Common questions about sinkholes

With the unfortunate commonality of sinkholes in the state of Florida, you likely have many questions about the safety of your home and how to respond if a sinkhole does occur. The following are a collection of some of the most common questions about sinkholes that we hear.

What is a sinkhole?

A sinkhole is a depression in the earth that occurs when the soil underground can no longer support the top layer of soil or any buildings above it. They occur in a variety of sizes – deep, shallow, narrow or wide. These depressions can cause significant damage and pose a threat to both property and life when they open near a home, along a highway, or in any other area inhabited by people.

Why do they occur?

Sinkholes are caused by water dissolving the limestone underground over time. As an open cavity grows larger and larger and the soil above the sinkhole can no longer support the weight above the ground, the land collapses.

Because sinkholes are caused by water caught underground, they’re more likely to appear after hurricanes or other instances of heavy rain.

Is this area more susceptible to sinkholes?

The state of Florida is mostly made up of limestone, which is a thin sediment that water can easily permeate and dissolve. This is why sinkholes are common in Florida and are especially common in different regions of the state. Regions where you can find more sinkholes are regions where the underground soil is more susceptible to these effects.

When does a sinkhole stop growing?

A sinkhole can form over minutes to hours, and continue to grow for days – the more rainfall, the larger the sinkhole. Therefore, a sinkhole stops growing when water stop fighting, or when correct sinkhole repairs have been completed. Part of the effects of an effective sinkhole repair is preventing a future cavity opening, and stabilizing your home on top of the soil.

How can I tell if a sinkhole is forming under my house?

There are a variety of signs that sinkhole is forming, and every sinkhole is different, therefore not all sinkholes will portray every symptom. Some of the most common signs of a sinkhole are newly formed cracks on walls or doors that suddenly are difficult to close or open or cabinets that no longer stay closed.

Outside of the home, major changes in the earth are usually a good sign of a sinkhole; for example, a normally flat yard could begin to go soft, sag, or retain water.

Will insurance pay if I have a sinkhole?

Every sinkhole and insurance policy is different, so having sinkhole insurance does not necessarily mean that your sinkhole repairs will be covered. Your best bet is to check your insurance policy.

Some insurance companies may be unwilling to provide coverage to high-risk areas, so it’s advised that homeowners shop around and choose the insurance company that works for them.

Many insurance companies will elect to only offer catastrophic sinkhole insurance, and it’s paramount that homeowners be clear about what qualifies as catastrophic. While a minor sinkhole is never actually minor, catastrophic coverage will likely not pay for necessary repairs!

How big can a sinkhole get?

Sinkholes can get big enough to swallow people, cars, homes, and even entire complexes! The largest sinkhole ever recorded opened in Winter Park in 1981. This sinkhole was 350 feet wide and 130 feet deep.

How many sinkholes are there in Florida each year?

Unfortunately, one of the issues faced with sinkholes is that they’re sometimes never reported. While insurance companies are theoretically obligated to file a report whenever a sinkhole claim is filed, there’s no reason to believe this occurs 100% of the time. Furthermore, sinkholes may form in more rural or even desolate areas and go reported or even unknown.

However, according to the records we do have, nearly 3,500 sinkholes have opened and been entered into the Subsidence Incidence Database since the 1950s. This, of course, does not account for sinkholes that opened before the database was established.

Therefore, it’s nearly impossible to tell how many sinkholes open monthly, yearly, or in the history of the state of Florida.

How many people have died because of sinkholes?

Fortunately, deaths due to sinkholes is an extremely rare occurrence; only four such deaths have been reported in the state of Florida. This is mostly due to the fact that sinkholes are not silent events, and commonly causes cracking of foundation, broken doors, etc., all of which emit sounds that alert people to something being amiss.

What is being done to prevent sinkholes?

Scientists are currently observing existing sinkholes in Hamilton, Columbia, and Suwanna counties, and will later expand to cover the entire state. The purpose of this study is to identify methods to lessen the impact of sinkholes on the earth, property, and people.

Otherwise, sinkholes are a natural phenomenon that is difficult to prevent. The best one can do is ensure they are receiving appropriate sinkhole coverage by their insurance, and prepare for any sudden claims.

Have any more questions about sinkholes?

If you have any other questions about sinkholes that have not been answered in this post, please feel free to give us a call. The best way to prepare for the worst is to know what to do before it happens, and the best way to do this is to ask questions about sinkholes.

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