does homeowners insurance cover sinkholes?

The prospect of your home suddenly being gobbled up by a sinkhole may seem strictly sci-fi. But the otherworldly hit to your wallet is all too real. We'll help you learn more about the ins and outs (make that ins and ins) of sinkholes and how to prepare for them.

what exactly are sinkholes?

Sinkholes, true to their name, are bowl-like gaps in the earth's surface. They most often occur when water accumulates underground and dissolves the bedrock. This forms a void into which the land above (and, sadly, maybe your house) sinks.

There are 2 main ingredients needed for naturally occurring sinkholes: abundant water and carbonate rock layers that store this water. This explains why so many sinkholes are found in Florida — the state has some of the heaviest rainfall and tropical storms in the country, and much of its land sits atop limestone, a carbonate rock that easily breaks apart.

But while sinkholes in the Sunshine State are most prominent, you're not immune to them if you live elsewhere. About 40 percent of land in the U.S. is vulnerable to sinkholes, including states from coast to coast, making this a threat everyone should be aware of.

is sinkhole damage covered by a home insurance policy?

Naturally occurring sinkholes are often viewed in the same category as earthquakes, or "ground movement." This means they're not usually covered by your standard homeowners insurance coverage.

Depending on your insurer, sinkhole insurance coverage may be available as an optional add-on that you can request. In other cases, you'll need to secure a separate sinkhole insurance policy, which you can often find through your state's department of insurance.

In Florida, however, home insurers are required by law to offer residents protection for "catastrophic ground cover collapse." Keep in mind, sinkholes don't always fall under that heading, so be sure to talk with your insurer if you live in this state.

sinkhole warning signals

While many sinkholes show no warning signs and are more or less unpreventable (drat!), others do give off some red flags:

  • Cracks in the foundation: Fresh fault line running up the walls of your abode? Have your property inspected pronto.
  • Slanted doors: If you shut a door in your house and it just feels off, that could be a sinkhole warning. Check the door frames carefully, as well, to see if they're angled funny.
  • Drooping trees: A tree leaning this way or that can often mean unstable ground below. Keep your distance and call an expert to check it out.
  • Cracks, voids, or unexplained water pools on the land: One of the most obvious red flags — and your cue to call for help.

Reducing exposure to sinkholes

Here are a couple of steps to help manage the risks associated with sinkholes:

  • Be careful with construction: Building on your property could unknowingly lead to a sinkhole. That's because you risk disrupting the natural process of water soaking evenly into the land, instead causing it to flow into one concentrated spot.
  • Block or reroute water flow: Installing drains to sway water away from your home or garage could help prevent a sinkhole (make sure to first consult with the pros and the local authorities). A much simpler measure is to set up receptacles below your gutters to collect rainwater.

after a sinkhole

Despite your best efforts, there may be no stopping a sinkhole. If that's the case, gather the family and get to a secure spot away from home.

If you're an Esurance customer and want to learn more about your coverages, speak with one of our agents at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262).

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