Why are homes not sinkhole resistant? - WNCN: News, Weather

Why are homes not sinkhole resistant?

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Denielle Lue says within two years of moving into her newly constructed home, cracks began appearing. Denielle Lue says within two years of moving into her newly constructed home, cracks began appearing.
Denielle Lue's Spring Hill home is 8 years old and damaged by sinkhole activity. Denielle Lue's Spring Hill home is 8 years old and damaged by sinkhole activity.
Cracks caused by sinkhole activity are appearing in Denielle Lue's exterior walls. Cracks caused by sinkhole activity are appearing in Denielle Lue's exterior walls.
Denielle Lue is looking at a $16,000 a year premium for sinkhole insurance Denielle Lue is looking at a $16,000 a year premium for sinkhole insurance
HERNANDO COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Denielle Lue owns an 8-year-old house in Spring Hill where sinkhole activity beneath her home is causing cracks in her walls and windows.

"Every once in a while you can hear the door, the front door pop. Sounds like somebody kicks it, but there's nobody there," Lue said.

According to a report by the Florida State Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance, Denielle Lue's is one of 24,671 sinkhole claims filed in Florida between 2006 and 2010.

During that same time period insurance companies paid out $1.4 billion in sinkhole claims.

Hernando, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties alone accounted for 11,872 claims from 2006 to 2010.

Sinkhole insurance is becoming harder to find and it is getting very expensive.

It will cost Denielle Lue $16,293 a year for sinkhole insurance coverage.

"I don't know how anyone would afford, could afford that type of premium," Lue said.

After Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida in 1992 and one hurricane after another battered Florida in 2004, homeowners saw their storm insurance rates shoot up, creating an insurance crisis.

Building codes were strengthened. Now new homes are more resistant to wind damage.

David Murray is an attorney who represents the Lues and other families with sinkhole issues. He suggests taking a cue from the crisis created by hurricanes. And that would be to make homes more resistant to the environment.

"There's been no moves to change the Florida Building Code with regard to residential construction and to address the sinkhole activity conditions that we are experiencing," Murray said.

Pasco County changed its building code in 2009 after an explosion of sinkhole claims. The change requires a design statement when a soil engineer determines the ground upon which a home is to be built cannot support 2000 pounds per square foot. It requires a remediation plan for the soil and plans for a foundation that will provide adequate support for a structure regardless of the hazardous geological conditions identified.

The 2010 report by the Committee on Banking and Insurance, recommended more soil testing on new home sites and thicker foundations or slabs. The estimated cost would add about $4,500 per home.

Structural engineer Michael Biller reviewed the recommendations for 8 On Your Side and said they are not enough to prevent damage caused by a significant sized sinkhole.

"If I was designing a house, I would like to treat the design process the same way I would for a commercial building. I would like to make sure the foundation that I designed is adequate for both the loads imposed on it by the building and accommodating the soil conditions below it," Biller said.

Hydro-geologist Sandy Nettles, an expert in sinkhole detection suggests building homes on piers or pilings not unlike what you see with waterfront homes.

"Put them on stilts, basically you know, get some kind of foundation into solid rock," Nettles said.

That could add tens of thousands to the cost of a house.

A cheaper avenue, Nettles suggests, is to change the building code to require builders to test soil strength right down to the limestone. Preconstruction electro-resitivity testing he claims, would be relatively inexpensive, would give engineers a clear picture of what is beneath the soil and would be fast. Nettles says you can get an image within an hour.

"Then design the foundation for the particular conditions on that site," he said.

When asked about the growing sinkhole insurance crisis, Governor Rick Scott said that his heart goes out to anybody that has a sinkhole problem.

"I know the legislature is looking at some things, but we've got to continue to do everything we can to make our homes safer and get more insurance companies to come into our state to make sure to keep our rates as low as possible," Scott said.

Denielle Lue wonders if this discussion is even taking place in Tallahassee.


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