June 7, 2016

"'This is such an emotional roller coaster,' said Tim Heim, a homeowner who started the group Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements."

"'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.'"
The scope of the problem is so vast that state officials have begun an investigation, and they recently announced that the crumbling foundations had been traced to a quarry business and a related concrete maker, which have agreed to stop selling their products for residential use. The stone aggregate used in the concrete mixture has high levels of pyrrhotite, an iron sulfide mineral that can react with oxygen and water to cause swelling and cracking. Over the past 30 years, the quarry has provided concrete for as many as 20,000 houses.

24 comments:

David said...

How's the radon level?

Jonathan Graehl said...

Was this known to be an unsound formulation at the time?

bagoh20 said...

Rebuild the entire basement inside the old one with metal headers and fasten the two foundations together with epoxied anchors. You lose only a few square feet down there, but a relatively cheap and easy fix requiring no large or special equipment. But here's the hitch: The government will make it incredibly expensive or not allow it at all, and the lawyers will make sure of it. "We're from the government, and we are here to help."

Michael K said...

There are similar cases in California where the concrete reacted with soil that is alkaline (I think.)

Sounds like a lot better class action than Trump U.

Arizona ahd a big class action 10 years ago with polybutyline piping in homes. It's called "Bute" and is well known in AZ.

mockturtle said...

Class action suits typically compensate [in any meaningful way] only the attorneys.

Adamsunderground said...

Rebuild the entire basement inside the old one with metal headers...

That might buy some time by holding the mess together, but the walls don't magically cantilever the load through anchors that surely introduce more weak points.

bagoh20 said...

Maybe all the class action clients could form a class action suit against their lawyers. Now that's income redistribution I can get behind. Of course they would need a law firm who would then take all the settlement money, so...

Dammit!

Joe said...

In the late 90s I lived in a town where an entire neighborhood (of, I'd guess, three to four dozen houses) less than a year old was condemned due to crumbling basements. In that case, they'd poured the basements in sub-zero temperature in February.

At the time, nobody wanted to spend the money to knock the houses down so the neighborhood became a ghost town for a while. It was really weird.

bagoh20 said...

", but the walls don't magically cantilever the load through anchors"

If you design headers that directly connect the new wall to the floor joists, it will be more than enough to support the house, even if the old wall disintegrates. In subterranean basements, the lateral pressure of soil and water is the bigger threat anyway.

What if you just fill up the whole basement with construction foam? One truck, one hour, done.

I bet there are half a dozen effective ways to save these houses if you really wanted to - all of which are illegal, or would be made so after they were suggested. Especially, if they are cheap and require no union workers.

JAORE said...

Mighty nice that they agreed to quit using this stuff on residential construction. But, pray tell, what are the acceptable uses for concrete that crumbles?

cubanbob said...

Everyone of those homes was inspected by building inspectors and without their approval there would be no certificate of occupancy. Yet the inspectors are immune from liability.

mockturtle said...

Everyone of those homes was inspected by building inspectors and without their approval there would be no certificate of occupancy. Yet the inspectors are immune from liability.

Good point. And there are even instances [gasp!] where inspectors are bribed.

FullMoon said...

"While the state has traced the affected concrete to the quarry business, Becker Construction Company, which operates in Willington, officials have not ruled out other factors. One riddle is the absence of official reports of failing concrete in public or commercial projects that used material from the same quarry, and a concrete maker, the Joseph J. Mottes Company.

John Patton, a spokesman for both companies, has attributed the crumbling foundations to improper installation, specifically the tendency of some contractors to add water to wet concrete to make it pour faster. That was especially true, he said, during a building boom in the 1980s.

By law, Mr. Patton noted, inspectors are on site during commercial and public jobs, ensuring that concrete is mixed and installed properly. “We also know that during the time frame in question, other ready mix providers in the area used the same aggregate from the same source,” he said."

ken in tx said...

A cement-truck driver, who added water to wet concrete in his truck to keep it from hardening while he periodically visited a girl friend, was once found to be the cause of a collapsed bridge. Turning cement into concrete has a specific formula that must be followed closely.

Hagar said...

The NYT, or any other news media for that matter, is not famous for their technical knowledge - they usually think there must be some kind of black magic or a heinous conspiracy at work.
If there are no unusual number of failures on public works projects using concrete from the same supplier, then the departments are specifying a different concrete mixture and/or the contractors are doing something different when placing it. This may be such as requiring a cement admixture to counteract the action of the iron sulfide, using a different fine aggregate, or waterproofing the outside walls of the structure before backfilling and, of course, placing the concrete drier and compacting it properly will always help.

I would think that the way to "fix" the problem is to construct a new buttressed concrete wall all around inside or outside the existing wall, using a controlled mix, which would certainly be expensive, but $200,000+/- sounds to be a bit much for a normal sized home.

(My block was constructed in the early 1980s with polybutylene waterlines, which then was supposed to be the greatest invention since sliced bread. It wasn't and for some reason our block is not eligible for the class-action settlement, so by this time almost all of us are out $10,000+/- for re-piping our homes.)

gadfly said...

David said...
How's the radon level?

Radon - yet another EPA lie that says radon causes 14,000 lung cancer deaths per year, strangely down from an earlier claim of 30,000. Hmm, are the talking about radon or are they just buttressing the unproven claims about second-hand cigarette smoke.

What we know from extensive studies should shut down the radon BS, but the EPA ignores the studies. Cato Institute tells us:

The most important well may be a Finnish study reported in July 1996 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which assessed the effect of indoor radon exposure on lung cancer. Researchers focused on 2,500 Finns who had lived in the same houses—having low to high indoor-radon levels— for 20 years; they took care to adjust for smoking. The conclusion? “Our results do not indicate increased risk of lung cancer from indoor radon.” The study implies that indoor-radon exposure does not appear to be an important cause of lung cancer.

The EPA ignores as well the work of University of Pittsburgh professor Bernard Cohen, whose research has documented the inverse relationship between radon and rates of lung cancer in 1,600 counties containing 90 percent of the American population. In his work, a model of clarity and rigor, he has grouped and calculated the data in more than 100 different ways, adjusting for every conceivable variable. Still the results hold: As the radon level in the homes increases, the incidence of lung cancer falls.


Pay attention the next time a house sells in your neighborhood. A Radon Services truck will arrive which will test for radon and most assuredly install a mitigation system of some kind which most certainly will not adjust indoor radon levels to those outside the house. The seller will pay an extra $1,000 or so which he will, in many cases, pass onto the buyer in the purchase price. The Nanny State wins yet another battle for the control of your life!

Hagar said...

Oh, the insurance companies generally will pay for fixing the damage each time the piping breaks less the deductible, but not to fix the problem once and for all by re-piping, so the costs eventually eat you up anyway plus the constant worry.

ArtM said...

Basement wall failures are very common in northeastern Wisconsin where the frost heaving and heavy clay soils combine to push the walls into the basement. Worst case house is put on jacks and the basement walls are removed and replaced. After allowing it to cure the weight of the house is put back on the foundation walls. Can all be done from inside. $200k is nuts. Sounds like a good time to buy up some distressed properties and do some block laying.

William said...

I live in a 130 year old brownstone. Finally, a problem I don't have to worry about. I cherish all the schadenfreude I can get. The roof and the boiler have had their sorrows, but I'm blessed with sturdy basement walls.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

And yet the Roman viaducts still stand...

tim maguire said...


mockturtle said...Class action suits typically compensate [in any meaningful way] only the attorneys.


That's the point of class action suit--to give people a way to redress harms that are large only collectively. othwise you could get away with stealing 10 million dollars by defrauding a million people out of $10. How do you propose doing that without giving the greatest individual gain to the lawyers?

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Pyrrhotite is an utter mongrel of a mineral [my first two degrees were in geology and geo-chemistry] but it's not exactly evil. Think Fool's Gold (pyrite, or pure FeS) that's a few fries short of a Happy Meal, in that a lot of the iron sites are vacant. It *is* weaker than other minerals, but I suspect it's not all that abundant in the aggregates from NE Connecticut [I grew up near New Haven and am quite familiar with Connecticut geology]. Certainly they'll be some in the "pegmatites", which are fairly common in that area, but not likely enough to ruin a foundation.

I totally suspect that the contractors in these situation told the truck drivers to goose the water for a faster pour. On the commercial jobs there's almost always an engineering tech with a slump meter -- an indirect way to make sure the mix is appropriately wet for the specified PSI rating. The contractors were probably too lazy or too cheap to have guys "rodding" the concrete [sort of tamping and stirring] as it was poured.

Larry J said...

tim maguire said...

mockturtle said...Class action suits typically compensate [in any meaningful way] only the attorneys.

That's the point of class action suit--to give people a way to redress harms that are large only collectively. othwise you could get away with stealing 10 million dollars by defrauding a million people out of $10. How do you propose doing that without giving the greatest individual gain to the lawyers?


How about limiting the lawyer's percentage of the settlement to 10 or 20%? As it is now, the lawyers get millions and the claimants get little or nothing.

mikee said...

A member of my local city council, who is also a contractor, won the contract to provide concrete products for a huge local road building project. Imagine his chagrin when miles of laid road had to be dug up and relaid using material of a proper formulation, instead of what he had supplied. None, really. He made out like a bandit.