Homeowners affected by crumbling foundations say the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters interview with the concrete company at the center of a state investigation raises more questions than answers.
J.J. Mottes spokesman John Patton said Monday he believes the cause of the crisis is faulty installation, not a chemical reaction involving a mineral in the concrete his company supplies. The issue is plaguing at least hundreds of northeastern Connecticut concrete basement walls.
"I have a lot of questions but I've got no answers," said Willington resident Tim Heim, whose concrete walls show spider cracking and deterioration. "I think Mr. Patton kind of danced around the questions when the people right now need answers, honest answers, more than ever."
Heim said at least four of his neighbors have already replaced or are in the process of replacing their concrete foundations. He said the neighbors have contacted their builders to confirm their concrete was supplied by J.J. Mottes.
Heim believes the company and the state should be focusing on the contents of the concrete rather than who installed it.
One of the neighbors who already replaced her foundation is Nancy Smith. She knows J.J. Mottes supplied the concrete used in her basement because she remembers seeing the truck there when it was placed more than 20 years ago.
Smith said she spent more than $150,000 to replace the foundation because the house was "worthless." She felt the interview with Patton is a step in the right direction.
"I think I got a little more hope," she said. "Some of my questions weren’t answered, but I think now they’re identifying the problem and they’re going to work and try to solve this."
Patton's family owns both J.J. Mottes and Becker’s Quarry, where the company retrieves its aggregate. Patton disputes the assertions by some scientists and concrete testers that an iron sulfide mineral found in the quarry’s stone called pyrrhotite is to blame. He points his finger instead at issues such as the foundation installers mixing too much water during the original pour.
"If you have a high water-to-cement ratio, there’s a direct correlation between that and the durability of a wall. Water can bring other problems with it," he said. "So at the end of the day, there are a lot of issues that it can be and I think it’s a disservice to say this is the cause."
Patton also disputes that his company's concrete is the only one having the problem and said he went to some of his competitors to look for pyrrhotite by using a magnet and a magnifying glass.
When challenged as to whether in the competitor’s aggregate was tested for pyrrhotite, Patton would only say "we pulled it and they have it there." He would not name the company he visited.
Concrete suppliers in eastern Connecticut who talked to the Troubleshooters have said Patton is incorrect. Four different companies said they’ve received no reports of the distinct pyrrhotite oxidation cracking and catastrophic failure in any of the concrete they’ve supplied.
Willington resident Walter Zalewa questions Patton’s assertions that the cause of his failing concrete walls is from improper installation. He said he was there when J.J. Mottes concrete supplied the concrete for his foundation in 1988 and was also there when Mottes supplied the concrete for his garage foundation three years later. Now, both show significant cracking.
"There are so many different installers. The guys who poured my house? Different people, same (concrete) company, the problems are the same," said Zalewa. "It can’t be an installation problem because everyone's foundation would fall apart."
Zalewa wasn’t impressed with what Patton had to say.
"I don’t believe they're being truthful and honest. I still feel they know a lot more than their letting onto," Zalewa said.
In statement today, John Patton said "homeowners deserve answers and need help with solutions. That’s why we support a task force that will study all aspects that affect the durability of foundation walls."
According to the Department of Consumer Protection, a working group of experts is currently examining the issue.
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.