My yard is sinking! Is it sinkholes? Help! (Pics)

dominogoldNovember 19, 2005

My yard is sinking! Is it sinkholes? Help! (Pics)

I'm really not sure what forum this topic belongs in so I'm going to hit a few of them that might apply.

We just had our brand new landscaping put in on our new house in May 2005. I went outside just the other day after a rainstorm and my front yard with my brand new landscaping has sunk about a foot in two spots! I'm very scared that it's going to keep sinking! I have heavy clay soils.

There is a story behind this: Just before closing on the house, the builder's contractors clipped the gas line and had to dig up the front yard to fix it. They just dug it up, and then filled it back in without compacting the soil. Ever since that time, the yard has been sinking just a little bit, but never this noticeable as in these pics. I've also noticed a very faint smell of gas at times and wondered if they didn't fully repair it. I did have the energy company out to look at it once and they thought they found a minor leak on the side of the house, but didn't test underground.

I wrote the builder two letters saying it needed to be recompacted before we put in landscaping, and he did come out and "touch it up" but he did not recompact it. The landscaper could tell the area had been dug up and wrote me a letter saying it's not his responsbility if the yard sinks because it is a builder grade issue.

What should I do here? How much more will it sink? Could this still be a result of an underground gas leak? How can I fix if it I can't talk the builder into fixing it (which based on my experience with him, he won't fix this issue)?

From these pictures, the ground used to be completely flat and a smooth slope downward! Even my annual bed is starting to sink! HELP!

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I'm sorry for the trouble you are having. If you still smell gas, be in touch with the gas company again.

I really don't know what to tell you except that you could go to your realtor who helped you buy the house for advice.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2005 at 11:29PM
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Definitely get back in touch with the gas company and have them recheck the lines. FWIW, I remember growing up in a home that had constant problems....eventually the driveway had to be dug up to fix the leak. Anytime you smell gas, keep on their case. Even if you don't smell it, tell them there is a strange odor and get a final check on the line. That will be the closest you will be assured the yard won't be dug up again. (but again, I remember my childhood and the constant digging of our front yard, sidewalk and driveway).

Did your builder have a warranty? Is it up? If not, I would mail them the pictures and copy your local zoning office and request the grading be corrected. If there is no warranty, the only thing you can do is to build up the sinkholes...and it may take many attempts. We recently had to replace an underground oil tank and we are still dealing with the earth settling.

I know this must be real frustrating, especially after buying a new home. (Too bad the holes aren't in a good location for a pond:)

Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 9:30AM
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Any more news?

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 6:29AM
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I didn't know other areas sinkhole problems. I assumed you were in Florida since we are plagued with sinkholes, ours have to do with the aquifers. I hope it is resolved quickly.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 12:44AM
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not sinkholes like going to suddenly drop 5 or 50 feet- not in clay soil, thankfully :)

proper sinkholes are actually little caves the develop in sand and limestone subsoils , and grow until they hit ground level.

what you have is a jackass for a contractor who not only didn't compact the fill- but for it to drop that much, I'll bet he filled it in with organic debris (grass clippings, leaves, whatever) which has now decomposed.

they did this, ironically enough, to my grandmother's grave - and whoo, boy did the fur fly.

not sure what to DO about it... especially not if there's a gas line involved this point, I'd be calling my father in law, who knows all.

if you don't have one- I'd call both your gas company, and your insurance agent (not to file a claim- but to get some idea of who they'd sue if you did)

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 1:51PM
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First, the gas line that is on your property would have to be repaired by you. Well, you have to pay for it and the gas company will have to fix it. Be aware of that. Since your contractor broke it I would first, call up the gas company and complain you smell gas. Have them test the lines as well as mark where the pipe is. They should have these records hopefully. It should be on the survey map i think also. This isn't always the case though. If the pipe is indeed leaking then you would have to deal with the contractor to fix it.
The sinking is most likely caused by the soil settling in, like everyone suggested. I would not worry about this really. I am pretty sure you won't be sucked into a big hole!! Personally, after making sure the gas line is ok I would poke around and figure out what areas need to be refilled. If the areas are small I would just do it myself. I just would feel it would be easier and less stressfull for me to just go buy some topsoil and replant grass. If the areas are very large, then you would most likely have to deal with the contractor. (blech)
personally I wouldn't say anything to my insurance agent either. They are wierd about things. I would be afraid of them saying "omg you smell gas??? We are canceling your insurance"

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 5:01PM
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Here is an update on this yard sinking situation.

The ground is now entirely covered with 8" of snow, so it's hard to tell what it looks like now. However just before the snow it did settle a little more and you can now clearly see a "line" where a "trench" was dug. I've been trying to find my plot plan to find out what it is that is dug underneath there but I suspect it could be city sewer.

Here is an updated pictures:

I had the gas company out, and they tested the soil with a deep probe and said there is no gas leak. So that part is a relief. I haven't smelled gas out there for a long time.

I also had the landscaper out, who said as expected it's not their problem because I had my sprinkler lines blown out in October, and if it was a sprinkler line leak it would have shown itself earlier while I was running the sprinklers nearly every day for the last 8 months. He said when they installed the sprinklers they didn't dig any trenches as they have a special tool that just digs a tiny hole for the line and they pull it through the hole.

So he provided me with a letter to take to the builder to tell them that this is a problem with the grade from improper compaction in the soil on their part, and the builder should fix it.

I have notified the builder in writing, and not heard back from them. It does say right in our contract that the builder is not responsible for any "grade erosion" issues" after closing, so I think the only course I may have here is because I wrote the builder a letter before we closed on the home a year ago saying there are problems with the grade settling, so that's my only evidence that this has been ongoing for a long time since before we closed.

Thanks all for the comments and ideas.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 12:21AM
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Geez....this looks remarkably like my daughter's yard did. We puzzled over this for full year. One day, a quarterly water bill came that was outrageously high. As first time homeowners, they thought their bills had been high, but until they got the $500 bill, they just figured that's the way it was. We figured out that it was an old underground sprinkler system which no longer had the sprinkler heads....they were removed before they bought the house. "Someone" must have turned on a sprinkler controller. (It was me! Hey, I didn't know what it was. We didn't even know there was a sprinkler system. Duh.) Granted, hers is an older home with history we were not aware of---not new like yours, but I wonder if your sprinkler system is leaking or has some outlets without sprinkler heads. Her yard was doing exactly what yours is doing with the sink holes and eventually they also had the trench-like depressions. You might want to check out the sprinkler system some more. Your pics are very similar.

I'm not very familiar with sprinkler installation methods, but what I do know involves digging a trench. Even if it's a small trench, it's a trench. Water leaks along the water line would form nice straight sunken trench lines. If your sprinkler contractor isn't more straight-forward with you, I'd get another sprinkler guy out for an opinion as soon as the weather warms up. Or even some cautious clearing away the dirt in that area might give you some clear indication of what is down there. I don't mean aggressive digging.....just carefully cutting through the grass and hand-clearing down a bit to see what's there.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2005 at 11:52PM
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Well, the builder admitted it was probably due to improper compaction, my landscaper said they don't dig any trenches when they install the lines.

We'll find out for sure in the spring.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2005 at 12:51PM
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