Shocked Homeowners Learn That Their Houses Are Collapsing In Slow Motion

Image courtesy of photographynatalia

Houses are the most expensive items that most people purchase, and we assume that they will last a long time, remain standing, and rise in value over the time that we own them. Because of bad concrete, though, some houses in Connecticut are slowly collapsing because of materials used in their construction, and homeowners’ hopes for the future and their finances are collapsing along with them.

The New York Times reports that houses that are collapsing are in northeastern Connecticut, and the problematic concrete started to be used during a building boom in that area in the ’80s. It took a local news story last year to prompt state officials to take action, but they were able to trace the problem to material taken out of a specific stone quarry and used in concrete.

Stone from that quarry has more pyrrhotite than most of the stone used for concrete-making, and the substance can destabilize house foundations that it’s used in, swelling and cracking after coming in contact with water and oxygen.

This is a long way around getting to the core problem: there are an estimated 20,000 homes in the area with flawed foundations, which are or will become uninhabitable. Repairing the foundations is possible, but costs up to $200,000, and this is a more middle-class part of Connecticut where people don’t have that kind of money sitting around.

“You can’t eat, you can’t sleep. When you’re told your home is now worthless and your biggest investment is now worthless, it’s devastating,” one homeowner told the Times. He started a group that advocates for and unites homeowners, the Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements.

This kind of thing is why you have home insurance, right? No: insurance policies now say that only abrupt collapses of houses are covered. Preventing a slow-motion collapse isn’t covered, and until state lawmakers intervened, insurers were dropping the policies of people with pyrrhotite in their basements.

One family paid to have their basement patched a few years ago, and it didn’t help. “The company experts who patched our foundation told us the cracking would stop at some point, and they said their patching would fix the problem,” they recounted in the CCACB blog. “We paid them thousands of dollars for patching in 2013 and now the cracking has accelerated.”

Where does that leave homeowners now? Only 223 have come forward and complained to the state out of the estimated 20,000 homes that may have the pyrrhotite problem. They may not want to reveal their problem in public where their insurance company or lender could find out.

The state government will wait to take financial action until the investigation sorts out the extent of the problem. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been called in to deal with this disaster, which is like a very slow human-made earthquake.

With Connecticut Foundations Crumbling, ‘Your Home Is Now Worthless’ [New York Times]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.