How do I research bluff stability online? If you’re planning to buy or build a home on a high bluff, you’ll need to do some serious due diligence to make sure your home won’t slide down the bluff a hundred feet or more. Who wants to lose their entire home because of erosion or the loss of an entire bluff?
I’ll show you how to do some very in-depth research on bluff stability online, all free. You’ll love this state operated website that give you historical photos and studies so you can determine bluff stability with the kind of information an engineer would use. My example is in the State of Washington, but you’ll find similar resources on the shorelines around the continental United States.
Bluff stability is a critical research item during your due diligence as you search for a home and submit an offer, and there are many important things to research during the time your accepted offer is pending. High bluffs and medium bluffs can present their own set of complicated risks for a purchaser, and apart from hiring an expensive bluff stability engineer for $3,500 to $5,000, a buyer like you may wonder if there is any kind of preliminary research you can do free online.
Can I Do Bluff Stability Research
I’ll show you exactly in this Bluff Stability video how to do that research yourself. I’ll show you how to use Google Earth Pro to travel along any bluff from any angle and any distance to view it as though you were flying your own helicopter over the bluff. I’ll show you how to measure the distance from the top of a bluff to the home or any building on the bluff. I’ll even show you how to view the bluff itself with a graphic image that shows you the precise angle of the bluff, the distance from the water line, and the precise elevation. You’ll be amazed, not with me, but with Google Earth Pro and what it can do that very few people know about.
So let’s get started and jump into the video. As a brief disclaimer, know that I am not a bluff stability engineer, nor do I play one in this video. In 26 years in real estate on the Olympic Peninsula, which is surrounded by water, I’ve learned a lot about bluff stability, or the lack thereof, from bluff stability engineers and through my own research. I’ve read a lot of documentation from authoritative agencies, and I’ve read many bluff stability reports prepared by professional engineers. I’ve also shown over a hundred homes on high bluffs, and I’ve helped clients buy homes on bluffs.
On occasion I’ve helped clients terminate pending offers based on information they learned that indicated the bluff stability was in serious question. What I share in this video is intended as information only and as a research tool for you to evaluate on a preliminary basis the most obvious risks of purchasing a beautiful home on a high bluff.
What Software Can I Use to Research Bluff Stability?
You can view great detail, distances, and the slope of a bluff by using Google Earth. Don’t use Google Satellite–use Google Earth. Then follow the instructions on the video. The second great online resource is found in Washington by going to Washington State Coastal Atlas Map. Again follow the instructions, but you’ll be surprised at how you can view an entire history of photos of the bluffs on this website. It’s an amazing resource that few people ever discover. Now you’ve discovered it.
What Causes a Bluff to Erode?
In an area that is not sheltered by a bay, an island, a spit or a peninsula, the waves eat away at the bottom of the bluff, slowly digging into the foundation of the bluff. In a rainy season, water is draining underground toward the water and often exiting from the bluff somewhere between the beach at the bottom and the top of the bluff. Eventually with enough rain and drainage on top, sections of the bluff suddenly slide off without warning.
Can An Earthquake Reduce Bluff Stability or Collapse the Bluff?
An earthquake, if sufficient in surface magnitude could cause dramatic erosion in a bluff that is already weakened by years of erosion at the base, and which has excess water in the soil in a season where there has been unusually high levels of precipitation throughout the winter and spring.
Many homes between Sequim, WA and Port Angeles, WA have been red-flagged and cannot be occupied. Others are still occupied, but the 100 to 170 foot high almost vertical bluff is now only 50 feet from the back deck of some homes. One can imagine the uncertainty of living and sleeping in a home that could end up on the beach any day or night.
What Happens to a Home That Slides Down a Cliff?
The damage that a home will sustain if it is in a slide on an unstable bluff depends on many factors, including the height of the bluff, the extent of the erosion or slide, the stability of the soils immediately beneath the home, and whether the home is dropped or rolled off the bluff. Damage to homes runs the gamut from minor foundation damage to total destruction of the home.
Can I Get Bluff Stability or Earthquake Insurance That Will Insure My Home?
Earthquake insurance and bluff insurance are two different types of coverage with their own premiums. Earthquake insurance can be expensive, but it will not insure a home that slides down a bluff because of erosion when an earthquake was not the cause. Bluff insurance is typically more expensive than earthquake insurance. Few people are willing to pay the high premiums of a catastrophic bluff erosion event, which can easily be several thousand dollars annually. In some areas, the risk is too high and the insurance cannot be purchased at any price.
I hope this video is helpful, and if you would like to read more or watch one of my other bluff stability videos, you can do so on this real estate blog with a simple search of the phrase “bluff stability” without the quotes.
Last Updated on January 6, 2021 by Chuck Marunde
Thanks – this is a really useful video!