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Engineers: Underpinning stabilizes but doesn't repair sinkholes

TAMPA, Fla. — The huge sinkhole that’s swallowing up homes in the Land O’ Lakes area of Pasco County has many homeowners wondering what they can do to help protect their homes.

Late Friday 10News spoke with the president of Helicon, a geo-tech construction company that specializes in sinkhole repair.

Helicon was called in to make repairs to the home after an engineer determined the house should have underpinning installed.

“This will just be a pure structural stabilization for the foundation but is not a sinkhole repair,” said Helicon President Jay Silver.

“Underpinning is a repair method used to fix sinkhole damaged structures. It utilizes underground steel piers to stabilize the foundation.”

But a second engineer who first examined the home and the ground underneath also recommended compaction grounding, which is the process of pumping a cement-like substance deep into the ground at high pressure to fill any voids and make the ground more solid.

Apparently the homeowner chose not to have that more expensive process completed and went with the recommendation of the other engineer.

“I can’t speak for the homeowner, but it could have been a budget constraint that they wanted to do something, and underpinning cost-wise seemed like their best solution at the time,” said Silver.

Underpinning can run between $20,000 and $30,000, while compaction grouting, and chemical grout, the process of hardening the soil closer to the surface, can run between $70,000 and $100,000, or even more.

Engineers can only guess how much grout might be needed to pump into the ground, but if they’re off, the homeowner can be on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars more.

Even homeowners who have sinkhole insurance are often forced to settle with the insurance company for a set amount of money, leaving them to make up the difference if the repairs cost more.

“I feel horrible for the homeowner,” said Silver. “My heart goes out to them.”

Helicon had two employees who live in the same neighborhood of Friday’s sinkhole and had to be evacuated themselves because of their proximity to the hole.

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