Construction problem leaves local homes rotting

November 8, 2013

"Nobody could imagine what it's like to have your home in shambles," said Lisa O'Day.

Rotting from the inside out.

"This has been by far the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life," said O'Day.

The O'Days must spend upwards of $200,000 to keep their million-dollar home from falling apart.

"Like being assaulted every day over and over again - every day with no end in sight," said Kevin O'Day.

Over time, water got trapped behind their stucco walls. Now the stucco has to come off and their home has to be rebuilt from the outside in.

"It's very overwhelming to keep seeing things every time they take off a piece of stucco. It's kind of like what's behind the wall," said Wendy Meyer.

Independent home inspector Kevin Thompson peeled back the layers of Meyer's home and what he found was alarming.

"I shouldn't be able to take a piece of plywood like that and crush it in my hands completely disintegrated. These are the studs which I can, this is a 2x6 and I'm able to just crush that in my hand," said Thompson.

Meyer says the whole ordeal has left her feeling scared, overwhelmed, shocked and frightened.

The stucco home belonging to the Bardwells has been crumbling too.

"Everything was rotted. There was not a piece of good wood to be salvaged," said Monica Bardwell.

"It was devastating," said Brian Bardwell.

There was black mold everywhere.

Thompson says within a 30-mile radius of Philadelphia, this is a $1 billion problem.

"Most of the time, it comes down to faulty construction. I would say 95 percent of the time," said Thompson.

Thompson says many stucco homes weren't built with adequate space between the exterior and inner walls to allow water to drain out.

So if the builder didn't properly seal everything off or allow water to be properly diverted, the moisture gets trapped behind the stucco walls, causing decay.

What's the only fix?

"You have to physically take everything off the house - pull out all the windows, start from scratch," said Thompson.

"At the end of the day, it will be one of our kids' college tuition - just to keep the house standing," said Monica.

Consumers usually have to pay for the fix out of their own pockets.

Pennsylvania law says homeowners can't hold the original builder accountable for problems after 12 years.

Insurance generally covers an occurrence to which a specific date can be attached but stucco failure happens over a long period of time.

"I think what we really ought to be going after to change this is how to define 'occurrence' when it comes to insurance and liability and what the insurance carrier will cover," said PA. Representative Marguerite Quinn.

Reps. Quinn and Todd Stephens promise to address the problem.

"Where it was faulty construction, we need to protect the homeowner and make sure there are funds available to help them remediate this problem," said Rep. Sephens.

If you want action taken on this, you should let your local legislator know.

The Pennsylvania Builders Association says it is also working on the issue.

"I think it's more prevalent in the Southeast area of Pennsylvania in Philadephia, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties, where there is a higher rate of the use of stucco," said Brent Sailhamer, PBA.

While the PBA admits workmanship issues could lead to stucco failure, it also says homeowners should practice good maintenance.

"Make sure that water isn't continually getting on the outside of the stucco. Make sure there are no large cracks where water can seep behind the stucco," said Sailhamer.

Also look for the darkening of your stucco walls, even the smallest sign of trouble.

"Any little leak could be more. You need to get on top of it as quickly as possible," said Meyer.

Homeowners need to find and fix the problem well before the 12 year mark so they're not alone holding the repair bill.

Be sure to use a reputable inspection company - preferably one with infrared technology, as well as a reputable remediation company.

We've heard many complaints about inspectors and remediators who've made these already terrible situations even worse.

To help, the Bardwells have created their own website

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