A sinkhole on your property can sometimes be extremely dangerous and other times an easy fix. If there is a small depression in the yard, away from any structures or roads, the homeowner can usually manage it.
It is recommended that the homeowner monitors the hole and fills the depression if it remains the same size. However, if the sinkhole grows the homeowner should contact a professional.
Before jumping to the conclusion that there is definitely a sinkhole on your yard make sure that you know the signs:
- Windows are hard to shut.
- The foundation of the house is slanted.
- Walls, doors, slabs are cracked.
- The driveway slope is uneven.
- Cracks in the corners of doors and windows.
- Yard is shifting.
- Yard has soft, spongey spots.
- Yard is sinking
- Cracked steps leading away from the house
- Trees, fences, etc. are leaning.
- Puddles in typically dry areas.
As a disclaimer, all homes are subject to some settling. These signs can exist without the presence of a sinkhole. However, the presence of one or more of these signs require further observation and an abundance of caution.
If it is Not a Sinkhole, What Else Could Cause Depressions or Structural Damage?
Although it may look like a sinkhole, there could be another explanation for the depression or damage on your property.
Buried debris from past construction projects can settle or rot over time which could cause depressions or damage. Old tree roots left to rot in the ground could be a factor of the depressions. There are a number of other reasons that depressions can occur.
I Still Suspect There Is a Sinkhole, What now?
Sometimes you may not notice the signs of a sinkhole on your yard, but you might notice the signs if they are happening in your neighbor’s yard. If you suspect that they might be on top of a sinkhole you should have your own home assessed by a professional to be sure that you do not have the same problem.
If you suspect that your yard is on top of a sinkhole, take these steps:
- Call your insurance company.
- File a claim.
- Hire a professional to assess your property. The insurance company will deny or accept the claim you have made.
- After claim is approved, get necessary repairs as soon as possible before it becomes worse.
- Consult with a soil testing firm or engineering company. To be sure if you have a sinkhole, you need to obtain results of a test by a licensed engineer with a professional geologist consultant. You will need to make it clear with your insurance company that your insurance policy will cover the geological assessment.
The soil testing firm or engineering company will take a test of the area to see what kind of karst area or sinkhole you are dealing with. To conduct the test several electrical resistivity survey lines will be set up over the site, images of the target area are taken, and high resistivity areas are looked for.
If the consultant finds a void during the survey, the cost of drilling will be cut down, as it provides a more precise drilling target with a much higher success rate. If the area that is imaged has a soil layer over limestone and then a pocket with high resistivity, you should definitely drill into that and see what you are dealing with.
If a large sinkhole appears in your yard or if a sinkhole threatens the foundation of a home or building, immediately contact your homeowner insurance company.
If the professional states that the property is likely to have a sinkhole, you need to take these safety precautions:
- Stay away from the property.
- Determine if the hole is impacting your house. If it is, you need to leave the home.
- Block off the property. Do not allow anyone to go near the area.
- Monitor sinkhole for signs of growth and for further structural damage.
- Avoid dumping anything into the sinkhole. If anything is dumped into the sinkhole there could be a possible contamination of groundwater.
- Wait for specific instructions from the local government agency and insurance company.
Once it is determined that a sinkhole is bound to happen, do not assume that the easiest way out is to sell the property. The law requires anyone with knowledge of a sinkhole on their property to disclose the information when the property listed for sale. Keep any documents that relate to any repairs to the yard or home for sinkhole damage in case of a sale.
It is also important to state that having an evacuation plan and emergency supplies is a key to surviving a sinkhole.
After a Sinkhole Occurs What Do I Do?
After a sinkhole occurs, the main priority is to get disaster relief and start tasks of cleaning up and salvaging what is left. Refilling and repairing sinkholes should only be taken care of by qualified professionals.
Do not refill a sinkhole with debris, it is illegal and could cause groundwater contaminations. If you do fill the sinkhole with wasted material, you will be liable. If the amount of material needed to fill the hole is too big for just soil, then more materials such as concrete and large rock may be necessary.
Try to divert any extra water away from the sinkhole before, during, and after filling it.
Make sure that you contact your insurance company as soon as the sinkhole occurs. You will need to file a claim and the insurance company will handle the claim.
Insurance for Sinkhole Damages
In some states is an insurance law that a sinkhole claim must be paid only if there is structural damage that includes damage to the foundation, and it must surpass a certain variance in the building code. It must also cause the structural system to be unable to support the weight it was made to support. The sinkhole claim must be filed within two years of the damage. Time limits are also on steps of the process.
There are certain obligations to a homeowner that holds a policy and reports that they may have a loss due to sinkhole activity. The insurance company must inspect the property to determine if there is structural damage that might be caused by a sinkhole.
If there is damage, the insurance company must hire and pay for a professional engineer or geologist to test the site and determine the cause. If the loss is covered, the insurance company must issue a statement to the homeowner.
The homeowner will be provided with a disclosure of what caused the damage and what circumstances require the insurance company to hire a professional to make suggestions regarding stabilizing the land and building and restoring the foundation.
The insurer must disclose the homeowner’s right to request professional testing, when the homeowner has that right, and the circumstances when the homeowner must sustain the costs for professional testing.
If the insurance company decides that there is no loss due to a sinkhole, they can deny the claim. If the policyholder has sinkhole coverage, they have the right to demand testing within 60 days of the denial claim. The homeowners pay 50 percent of the cost for professional testing. The insurer will then reimburse the homeowner if the testing shows the sinkhole was the cause of loss.
How to Prevent a Sinkhole on Your Property
- Hire a building inspector to look at your land and home. If you are about to purchase your own home or you own a home already, a building inspector will be able to survey your land and the ground beneath it. They will be able to tell you about the risk you have for having a sinkhole and can recommend taking preventative action. There will be a fee for doing the survey, however it will put your mind at ease in the long run.
- Replace your old utility pipes. A contractor will dig out and remove all aging pipes. After removal of the old pipes, new pipes and new soil will be installed.
- If you live in an area where sinkholes are a problem, such as Florida, install support piers while constructing your home. The piers will help support your home in case of a sinkhole because they are secured into more stable rock formations below the soil.
- Hire a specialist to perform chemical grouting on the smaller sinkholes under your home. If a shallow sinkhole that is less than 15 feet below the surface occurs under your home or on your property, you can use chemical grouting to address the problem early. Chemical grouting infuses chemicals into the ground that seal cracks, secure loose soil, and repair the sinkhole.
- Get in contact with a contractor to perform compaction grouting on larger sinkholes. Compaction grouting is a much like of chemical grouting. Compaction grouting is use for deeper and more severe sinkholes. This type of grouting injects a mixture of particles and chemicals into the ground to seal cracks, holes, and chemically seal the rock layer. It stops any further degradation of the rocks that trigger sinkholes.
- Do not plant gardens, shrubs, or trees in areas of your yard where you have already experienced sinkholes. Trees and shrubs can run the risk of falling if the ground begins to collapse. Lack of water and oxygen will be the result of the ground sinking and settling will cause the plant’s root system damage.
How to Prevent a Sinkhole Within Your Community
- Report sinking roadways to the police or to the public works department in your town. If you notice a roadway is sinking or a piece of land has a large hole developing, call local law enforcement or your public works department. These officials will be able to dispatch someone to check the location and close off the area if needed to keep people safe.
- Contact your representatives to ask that they call for an investment in local infrastructure repairs. By bringing the fact that your area is prone to sinkholes, you can ensure that they know that their followers care about this problem.
- Request that local pipes and septic systems be examined for signs of aging. Meet with the members of your community to discuss your concerns about aging pipes causing sinkholes. If multiple people are concerned, set up a meeting with the public works department to have the situation addressed. In some cases, the state will have to pay for a large-scale replacement. Remember that many houses in neighborhoods were built around the same time so if your house needs new pipes, most likely your neighborhood will need new pipes to prevent sinkholes.
- If the area you live in has frequent droughts, use water sparingly. Underground aquifers often help to prevent sinkholes because the water fills in cracks and holes that would ordinarily cause settling. If the water is not existent, the soil and rocks have more space to move and cause sinkholes.
- Attend community meetings to discuss your concerns. If you notice small sinkholes becoming more and more frequent, keep track of them and take your discoveries to the local government’s monthly meeting.
There are no foolproof ways to prevent sinkholes, however, you can limit their threat by taking care of your home and community and being aware of local concerns.
If you live in an area where sinkholes are prone to happen, you must be aware of the warning signs, what to do if you suspect a sinkhole is forming on your property, what your insurance company is required to do for you, and how to prevent them from happening again.
If you go to local government meetings, make sure you are bringing your awareness with you. Not everyone will know what to do in case of a sinkhole. It is important to ensure the safety of your community.