Removal of all pyrite not needed, says report
AN ESTIMATED 10,000 homes believed to have structurally damaging mineral pyrite in their foundations should not automatically have the material removed, a report on the problem has found.
The Report of the Pyrite Panel, published yesterday, said where reactive pyrite was detected in the hard-core foundation of homes but where there had been no “associated significant damage”, the dwelling should be monitored and the material only removed “if and when a dwelling exhibits damage”.
Homeowners had hoped the report would recommend removal and replacement of hard-core in all homes with reactive pyrite.
Pyrite, a naturally occurring mineral, was included in hard-core used in the foundations of some homes. When exposed to air or water it became unstable and caused structural damage in the homes, including cracking and buckling of walls and floors. Homeowners have been fighting to get builders and insurers to repair their homes.
The Pyrite Panel, chaired by former senior public servant Brendan Tuohy, was set up last August by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to examine the extent of the problem.
Speaking at the launch of the report, the Minister said he would give stakeholders, including the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Federation and home guarantee provider Homebond until the end of September to come up with proposals to fund repairs. Otherwise he would be “left with no option” but to impose a levy on the industry.
The report found more than 12,000 homes in 74 unnamed estates could potentially be contaminated with the material from five quarries. Of the 12,000 homes identified, 1,100 are in the process of having or have had remedial work carried out. A further 850 have made a claim to home guarantee providers and, “taking the most pessimistic view of potential exposure”, the report said, a further 10,300 homes could have the mineral present.
The report said the problem was confined to five local authority areas – Fingal, Meath, Dublin city, Kildare and Offaly – and mainly to homes built between 2002 and 2006.
It recommended 850 homes that have significant damage should have repair works carried out as soon as possible. This would involve the removal and replacement of the hard-core at an average cost of €45,000 per home – or €50 million in total.
The report was critical of stakeholders including the construction, insurance and banking sectors for “reluctance to engage” with homeowners.
“It appeared as if many stakeholders just hoped this problem might be resolved by others if they simply did not engage,” it said.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Mr Tuohy was critical of Homebond for its withdrawal of cover to pyrite-damaged homes. There was a “moral responsibility” to repair the homes, he said. He also criticised the Law Society of Ireland and the Insurance Industry Federation for not engaging with the panel.
Among 24 recommendations, the report said stakeholders should fund the cost of repairs and the establishment of a resolution board. It recommended that certification should be developed for homes affected by pyrite and the insurance industry should not penalise homeowners in estates where pyrite is present.
Reacting to the report, Peter Lewis, spokesman for homeowners’ group Pyrite Action, welcomed it. He said, however, that if pyrite was known to be present in homes there had to be “something more proactive” than monitoring the situation.
“This piecemeal approach of fix a house here and fix a house there will have to be examined fully . . . I don’t think that necessarily is going to work,” he said.
He said he hoped the report would not “sit on a shelf”. “People have to feel safe in their homes, they are at their wits’ end, we need to move forward now,” he said.
The Construction Industry Federation welcomed the report and invited other stakeholders to join them “in devising a voluntary solution to this problem” to “help homeowners overcome the various hurdles they have experienced”.
HARD-CORE PROBLEM: DAMAGED HOMES
Pyrite is a naturally occurring mineral containing sulphur and iron. It was included in hard-core material used in the foundations of some homes, mainly between 2002 and 2006. It occurs in reactive and non-reactive forms.
When exposed to air or water in its reactive form the mineral oxidises, producing sulphuric acid which reacts with calcium in rock to form gypsum.
Gypsum has a significantly greater volume than pyrite so it causes expansion of hard-core material. This in turn causes the cracking, bulging and movement of walls and floors.
PYRITE REPORT: MAIN POINTS
* More than 12,000 homes could be affected by pyrite in five local authority areas – Fingal, Meath, Dublin City, Kildare and Offaly
* Most of the homes were built between 2002 and 2006
* More than 10,000 of these should not have the pyrite removed
* Some 850 homes should be repaired as soon as possible
* Building control regulation in Ireland compared favourably to the UK and other jurisdictions
* It was “unreasonable” to expect the pyrite problem could have been identified by building control officers during on-site inspections
* Stakeholders should immediately engage with homeowners and fund repairs
* The State should not pay for the repair of homes damaged by pyrite
* A resolution board funded by stakeholders should be set up to deal with disputes
* Homes affected by pyrite should be exempt from property tax for a set time
* The National Standards Authority should develop specifications for hard-core used under concrete floors