Crumbling Foundations: Emails Reveal State Was Aware in 2008

Ed. Note: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to John Patton as the president of the J.J. Mottes company. He is, in fact, a spokesperson.

Multiple state agencies, along with state and federal elected officials, are gathering facts and brainstorming solutions to the growing issue of crumbling foundations in eastern Connecticut.

Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris visited an East Hartford homeowner currently dealing with the issue.

Harris said he learned of the seriousness of the problem plaguing some homeowners when an NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters investigation aired last week.

After touring the East Hartford house with homeowner Kris Keena, contractor Donald Childree and Troubleshooter George Colli, Harris made it clear he is not the only person monitoring the issue.

"It’s a serious problem. The governor realizes that. The Department of Consumer Protection realizes that. The other agencies realize that. Congressman Courtney realizes it, and we’re all going work to get the facts out to see what can be done," said Harris.

More than 100 homeowners in eastern Connecticut have contacted the Troubleshooters since our original story on crumbling foundations aired July 21. All say their foundations were placed between the early 1980s through the late 1990s, and all who can identify the concrete supplier point to J.J. Mottes Company in Stafford Springs.

Contractors and building officials say the only fix is to completely replace the concrete at a cost often into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Homeowners say insurance companies immediately deny each claim.

According to lawyers, some insurance companies are beginning to settle, but only after lawsuits are filed. They say it takes at least two years.

Freedom of Information requests show the state became aware of the issue no later than 2008. Childree, a contractor from South Windsor, filed a complaint with the Department of Consumer Protection in March 2008. Childree said his email led to DCP investigators touring three homes with the distinct "map cracking" under renovation at the time.

"They took pictures and most of them were quite surprised as to how bad this problem really was," said Childree. "I haven’t heard another word from them since."

Emails obtained from the state also show state legislators, the governor’s office and the DCP trying to identify the cause and potential solution with members of the Home Builders Association as recently as February 2015.

Childree is concerned with why no warnings were given to contractors, inspectors, realtors and the public before the Troubleshooters investigation.

"They said they’d put out a bulletin and not let these be sold to unsuspecting home buyers," Childree said of his conversations with DCP in 2008.

Some blame an iron sulfide mineral called pyrrhotite for causing the foundations to fail.

Research suggests that pyrrhotite oxidizes over time from contact with air and water, creating a chemical reaction that causes concrete walls to swell and expand. It creates severe cracking and pushes the home up off the foundation. Contractors say it often takes at least 15 to 20 years for the cracks to show.

John Patton, a spokesperson for J.J. Mottes Company, said in a statement last week the company has "begun working with managers, geologists and testing labs to review all manufacturing methods and materials."

This review began after the Troubleshooters contacted J.J. Mottes concerning the issue.

Patton also said in the statement the company has produced 10,000 residential, commercial, municipal and state jobs since 1998 without any reports of a problem.

Patton went on to say he’s aware of no project since 1998 having the "recently discovered pyrrhotite reaction."

Patton said J.J. Mottes uses the same materials for residential, commercial and government work.

The company has not commented on the problems for concrete supplied prior to 1998, and also wouldn’t disclose which state and municipal jobs it has been hired to work.

The company has declined to answer any of our questions since releasing Patton's original statement, despite the Troubleshooters' repeated attempts to obtain additional comments.

Harris, who began his role with the Department of Consumer Protection at the end of December, says the issue never stood out in the wave of complaints sent to the department each year.

"We receive thousands of complaints a year – over the last 10 years, probably 70,000 in total, and with this issue, only a handful," said Harris.

Childree, who first alerted the state seven years ago, is hopeful the warnings will now finally get to all who need to know.

"I think it’s going to get out this time," said Childree, "so no one else gets stuck with these foundations."

If you dealt with, are dealing with or fear you have the problem, email the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters.

Ed. Note: As the Troubleshooters have reported on this issue over the past year and a half, the Joseph J. Mottes Company (JJ Mottes) has evolved its response.  Click on this link to see the company’s most recent full statement to NBC Connecticut and its response to the State of Connecticut.

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