Sinkhole Spring Cleaning in Florida
By: Jeff Philbin, Marketing Director, Helicon
Spring in Florida is upon us and with it brings the site of bright yellow flowers and trees! The showy tabebuia tree announces springtime in Florida, with varieties that flower in pink, lavender-pink, and its signature yellow. It's a time of renewal for nature and brings about new life to our lawns and gardens. We often use this time as our annual deep cleaning for our home before the rains of late spring and summer come shortly after.
While looking out onto our lawns, the first thing our eyes are drawn to are the overgrown tree branches obstructing our views. We love the shade our trees provide, but the branches may have gotten out of hand and the leaves that winter may have had fall into your drains could pose a threat. This is a perfect opportunity to check your gutters and make sure that you have proper drainage around, or next to your foundation. A gutter that is set right next to the foundation may cause a “man-made” sinkhole to form. Water runoff must be directed away from the foundation. This can be accomplished by installing a French drain basin that directs rainwater away from the house.
A sequence of events may leave the surface structurally unstable, and thus susceptible to the later creation and development of a sinkhole. Something as simple as improperly directing water from roof drains and gutters away from the foundation of a structure can eventually cause a sinkhole to form along the footer or even below the slab of a house if local geologic conditions are conducive to such phenomena.
WATCH FOR WATERFALLS
During the warmer months here in Florida when it rains, check to see if water is running over the sides of your home’s rain gutters. When gutters are clogged with leaves or debris, water will pour from your gutters onto the ground around your home, which can cause a variety of problems, reports allstate.com. The impact of the water can cause erosion immediately under the gutters. It might even seep into cracks or crevasses causing water damage to your home’s foundation.
The National Center for Healthy Housing recommends cleaning your home’s gutters at least twice each year. Another option is to install a high-quality gutter guard system that protects gutters from filling up with debris.
CLEAN OUT THE GUTTERS
- Rest a ladder against the side of your house, ensuring it’s tall enough so that you can reach your gutters easily. Climb up and remove any debris from the gutters by hand, using a hand rake to break up large clumps and collecting everything in plastic bags.
- Work your way around the perimeter of your home, cleaning all of the debris out of the gutters. This will allow rainwater to move freely through the gutter system, preventing it from spilling over the edges and causing soil erosion around your home.
- Run a hose up to the gutters and rest the nozzle inside at the highest point. Turn the water on to clean out any remaining debris. With the water still running, inspect the drain spout to see how the water is running out, noting if it’s running toward your home or away from it.
- Repeat this process three to four times a year or as needed. A good rule of thumb is to clean out the gutters with each season. Waiting too long between cleaning can damage the gutter system and leave your home and land prone to erosion.
- If necessary, extend the spouting so that it runs off to an area that goes downhill, preferably over concrete or another hard surface, if your gutter inspection indicates that water is running back toward your home once it leaves the drain spout away from your home or foundation
During heavy storms, runoff from roof downspouts and even neighboring properties can inundate your yard and threaten your home. A possible solution is to use downspout extensions to direct water away from your foundation. You can also use catch basins, French drains, and swales. The key is to quickly move the water away from your home and toward areas where it won’t cause damage.
ELIMINATE WET AREAS
Wet areas that persist for several days after rain are commonly caused by improper grading (low spots or depressions) or poor infiltration of water into the soil. Make sure the grade or slope of your yard directs water away from your home. When the water sits in one area for days, likely problems are compacted soil, clay soil or even high groundwater. You can try alleviating the problem by amending the soil with organic material. If that doesn’t work, you might need to add underground drainage.
When you have water problems, it is important to deal with them quickly. The damage only gets worse over time and, by dealing with it right away, you can often prevent a minor issue from becoming a major concern.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE WATER
As water flows underground it dissolves underground rock. This can happen very slowly in areas where the underground rock is very hardy. In Florida, however, our rock is mostly limestone, which is very porous and which erodes easily. We also have dolomite, which is another soft rock. When this happens, an underground hole or cavern eventually forms. The sediment above ground eventually falls into the hole, creating a sinkhole. Extreme rainy weather can have a serious effect on this underground landscape. Our Florida floods and rains do not do anything to help this situation. This is especially true because acidic water is particularly good at eroding the underground stone. Most rain is at least a little bit acidic, and it takes on more acidity by passing through decaying vegetation and debris on the ground.
Sinkholes can appear to have opened overnight, but the majority of them evolve over time, developing long before any surface evidence is detected. Areas where there is a lot of underground rock and clay soil are ideal for sinkholes. A common misunderstanding is that a sinkhole is an actual hole in the rock. But in reality, the sinkhole is what we see on the ground surface because of the hole in the rock below. The void in the rock takes hundreds or thousands of years to form.
TYPES OF SINKHOLES
- Those formed and enlarged by weakly and naturally acidic surface water that, as it moves downward through small openings in the bedrock, slowly enlarges and dissolves soluble bedrock such as limestone
- Those that form by the collapse or subsidence of rock or sediment overlying pre-existing subsurface voids. These are sometimes referred to as "cover collapse” or “roof-collapse" sinkholes.
Sudden collapses can also occur because of subsidence of old landfills; decaying of buried organic debris; collapse of buried tanks, or rapid erosion by water from burst pipes, well, culverts, or other structures. Although these occurrences are commonly referred to in news reports as “sinkholes,” they are not related to true sinkholes.
The first type represents the most typical type of sinkhole found in landscapes underlain by carbonate bedrock; these sinkholes are common in Florida. The second type can occur in a wide range of conditions, but the sudden natural collapse of overlying soil or rock above a subsurface void space is historically rare here in Florida, but they do happen!
SINKHOLE WARNING SIGNS
When you are beginning your spring cleaning in your yard here are a few warning signs that can signify that you have a sinkhole. If you’re experiencing a number of these signs, please contact your insurance company immediatly to start learning more about your policy:
- Fresh exposures on fence posts, foundations or trees that result when the ground sinks around them;
- Slumping, sagging or slanting fence posts, trees or other objects.
- Doors and windows that fail to close properly or exhibit changed behavior such as doors remaining open where they had previously closed of their own accord.
- Small ponds of rainfall forming where water has not collected before.
- Wilting of small, circular areas of vegetation. This happens because the moisture that normally supports vegetation in the area is draining into the sinkhole that is developing below the surface.
- Cloudy water is pumped from nearby wells where the water was previously clear.
- Cracks in walls, floors, pavement, and the ground surface. This is most noticeable in a concrete block structure and is different from a few hairline cracks normally seen between blocks.
WHAT TO DO IF A SINKHOLE OCCURS ON YOUR PROPERTY
- Keep children and animals away!
- Make sure the area is fenced or roped off clearly. In some areas, a local enforcement agency may be able to assist. The property owner could be liable if someone is hurt in the sinkhole.
- If your home is threatened or damaged, contact your insurance company. Damage to your house or other structure (but not to your land) is generally covered by homeowner’s insurance policies.
- If damage to your house occurs, get out immediately! You may be able to go back and retrieve valuables once a professional has determined that the situation has stabilized.
- You may want to consult with a soil-testing firm to evaluate the cause at your own expense.
- If a lake or river levels are affected, or you think ground-water quality is endangered by a sinkhole, please report it to your local water management company.
- Monitor for signs that the sinkhole is enlarging, especially toward buildings, septic tanks, drain fields, or wells (flowing water into a sinkhole will continue or even accelerate its growth). You can monitor the hole by marking the sides with stakes or paint. You can also use a thin hard metal rod that can be pushed into the soil. Areas near the sink will offer less resistance to the rod than the unaffected soil.
- Monitor damage to structures. The width of cracks on houses can be measured and the size recorded by pencil or marker. If the damage is severe, water, gas, and electricity should be turned off and the Fire Department notified.
- Do not throw any waste into the sinkhole.
- Do not use the sinkhole as a drainage system. Pesticides and other wastes seep easily through the sinkhole and into the aquifer – your drinking water.
WHEN TO BRING IN THE BEST
Helicon is the premier geotech construction company in Florida. Based out of Tampa, FL. we are a licensed general contractor leading the industry in full-service geotech construction work.
We are experts in pre-construction, soil and structural stabilization, & sinkhole repair. As the premier provider of geotech construction services throughout the state of Florida for nearly 15 years, Helicon prides itself on providing high quality service, for both insurance companies and private customers with handling all repairs and pre-construction work for both residential and commercial projects. We strive to exceed everyone’s expectations.
Helicon has successfully completed thousands of projects in the state of Florida with a focus on the Tampa Bay metropolitan area, including the surrounding counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Polk, Citrus and Marion counties. Our professional Helicon Teams are trained and equipped with the tools and expertise needed to execute a flawless and professional experience using the latest technology to repair or prevent for your particular project.
We invest in our teams ensuring they remain up to date on the latest industry technology and training. Our Office Teams will answer all your questions, provide professional service, give knowledgeable advice, and execute a project that will fully satisfy our customers.