkholes can be formed as a result of human activities that alter the state of the earth. This can happen in one of two ways: physical digging and drilling into the ground, or the accidental build-up of water that is not naturally occurring.
When construction and building projects take place, using tools to create holes or move the dirt around, deep layers beneath the surface can actually collapse and open up.
There does not necessarily have to be any direct penetration of the ground in order for a sinkhole to form, however. In fact, sinkholes can be caused by everyday activities such as driving a car on the road.
While the weight of a single-vehicle most likely will not be enough cause for the tar to collapse, the constant pressure of heavy traffic can have a more significant effect.
Broken pipes, on the other hand, can also be the beginning of a sinkhole. If they are incorrectly routed or opened up due to carelessness, the moisture can erode the soil and cause it to cave in.
Natural sinkholes, on the other hand, are caused by any type of erosion on the ground. This typically occurs when water under the surface level causes a reaction, breaking away at the minerals above it until they collapse.
When a sinkhole forms naturally, it is usually a gradual process that takes place over a longer period of time. Since the ground is made up of sand, dirt, and other soft materials, rising water levels beneath it will start to dissolve the formation until it reaches the top, opening up a sinkhole.
Types Of Sinkholes
While all sinkholes share the same general properties, there are certain characteristics that place them in different categories. This has to do with how they are formed and how severe they can become, which all ties into how they affect the humans around them.
There are 3 main types of sinkholes that you could potentially encounter. As a homeowner, it is important to learn everything there is to know about each of these possible scenarios, in order to understand how you can protect yourself and your property.
Solution sinkholes are formed after water erodes the surface of the ground. This occurs in locations that only have a thin layer of soil serving as the top layer. The water slowly penetrates the bedrock underneath, forming a hole in the ground. This is not a full opening, however. Instead, it is more of a depression that looks like a smooth dip, similar to the inside of a bowl.
Although not fully opened up into a deep cavity, the size of a solution sinkhole can vary significantly within each circumstance. There is also no set process for how these types of sinkholes form and develop, meaning that some of them appear gradually while others can open up almost immediately.
Cover Collapse Sinkholes
Cover collapse sinkholes are very different from solution sinkholes because they do not ever form slowly. These types of sinkholes are almost always a quick collapse that can happen within just a few minutes. Instead of a thin layer covering the top of the bedrock underneath, the dirt and soil are much stronger in the areas where cover collapse sinkholes form.
The bedrock gets chipped away underneath until it is no longer able to support the top layer that rests on top of it. Being that the materials on the surface cannot stand up on their own, they will fall suddenly after there is nothing to hold them up.
Although solid, the laws of gravity will not allow thick layers of sand and dirt to float in the air on their own for very long without cracking, which is why these types of sinkholes will collapse as soon as the bedrock below it is absent.
Cover Subsidence Sinkholes
Another slow-forming depression in the ground, cover subsidence sinkholes usually occur in locations that are covered with soft sand or clay that cannot hold itself up.
Unlike cover-collapse sinkholes that have a solid top layer, the minerals that cover these particular areas are loose and not connected to each other.
The bedrock underneath will begin to erode, and while this is happening, the soft surface materials will slip into the cracks, causing the ground level to dip downward. This process is more of a slow sinking, rather than a sudden collapse. The depression will begin on the top of the soil and continue to get deeper as the erosion continues.
The Effects Of Sinkholes
After reading about the causes of sinkholes and what happens when they form, it is self-explanatory that the effects are devastating. However, most homeowners are not aware of how their lives could potentially be altered if a sinkhole reaches their property.
Depending on how close the sinkhole is to your home, you could experience damage to your landscaping, the structure of your home, or suffer a complete loss in the worst-case scenario. If the sinkhole opens up in the right location, it can swallow your entire house into the ground.
If you are lucky enough to walk away from a sinkhole formation with your home in one piece, you might still have other issues to deal with on the back end. When it comes time to sell your property, you can lose significant value if your yard is considered to be unstable ground.
Is Sinkhole Damage Covered By Home Insurance?
Unfortunately, sinkhole damage is not usually covered by standard home insurance policies, since it is considered a ground movement and not a peril. Insurance companies are legally required to pay for some types of sinkhole damage in states like Florida where they are most common, but these practices will typically not be found in other areas of the country, and exclusions will always apply.
Even though it is not covered automatically, some insurers will allow homeowners to add on sinkhole insurance for an additional monthly cost. If you feel you are at risk for sinkhole damage, getting more information about adding this service could be beneficial to you in the future.
If you find that your home insurance company does not offer this option as an add-on service but you would still like to be covered, you will need to get a sinkhole insurance policy. Similar to flood insurance or earthquake insurance, this is a separate policy that you will pay for outside of your primary insurer.
Seeking out an external policy or a similar option to protect yourself will be beneficial if you live in a location that is prone to sinkholes.
How To Protect Your Home Against Sinkhole Damage
Although there is no way to know for sure whether or not a sinkhole will form on your property, let alone prevent it fully, there are a few things you can do to protect your home against potential sinkhole damage. The first step in making sure your property is not affected by a sinkhole is to prevent them from forming as much as possible.
How To Prevent Sinkholes From Forming On Your Property:
- Proceed with caution when completing any construction projects near your home
- Install drains to direct excess water away from your property
Along with avoiding any ground disturbances and the build-up of water, there are some more extensive steps that you can take in order to soften the blow of any sinkhole damage that might be coming your way.
Here are some things you can do to protect your home against potential sinkhole damage:
Understand Your Insurance Policy and Purchase Additional Services If Needed
The first thing to get ahead of before you suffer from sinkhole damage is your insurance policy. It is always a good idea to sit down with your agent and make sure that you understand what your insurance policy covers.
If you are not happy with what you find, it is wise to purchase additional services if needed. Also, be aware of possible exclusions within your insurance policy. Although insurance companies are required to offer sinkhole add-ons in Florida, they will usually only recognize cover-collapse sinkholes that cause significant damages, even though all types of sinkholes can result in expensive repairs.
Know The Signs Of Sinkhole Formation
Most types of sinkholes occur suddenly, giving homeowners no time to prepare for their effects. However, there are some warning signs that will let you know a possible sinkhole is forming.
Here are some common signs of sinkhole formation to look out for:
- Holes or depressions in the ground
- Puddles of water that are deeper than usual
- Excess water disappearing into the ground
- Cracking foundations or pavement
Hire An Inspector To Survey Your Home
Before you are left with your home and property in shambles following a sudden collapse in the ground, you can hire a building inspector to survey your home. Upon hire, they will take a look at the structure of the lower levels of the ground, warning you of any potential safety hazards.
Consult With a Contractor to Make Safety Improvements
After you have been alerted of structural instability on your property, you should consult with a contractor to make safety improvements. This can include installing pillars underground to support the ground that your home sits on, protecting it against sinkhole formation. Similarly, old pipes that could cause erosion can be replaced with more reliable materials.
Build a Relationship With a Trustworthy Public Adjuster
Last but not least, one of the best ways to prepare for a potential sinkhole damage claim is to build a relationship with a trustworthy public adjuster.
A public adjuster is an insurance professional who specializes in filing home insurance claims, communicating with insurance companies, and negotiating settlements to pay for necessary repairs. The event of a sudden ground collapse can be more than stressful, and the last thing that you want to worry about is going back and forth with your insurer.
To cut all of the complications, you can hire the public adjuster that you have on hand, who will handle all of the technicalities for you. This way, you will be able to focus on rebuilding your home and property while someone else advocates for you throughout the process of your claim.
If you’re in Bulldog Adjusters’ service area, we recommend contacting us in order to put through a damage claim with your insurance company. Bulldog Adjusters is one of the largest public adjusting firms in the United States. We pride ourselves on getting our clients the largest possible settlements on their home damage claims and we’ll fight for you.