Crumbling Foundations: Repair, Replace or Walk Away? - NBC Connecticut

Crumbling Foundations: Repair, Replace or Walk Away?

(Published Friday, Sept. 11, 2015)

In the northeast corner of Connecticut hundreds of people, maybe more, are considering or have already considered the different options when it comes to dealing with their crumbling home foundations.

Experts tell the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters the only way to guarantee the problem goes away is to lift the house, remove the existing foundation and replace it. The cost, however, is often out of pocket because insurance companies deny most claims for coverage. It often goes into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The process of replacing a foundation creates more than financial distress. Homeowners often need to relocate or live for months in a construction zone.

Some homeowners have gone a different route. They’ve hired structural engineers who say they can fix the problem without replacement.

Those options could include pouring a new concrete wall inside the existing foundation. While the original foundation continues to support the weight of the house, the inner wall acts as a backup in case the outer wall collapses. The cost is considerably lower than replacement, but still nears $100,000.

It’s the option Theodore Perrill and his wife Cathy went with two years ago when a structural engineer told them they caught the issue early enough to spare them from needing to replace the foundation.

"It definitely needs to be said that this new wall and the support are not bearing any weight," said Theodore Perrill, pointing to the basement walls in his South Windsor home. "We did all of this as insurance and only if the original wall starts to release its weight, then (the inner wall) will take its weight."

The Perrills say the cost was approximately $90,000, a hefty sum, but tens of thousands of dollars less than the replacement cost. There are no visible cracks in their new foundation wall at this point and their engineer assured them the problem is solved.

Susan Markland of Tolland also thought the problem was solved when she purchased her home in 2006. The inner wall had just recently been placed inside her basement. However, years later, problems started to develop.

The original foundation walls continued to deteriorate. The increased spider cracking can be seen while standing outside.

Inside the basement, the issue is more apparent. The existing foundation is expanding, swelling and cracking through the newer inner wall. Some cracks are large enough to fit your hand in.

"I have to take this (inner) wall out so the engineer can determine if the structure is safe enough for us to stay here," said Markland. "All my windows are out of line. My doors are out of line."

Also, the home is no longer resting on the inner wall because the exterior wall has pushed it up from the foundation.

It’s the common thread for homeowners from East Hartford to Ashford, whom the Troubleshooters have visited over the last two months. Some believe the cause is an iron sulfide mineral called pyrrhotite, which is found in the stone used in the concrete aggregate.

Structural engineer Bill Neal has seen six to eight crumbling foundations per week over the last two months. Some, like Markland's, were supposedly "fixed" years ago, but continue to deteriorate.

"I haven’t seen a repair yet that was effective, structurally sound, that’s worth the tens of thousands of dollars it cost to do," said Neal.

Contractor Donald Childree is also seeing some homes with concrete inner walls having issues. One wall in Vernon was placed less than 10 years ago, but now chunks of the inner wall can be easily pulled away.

"If this didn’t work, there is nothing else that can fix this. It’s why the foundations have to be taken out. All the concrete has to be taken out and new concrete has to be installed. That’s the only fix to this," said Childree.

Another repair involves injecting an epoxy to weld together the cracks. After the injection, the walls are painted with a waterproof membrane.

It’s how Luc Richard repaired a cracked foundation in Coventry in 2009. Richard owns Attack-a-Crack, a concrete repair company that focuses on water and settlement issues. He learned soon after the repair that the epoxy will not work in this particular case.

Just over six years later, the cracks remain welded shut, but many new cracks have formed.

"It won’t fix it. The only advice I can give it to replace the foundation. That’s the only solution that I know of," said Richard.

Ellen Peloquin chose not to deal with any repair or replacement. The Willington native instead opted to sell her home for a significant loss, choosing to take the financial hit rather than live through the process.

"I took $175,000 less than asking price," said Peloquin. "Physically and emotionally, I just don’t have the strength to go through that whole process, so that’s why I decided to take my losses and go."

If you have dealt with a crumbling foundation, send your address, the year your home was built, the builder and the concrete company to Troubleshooters@NBCConnecticut.com.

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