Southwest Marion County residents Roy and Pat Meinson noticed cracks continually re-appearing in the home where they have lived for 19 years.
“It was shocking,” Pat Meinson said.
“It” was a sinkhole.
Foundation Services of Central Florida was called to handle the remediation, which involved 15 truckloads of grout being pumped into 29 injection points around the house and patio.
Foreman Trevor Nameth watched job-site gauges, monitoring the accumulated pressure of the grout and checking the sensitive, surveying-type equipment, which can detect movement of a structure as slight as thirty-second of an inch.
Florida has the highest occurrence of sinkhole activity of any state, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.
“The I-4 corridor from Clearwater to Daytona, including St. Petersburg, Tampa, the Pasco-Hernando county areas, (parts of) Marion and Sumter counties and the Tallahassee” area are all prone to underground anomalies, said Tony Randazzo, a retired professor emeritus with the University of Florida Department of Geological Sciences who now works with Geohazards Inc. consultants in Gainesville.
“There are sinkholes all over Central Florida; it’s really a matter of degrees,” Randazzo said.
Indeed, Foundation Services of Central Florida performs compaction grouting on 100 to 125 jobs per year within a 100-mile radius of Ocala.
On the Meinson job, a representative or monitor from the firm providing the engineering blueprint ensured that injection point placement and other job requirements were met.
The Meinsons remained in their home during the roughly three week drilling-and-filling job.
“We had the insurance; we had checked the policy before,” Roy Meinson said.
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Mary and Vic Ruzica, of The Villages, had an even worse sinkhole experience. On June 25, the earth started to cave in behind their property.
“About 4 p.m. it seemed like an earthquake. The ground out around the pond (about 50 feet behind the rear of their property) was sinking in and the 3-foot hanging metal palm tree ornament was shaking against the rear wall of the house and making a loud noise,” Mary Ruzica said.
“I saw fish, ducks, everything going down that hole,” Vic Ruzica said.
“Thank God for The Villages; they came right out here with trucks of fill to stop the progression of the sinkhole,” she said.
“It was around the time of Hurricane Debbie in 2012,” Mary Ruzica said.
Soon, major cracks formed in the floor and ceiling of the Ruzicas’ home and a difference in the level in one bedroom was evident.
The lanai sustained major damage, and the aluminum and screen were removed; separations were visible in the patio concrete.
The retired New Jersey couple, both 73, had to undertake approximately $140,000 worth of remediation. Again, Foundation Services handled the stabilization project.
In all, it involved about 36 exterior grout injection points and 65 support piers sunk into the ground throughout the interior of the house.
The concrete-encased, roughly three-inch diameter galvanized support piers are set in casings that are drilled down to the “stratum,” or limestone, anywhere from 20 to 80 feet below the surface, according to Robert Stephenson, co-owner of Foundation Services.
Vic Ruzica said the house was also stabilized by I-beams.
The Ruzicas removed all their furniture, and most flooring was removed. The gas was shut off at the damaged home and the couple has been living in a second home they own nearby.
“We’ve done jobs like Booster Stadium that took 1,300 yards of concrete,” Stephenson said, noting that most residential jobs fall short of catastrophic levels.
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Randazzo said excess rain after drought conditions, in addition to the lowering of groundwater from over-pumping, are factors contributing to sinkhole activity.
Ryan Gummer is president of Secure Restoration Systems, an Ocala company specializing in sinkhole remediation or stabilization of the foundation.
“Remediation is a growing field. Three years ago there were 25 companies in the state; now there are 80,” Gummer said.
“Drought conditions, infrastructure and growth” are factors in sinkhole activity, Gummer said.
He also cited well pumping, which reduces underground “hydraulic pressure” and thus weakening underground cavities while putting the weight on top with irrigation.
Most homes are subject to some settling in the first three years, but sinkhole-related activity can produce manifestations like a floor crack with “half-inch to six-inch” differences on either side, he explained.
Gummer said his typical job, which can vary depending upon the survey of the site, is about $83,000 and involves an average of about 20 to 30 trucks of (modified) concrete pumped into the same number of injection points.
Gummer said a soil penetration test prior to construction could spot sinkhole activity, but “it’s costly and not required.”
Underground conditions can change over time due to natural and man-made conditions, he said.
Stephenson explained jobs may require grout or modified concrete fill for deeper remediation and chemical compounds for upper soils.
Warning signs to watch for are door and windows difficult to open or close and stair-step-type cracks which appear in walls.
Steve Bird, of Bird Insurance Agency in Ocala, explained some aspects of sinkholes and insurance.
“All admitted homeowner carriers in the state of Florida are required to provide catastrophic ground coverage collapse coverage. The homeowner carrier may offer sinkhole loss coverage as an option” with a prior and rigorous inspection, Bird stated in an email.
“There is an additional premium for (sinkhole loss) coverage and (it) may have a deductible of 10 percent of the amount in which the dwelling is insured,” he explained.
“It may be very difficult to obtain the sinkhole loss coverage in Marion County. Companies are removing the sinkhole loss coverage and adding the catastrophic ground coverage collapse when the policies renews or adding a 10 percent deductible to the sinkhole loss coverage. The cost of the sinkhole loss coverage is also increased considerably to reflect the cost of the sinkhole claims that the companies have paid out,” Bird said.
Bird indicated that “when payment is made on a sinkhole claim, that information is reported to the property appraiser and will be a public record for that location.”