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How to Recognize and Repair Sinkholes

May 8th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Sinkholes — sunken layers in the land caused by changes in material beneath the land’s surface — are a serious problem in some areas. Particularly in Georgia and Florida, sinkholes are a common landscape blight.

Though most are only 10 to 12 feet in diameter, sinkholes have been known to expand to hundreds of feet in diameter and can appear with disturbing speed. Depending on the cause they can range from small, easily repairable nuisances to major landscaping problems.

What Causes Sinkholes?

Most sinkholes occur where debris such as trash, stumps, tree branches and other building materials were buried during a construction project. Over time, the debris decays, leaving an empty space under the ground.

Hidden under a layer of soil, this space goes unnoticed until it finally caves in, leaving in a sunken area in the landscape. Less commonly, sinkholes may be caused by broken water pipes or cisterns.

Georgia and Florida Sinkholes
Georgia and Florida sinkholes have their own unique cause: sinkholes in this area are brought on by the slow, natural process of erosion in the area’s underground limestone caves. Although the decay happens over thousands of years, when it reaches a critical level, land within a few hundred feet above the limestone collapses — sometimes literally overnight.

How to Recognize a Sinkhole

If you discover that a section of your landscape is sinking, determining the cause is the first step towards repairing it. Avoid walking onto the sunken area. From the stable edge of the sinkhole, use a shovel or stick to dig through the surface layer. If you continue to hit earth, rather than a hollow space, the problem is likely due to normal settling of the ground, rather than a sinkhole [See Repairing a sunken lawn for information on how to correct this problem].

If you can dig through, inspect the inside with a flashlight. See a bunch of old building materials or decaying branches? Then what is have is a construction sinkhole that you’ll probably be able to take care of yourself. If you see standing water or a pipe, though, the sinking land may be related to a broken sewer line. (Needless to say, in this case, contact the county or city water department immediately.)

How to Repair a Sinkhole

Different types of sinkholes require different treatments. Most small construction sinkholes can be repaired without a professional, while other types require a landscape contractor.

Test the hole with a stick or garden tool to determine if the bottom and sides are solid. If they are, you’ll be able to fill the hole yourself by simply adding layers of soil, a foot at a time, and packing each layer down firmly as you fill the hole. Once the area is refilled, you can safely plant on it again.

If you can push through the sides or bottom seem soft and ready to give way, you’ll be safer calling in a contractor. The sink hole may be much deeper than you think and you risk injuring yourself or doing extensive damage to your lawn and garden if you repair the sinkhole incorrectly.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John // Jul 21, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Sinkhole activity doesn’t just impact a yard – chances are the soil movement associated with the sinkhole has weakened the structure of the home/buildings nearby. Sinkhole repair isn’t as easy as just filling in the hole, so to speak. If facing possible sinkhole damage, talk to a professional or your insurance company. Incorrectly repairing can actually cause more damage.

  • 2 Sinkhole // Sep 20, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Thank you for mentioning the importance of calling a contractor before starting work yourself. What might start as a small hole in your backyard could easily give way causing damage to your home or family. Having an a contractor come out to do a survey should be a must.

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