REGION – As homeowners take a closer look at their foundations these days, a bill in the Legislature seeks to establish an insurance fund that could help homeowners affected by the pyrrhotite problem.
“I am worried about the region, that we are going to see a slight increase in diagnoses or realize that we have more here that are going to be in this situation and need to be fixed,” State Representative Kim Ferguson said, who is co-sponsoring a bill with other lawmakers, including State Senator Anne Gobi.
Ferguson and others learned more about the problem with pyrrhotite when it sits in concrete foundations.
Connecticut and parts of Massachusetts have been dealing with the problem for some time, and Connecticut lawmakers have created a captive insurance fund designed to help homeowners, providing an example for the measure proposed in Massachusetts.
“It’s a really tough situation with no good solution except for an expensive repair,” Ferguson said.
The bill is awaiting a public hearing. But legislative work is moving slowly, and COVID-19 has slowed things down even further.
“A lot of people in the state have no idea what this problem is,” Ferguson, but those who are familiar with it make sure people are educated.
“When people tell their stories, that’s a very compelling reason to take them very seriously,” she said. She added that the bill includes “good provisions that will bring relief to people.”
But with houses built since the 1980s potentially at risk, “we are unfortunately at the tip of the iceberg.”
Does your master’s house have any cracks? :It could be pyrrhotite in the concrete foundation.
Gobi proposed the bill after she and others served on a commission investigating the issue.
Gobi’s bill – S.548 An Act Relative to Crumbling Concrete Foundations – aims to begin to address the issue and implement recommendations made by the 2019 Special Legislative Commission established to study the matter.
Gobi said that “among other things, the bill would require home sellers to disclose any repairs or tests performed on the foundation to potential buyers, allow residential property tax rebates for affected homeowners, and … Would require quarry operators to test for the presence of pyrrhotite before opening new cells.
The bill has 26 co-sponsors and is awaiting a hearing before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
For those who need to test their foundation after the first signs, there is help.
“There is still money in there (for reimbursement),” Gobi said. “We are trying to get the word out so that people do the testing. “
Where does pyrrhotite come from?
Gobi said the original idea was that the problem was confined to the Connecticut area, but the initial circle of skilled communities grew as more houses assigned foundations, including several in Holden and Rutland.
“We are going back to the owners to see if they will share copies of the tests so the state geologist can compare the details,” Gobi said.
“He should be able to tell if it is from a separate quarry” from the original in Connecticut, she added. “This is what we expect,” suspects a source outside the 50 mile radius.
Crumbling and cracking foundations:Pyrrhotite tests can be reimbursed
“I think, and others think, that we have a problem in Central Mass.” Gobi said, with studies showing a vein of the mineral in Central Mass. and New England which could be added to the aggregate used in concrete.
She said the quarry tests would be the best. The goal is to find the source and not to blame; simply not using the affected materials could prevent the problem in the future.
Who pays to have a foundation repaired if it cracks due to pyrrhotite?
The captive insurance agency could help homeowners with repairs that could easily range from $ 150,000 to $ 300,000. The assistance would be paid as a valuation against each owner’s insurance.
Gobi said she would also like to see some of the American Recovery and Preservation Act funds set aside to help.
She also wants city officials to intervene. This happens as officials send letters in support of the bill.
Holden selectmen recently received a presentation from Holden owner Karen Riani and are considering taking it into account.
The towns of Monson, Brimfield, Wales, Charlton and East Longmeadow wrote letters to the joint committee. Additional presentations will be given in the towns of Warren, Sturbridge, Ware, Palmer and Longmeadow over the next month, Riani said.
In addition, Gobi is trying to find an alternative, less expensive solution by calling on companies to develop a process that does not require lifting the whole house, possibly using an injection into the foundation.
Gobi plans to hold a forum in central Massachusetts, similar to the one held recently in Monson, to disseminate information.
She said it was her third year to put money in the budget for this effort and these tests.
“I compare it to a tornado that the state would respond to,” Gobi said.
Support from other groups may emerge as the bill moves into the hearing stage, but some await formal hearings.
“All the associations support him,” said Deborah Sousa, executive director of Mass. Mortgage Bankers Association, on its banking counterparts.
“It’s mind-boggling,” she said of the problem, and the legislation is a good start. “This is the start. We are certainly very supportive of that,” she said.
“These poor homeowners, find out there’s a problem.”
Although the Home Builders and Renovators Association of Central Mass. is not ready to take a formal position on the bill before the hearings, “we will support the bill when it gets to this stage and the committee stage,” said Executive Director Guy Webb.
“I think the insurance bill is going to be helpful. I think it will pass, ”he said.
Noting that the problem is “ugly and expensive”, Webb said “we are very pro consumers”.
Peter Davies of Borawski Real Estate is among the real estate agents who find the problem.
“I have personally seen pictures of homes affected by this problem and attended local meetings,” Davies said. “When homeowners find pyrrhotite in their foundations, they face significant challenges. They may have issues with their insurers, lenders, and city building inspectors.
Is my house losing value because of pyrrhotite in the foundation?
Regardless of the technique used for the repair, “the main impact observed is that homeowners feel that their home is now fundamentally worthless in its current condition, through no fault of their own,” Davies said.
“Unfortunately, this problem doesn’t offer many options for homeowners. The first step in resolving this statewide problem is to perform testing to better understand the extent of the problem. Many people who test for this do not disclose the results. They don’t sell their homes, so no disclosure is made to anyone.
“Their conversations with lenders and claims with insurers are confidential and they are loath to put a ‘scarlet letter’ on their homes,” he continued. “If a house is on the market, some of the local real estate boards have disclosure forms to be signed by both parties stating that the seller is / or is not aware of the presence of pyrrhotite, and that a buyer should discuss this with their home inspector or contact an engineer for further testing.
“Buyers and sellers should be aware of the problem and consider incorporating testing into transaction contingencies,” Davies said. “Some inspectors are aware of the problem, as are many real estate agents.”
He said the Realtor Association “is interested in the bill, but thinks we need to better understand the extent of the problem first” and urged more testing to better assess the problem and solutions.
Editor’s Note: The fourth and final installment in the story of Crumbling Foundations will appear in next week’s issue of The Landmark.