Act of God, My Ass

Yahoo! News – Is Water Intrusion Act Of God Or Construction Defect?

I don’t know if any of you outside of Florida has heard about what’s been happening to most new homes in the Orlando area that are five years old and younger. But after each of the three hurricanes roared through here this summer, we found water seeping into our homes along the floor, between the baseboards and the foundation. Water was flowing right on in.

During the storms, water also literally poured in through screw tops of the windows in our downstairs, where they were secured in the concrete block wall. I just finished repairing the drywall under our kitchen window where it disintegrated after being soaked storm after storm.

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The truth is, it’s most likely that the water has been penetrating our homes from day one and we didn’t know it.

The first year after we closed, I noticed large cracks forming across the back of our house in the exterior stucco. There were chunks falling off corners of the house between the second and first floors as well. We called our builder to come out and fix it, as per our warranty. They did. They sealed all the cracks with caulk and repainted the entire back of our house.

Yet, the cracks continued to show up. This summer, they got even worse as each storm passed. I would go out between storms and seal any crack I could find. Once the caulk had dried, I would repaint. Seal and paint, seal and paint.

[click to enlarge]

After Jeanne — actually, during the last hours of Jeanne — we discovered water coming into our home along the baseboards on the Southeast, East and Northeast sides. The water came about four feet into the affected rooms. Luckily, due to the amount of sealing and painting I’d been doing, our damage wasn’t nearly as bad as most of our neighbors. Plus, we only have one room downstairs with carpeting. We pulled that up immediately, and began moving all the furniture out.

The next day, we purchased a 45-pint dehumidifier, two large box fans, tons of damp-rid, and a carpet steamer vacuum. FEMA reimbursed us for the dehumidifier and the vacuum. [thank you, FEMA]

[click to enlarge]

We were able to dry out our carpet and padding, save our walls and our furniture. Others in our neighborhood and surrounding communities have not been so lucky. Mold is rampaging through these home, their walls have become smelly, black-spotted, crumbling things. Their carpets are torn out, completely worthless. Their trust gone.

We immediately contacted our builder, Cambridge Homes. We filled out the online warranty request [twice], and waited to be contacted. They called and set up an appointment to have someone come and inspect the damage.

The inspector came out October 6th, 2004 at 5:00pm. I showed him the outside of our house, riddled with caulk lines in the shape of concrete blocks and lightning bolts. You could see I had attempted to stay on top of things, but it was a losing battle. I showed him the room with the carpet, now looking completely normal. Then I showed him the kitchen window with the drywall damage.

He didn’t say much, but what he did say was this,

“Here’s what Cambridge will do for you:

1. We’ll re-glaze the top panes of all windows.
2. We’ll seal all cracks and openings on the outside of your home and around all exterior doors and windows.
3. We’ll repaint your home with a water-proof paint.
4. We’ll repair the drywall damage under the kitchen window.”

I told him that was fine with me. I was just glad I didn’t have to fight with him. He said it would be 10 to 14 days before they could start work, so please be patient.

I waited until October 25th. We still hadn’t heard from them. So, I filled out another warranty form and also sent them an email. Both asking when I could expect someone to come out. I had been patient.

On November 3rd, I called their offices. I got their voicemail and left a nice message. It was basically the same as my emails.

November 4th, I got a letter from Scott South, the District President of Cambridge Homes, Ltd. In it, he stated none of the problems we homeowners were facing were due to construction defects, so they were not accepting any culpability. Basically, he was blowing us off. And they were also not planning on honoring their promise to repair the damage to our homes.

The letter said that the problems were most likely due to shoddy owner maintenance on the exterior of the home.

They’re trying to say that the homes should be painted every two to three years, and that we’re supposed to be staying on top of sealing those cracks that for some reason keep happening in the stucco covering. Our home is just over three years old, and Cambridge seems to have forgotten that they had already sealed and repainted the entire wall that caused us the most problems.

I am not the only one who got Mr. South’s letter. There are at least 57 other homeowners in my subdivision alone that suffered the same damage. And that’s among those of us who actually responded to a request from our board to let them know who had problems.

The link up there is to a story that aired last night on our local news channel 2 [WESH – NBC]. They investigated mostly Ryland Homes, which had the largest number of homeowners with problems. I’ve sent a package to WESH’s consumer watch reporter, Michelle Meredith, which contains my response letter to Mr. South, his letter to me, copies of my emails and photos of the damage.

Spread this story to everyone you can think of. Let’s get the builders around here to admit they’ve been applying the stucco too thinly, have used watered-down paint, shoddy painting technique and also haven’t been placing a tar-type of seal at the base of the concrete wall, where it meets the foundation slab [to keep water out]. They need to step up to the plate and fix these problems promptly.

We love our home and don’t wish to see it de-valued in this way. I’m going to get these repairs and preventive maintenance items done, whether Cambridge Homes does it or not — I will not risk my health, my family’s health or my property value while fighting this fight.

And, I will not back down. This is one hornet’s nest they never should have poked.

6 Comments so far

  1. Joel Sax (unregistered) on November 16th, 2004 @ 2:24 pm

    I tried to get you to buy a condo in our Orange County CALIFORNIA neighborhood, but you WOULDN’T listen, would you?

    The thing that gets us about Floridians is that you’re all deathly afraid of earthquakes (I’ve felt three big ones in my lifetime) and yet you build your houses on swamps which are far more unstable than the ground on which we live. Plus you have hurricanes EVERY YEAR!

    Just lucky for you that we Blue States have all that money to give you when you need to rebuild.

  2. Chari (unregistered) on November 16th, 2004 @ 2:52 pm

    Just FYI, Joel… Orange County HERE was Blue. Plus, I lived in Japan for over seven years, surviving several major earthquakes. So nyah. ;)

  3. Joel (unregistered) on November 18th, 2004 @ 4:36 pm

    But your house is still sinking slowly into a swamp and mine is built on bedrock. Nyaaaah! :)

  4. "Anti-Leaky Home Day" (unregistered) on November 23rd, 2004 @ 7:52 am

    There are now plans for a large scale protest for ALL homeowners in Central Florida to voice their frustrations with builders regarding water intrusion. A protest is an inexpensive way for homeowners to show their frustration with builders for building “leaky homes”. If you had problems with water intrusion during or before the hurricanes and are not getting any help from your builder or insurance company, THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO VOICE YOUR CONCERNS ! Please visit message board for details. “Anti-leaky Home Day” is coming !

  5. Louis KIngsley (unregistered) on November 24th, 2004 @ 7:53 am

    You have my total support. I leave in a Levitt home in clermont fl please contact me I know we can be of mutual helf. This must be keep in the papers as much as posssible.My home leaked before it was one year old and I now am face with thousands of dollars of mold repairs.

  6. Carl (unregistered) on September 19th, 2005 @ 6:06 pm

    Look at

    [edit: I’ll leave this in, it’s not spam — the site appears to just want to highlight the construction industry’s choice to use products that are sub-standard. — Chari]

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