Crumbling concrete—can you risk it?

Crumbling Concrete

Feeling lucky? Are you willing to gamble over $200,000? A new foundation could cost that and more.

Recent news reports have alerted us all to the presence of pyrrhotite in our concrete. Every week we hear about more homes with this defect. The defect is more serious that most of us realize; it can lead to failed foundations in a home. There’s no fix for that, replacement is the only cure, and it’s costly.

Here’s a brief and incomplete look at the story:

This defect first showed up in Connecticut. Initially it was thought to be a small isolated problem. All of the homes with foundation issues were constructed with concrete containing aggregate from a single quarry. As time goes on, the scope of this just continues to grow. To put it in perspective here is a recent map showing known deposits of pyrrhotite in the USA. I stress the word “known”, this is certainly not all of it. So while this crumbling concrete was first thought to be a local problem it’s obviously not.

Map of US areas where the problem of crumbling concrete foundations has occurred.

Our inspectors have seen this in homes in central and eastern Massachusetts for some time now and it was difficult to impress anyone with the severity of the problem. Now, thanks to strong messages from consumer groups and pending legislation in both houses of the Statehouse we can finally expect to see some kind of remedy. I’m sure that this will happen slowly—nothing that involves this many different groups of concerned citizens and legislators ever happens quickly. Let’s hope that a fair and equitable solution is found and implemented before this affects more home buyers and sellers.

One of the first steps suggested by the pending legislation is a testing and licensing of quarries. This should help identify the root source of the problem and keep materials containing pyrrhotite out of construction materials. This will, if properly designed and implemented, eliminate this problem in future new home construction. What it won’t do is help the thousands of homes already affected by this. And I believe that thousands is a conservative estimate. We need legislation that will create funding to help homeowners, buyers and sellers, to correct the defects in their foundations.

If you are buying or selling a home your best defense is a home inspection. Properly trained inspectors can help you determine if further action is needed. Don’t miss an opportunity to protect yourself from the high cost of replacing a foundation.

Massachusetts Residents Against Crumbling Concrete Foundations

Map courtesy of USGS