Failing foundations: Let's make this story get the attention it deserves

Originally published at

By Jim Kinney

LONGMEADOW -- A homeowner's best tools for fixing a foundation crumbling now because it was built decades ago using tainted concrete from a Connecticut quarry are the phone, the pen and the email send button, according to one advocate.

"Let's make this story get the attention it deserves," said Tim Heim, president of the Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements, a grassroots advocacy group of Connecticut homeowners beset by failing foundations.

Homeowners dealing with the issue need to contact their state representatives and senators, their town boards, mayors and city councilors and members of Congress, he said.

That's the only way, he said, homeowners can get satisfaction from reluctant insurance companies, or get relief from their state government and possibly even the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It's also their best way to make sure they don't get ripped off by unscrupulous contractors.

 "Ask for help," he said Wednesday. "You need help."

The now-defunct JJ Mottes concrete company used stone from a Willington quarry containing the mineral pyrrhotite from 1983 until 2017, according to reports prepared by the state of Connecticut. Over time the iron-laden mineral reacts with water and air, causing concrete to crack and bubble. Eventually, it loses structural strength and collapses.

In the last few years, more than 590 Connecticut homeowners -- including Heim, whose home is just a few miles from the quarry -- have reported failing foundations. Experts believe pyrrhotite may be present in the foundations of as many as 34,000 Connecticut homes.

Now it is showing up in Massachusetts.

A Longmeadow couple -- Russell and Tatiana Dupere -- say their home has lost half its value after they discovered concrete crumbling from their basement walls. In East Longmeadow, a couple sold their home for about half what it had been worth after pyrrhotite damage showed up in a home inspection.

The Dupere's  homeowner's insurance has denied their claim.

Pyrrhotite-contaminated concrete could force homeowners into foreclosure if they can't get money for repairs and can't live in the home. Many can't borrow money to fund repairs because there is no value in their home to use as collateral.

The pyrrhotite might impact municipal budgets, too, as homeowners seek tax abatements to reflect homes that have lost value. A report released earlier this year by the Hartford-based Capitol Region Council of Governments put the estimated waived taxes over 15 years in just eight Connecticut towns with affected homes at over $70 million.

Fixing the problem can cost $150,000 to $350,000. 

The Longmeadow and East Longmeadow cases are not the only ones Heim, featured in a 2016 New York Times story on the subject, said he knows of in Massachusetts. He's planning to host an informational meeting for Massachusetts homeowners in a few months.

"Connecticut will help Massachusetts," he said. "Massachusetts is where Connecticut was two-and-a-half years ago."

Above, excerpts from the Dec. 4, 2017 Longmeadow Select Board Meeting. Video footage courtesy of Longmeadow Community Television.

The Dupere family worries neighbors living in their development of homes, all built at about the same time by the same contractor, will try and downplay the problem, fearful that speaking up will hurt their property values.

Heim says that's the wrong approach.

"It's OK to have this problem," he said. "If you have this problem, you did nothing wrong."

He's aware he sounds a little more like the leader of a self-help group than someone advocating on behalf of homeowners with a very concrete problem, in every sense of the word. He said the impacted homeowners need emotional support, too.

"This is like AA for concrete," he said. "One day at a time. It's kind of weird."

There is a practical aspect to the meetings Heim hosts for homeowners. He talks about finding a good contractor. Homeowners fear that unscrupulous people are trolling the towns where failing foundations are common, selling cheap fixes that don't work and preying on homeowner desire to get things done quickly.

Insurance issues

William Trudeau, president of Insurance Center of New England in Agawam, said he is still learning about the problem. But his advice would be for anyone with concerns to first have a well-regarded contractor look at their foundation.

Insurance claims in this area are tricky. Policies don't often pay for faulty materials used in construction. But they will pay sometimes for damage caused when those material fail.

That means the claim needs to be centered not around replacing the foundation, but on all the other damaged caused by a sagging foundation, said insurance consultant Frank Lombard of Chicopee. That would be the doors that won't shut, cracked tile work and tilting floors.

Lombard has represented homeowners in Connecticut in pyrrhotite-related claims.

"Companies are going to fight it, no question about it," he said. "But the insurance company has to show them how it's not covered."

The Duperes were denied by their carrier, Liberty Mutual. Company spokesman Glenn Greenberg answered questions Wednesday in an email that said: "We empathize with everyone impacted by crumbling foundations due to defective concrete. While each claim is adjusted on its own merits, there are coverage issues arising out of these circumstances."

Trudeau, meanwhile, said he hasn't had one of his customers at Insurance Center of New England file a claim for tainted concrete. But he wouldn't be surprised if they start coming in.

"It's a big mess," he said. "It's something we need to talk about and understand." 

Date : 12/7/2017