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Column: ‘We’re watching our first house crumble before our eyes’

Expecting their first child, Niamh Byrne and her partner bought a house. Then pyrite was discovered in the structure. Here she tells her story.

Niamh Byrne

AS THE FINANCIAL strain continues to resonate throughout Ireland as a result of the building boom that turned into a banking crisis, it has affected some homeowners in devastating ways.

The current estimate is that 20,000 homes built during the boom are now affected by pyrite. Pyrite is a mineral compound that naturally occurs in rock, swells and produces crystals when in contact with oxygen and moisture. During the boom, infill containing high levels of pyrite was used in the construction of buildings. Unfortunately my house is one of the many and the damage caused has to be seen to be believed

I am a committee member with Pyrite Action, a group set up to fight for justice for homeowners affected. We have been struggling with this issue for over four years. In that time we have exhausted every avenue available to us; have come up against brick wall after brick wall; and watched in despair as each responsible party passed the buck. When we should have been enjoying our young children we have had to fight tooth and nail to get our house fixed and still nothing has been done. It has been an incredibly stressful time.

This was our first house and we bought it when we were expecting our first child. We were naturally excited but that excitement has turned into a nightmare as we have discovered that we would have more consumer rights if we bought a washing machine.

We had all the necessary inspections carried out and we presumed that the house was structurally sound, complied with all the necessary government regulations and was inspected during construction. How wrong we were.

Two years after moving into our home we realised that the cracks were appearing were not normal settlement cracks. We watched as every day as new cracks appeared and grew in length and width. We initially contacted our builder, they were extremely unhelpful to the point of hostile. We then contacted Homebond, our structural defect insurer, to inform them that there was a problem.

‘At this stage we were dubious to say the least’

Initially they told us that the problem was caused by ‘shrinkage’ which was almost laughable considering the size of the cracks and the speed and number in which they were appearing throughout our home. Also at this stage several doors were jamming or scraping the floors both upstairs and down.

Homebond told us that this was caused by a ‘joist issue’ and they opened up the ceiling. At this stage we were dubious to say the least. After over two years of frustration and no answers from Homebond, we insisted that a test was carried out for pyrite. The day we finally got our results from Homebond was not only the day we found out that we had pyrite but also that our builder had gone into receivership.

As Homebond was sold as structural defect cover without which our mortgage would not have been approved by the banks, we naturally thought that Homebond would therefore be taking over responsibility of fixing the problem. After a lot of unanswered emails and phone calls to Homebond we finally got a reply with an full and final offer of €1,322.91. Considering the works that were necessary to remedy the problem cost from €30,000 to €50,000 the amount offered by Homebond was seen by many as an insult.

On foot of the decision by Mr Justice Charleton in James Elliott Construction versus Irish Asphalt, Homebond have since revoked all offers of payment and have denied any liability to those of us affected, on the basis that the infill provided by Irish Asphalt ‘was not of merchantable quality.’

We contacted a solicitor as a final attempt to get a resolution. We were told that the quarry in our case had gone into receivership and this effectively closed any route for taking legal action.

‘We constantly worry about a gas leak or explosion’

The Pyrite Panel was recently set up by Minister Phil Hogan to investigate the problems facing homeowners, to assess the scale of the problem and to look at a resolution. Homebond have recently been criticised by an Oireachtas committee  for refusing to appear to answer questions relating to pyrite contamination. The results from the panel are due out this month.

Most people by now know how pyrite affects a house, cracking walls, rising floors, doors jamming or sticking, floor tiles cracking. But homeowners also have the additional worry of the unseen affects, the affects that the heave has on the services under the floor – such as water, gas and sewage. These are all under pressure as the floor lifts, cracks and buckles. We constantly worry about the possibility of a gas leak or explosion. Or our sewage leaking under the floor or contamination to our drinking water. These are not things you should have to worry about in an eight-year-old house.

The cracking in our house has now moved to the external walls which indicates that the movement and stress on the walls is affecting the very structure of the house and that the problem is becoming even more urgent.

All we want is our house fixed so that we can get on with our lives that have effectively been put on hold for the last four years.

I for one am desperate for a solution. I cannot take much more of watching as our house crumbles before our eyes while we struggle to pay a mortgage on a house that is effectively worthless. The only positive that we can take from this is that the problem is fixable, it is just a case of getting those involved together with the government to come up with the solution.

We are anxiously awaiting the publication of the findings of the Pyrite Panel and hope that the findings are implemented and the report is not left to gather dust on a shelf.

Niamh Byrne is a member of the Pyrite Action group.

TheJournal.ie contacted Homebond for a response to this story. In a statement, the company said: “HomeBond confirms that it will not be accepting liability for ‘Major Defect’ claims made by homeowners relating to pyrite problems with hardcore material used as infill in their homes.” It added that any potential problems should have been identified by the quarry supplying the infill. To read the full statement, click here.

About the author:

Niamh Byrne

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