Panic Room-Are We Over Diagnosing Concrete Failures?

Crumbling basements in Eastern CTThat is one of thoughts that Home Inspector David Sherwood presented yesterday in his presentation for Realtors, “Failing Concrete”  at Maneeley’s in South Windsor.   I am pleased to report that every agent at Home Selling Team attended this 3 hour class.  Sherwood shared his technical knowledge about concrete  and his own experiences and opinions after doing thousands of home inspections.

Sherwood made a point of naming the class “Failing Concrete” rather than failing foundations or crumbling basements for a reason—Sherwood estimates that between 20 and 30 % of the homes being identified as having a “failing foundation or “crumbling basement” are misdiagnosed and are not a result of pyrrhotite but can be caused by a host of other issues common in the delivery and pouring of concrete, such as, insufficient mixing, insufficient drying time, excess or not enough water, too much desiccant in the mix, back filling, frost, or hydrostatic pressure.

Sherwood feels that some commonly found defects in concrete basements such as: shrinkage cracks, settling cracks, floor cracks, cold joints, efflorescence and wall staining are being interpreted incorrectly by some home inspectors and structural engineers who are jumping to conclusions prematurely without sufficient information or investigation.  This overreaction is evidenced by the general panic a single crack can cause in a real estate transaction if the home is built between 1983-2016 (Becker’s Quarry was still selling aggregate up until the date of their cease and desist order in July 2016).

Other key takeaways or new information I had not yet heard:DCP crumbling basement complaints

  • The Old Lyme failures shown on the failed foundations map are not pyrrhotite-related failures.
  • Core taps or samples – The state recommends 3. The price and timing have increased substantially since the demand has increased.  The recent price has gone from $1,200 to anywhere from $5,000-$12,000 with a 3-4 month turnaround time.  Sherwood has been able to get a price of $3,500 and a turnaround time of 4 weeks.
  • There is no known acceptable limit of pyrrhotite yet, so if you have no obvious defects in your foundation and you do core testing and it is positive for anything over trace amount, you could shoot yourself in the foot because you will are required to disclose the report if you decide to sell your home.
  • There have been no successful foundation repairs to date.
  • Sherwood employs the use of a solution applied to your concrete wall to show cracking that is not yet visible to the naked eye.
  • Water is the enemy of a concrete foundation.  Your concrete may contain pyrrhotite but if not exposed to water it may not react sufficiently to cause expansion and failure.  If you have a gutter problem or grading issue that causes water to collect around your foundation, you should correct it immediately.

  • There is increasing incidence/awareness of concrete failures now occurring in municipal buildings, septic tanks, distribution boxes, Jersey barriers and bridges.
  • Sherwood has heard of a couple of successful insurance claims where the wording in the claim does not identify the foundation and/or basement but uses something like the first floor of the home.  I don’t know if this has any merit but it warrants further investigation.  If you have an attorney you may want to mention this information.

Crumbling basements in Northeast CTLastly, according to Sherwood, the most important takeaway in his presentation is that every foundation should be inspected on its own merits, regardless of neighborhood, history of failures in the area, builder or location.  It is good advice for Realtors, Attorneys, insurance companies and lenders as we too are deeply connected to this issue as our clients come to us for professional advice and information and of course, our own livelihoods depend upon it.








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