How can I tell if a house I am buying has a pyrite problem?

Consult with the selling agent, call into local businesses, knock on neighbouring doors

Co Kildare is one of seven council administrative areas eligible for the Pyrite Resolution Board scheme. Photograph: iStock

Co Kildare is one of seven council administrative areas eligible for the Pyrite Resolution Board scheme. Photograph: iStock

 

I’ve been living in the UK for the past 15 years and I’m about to make an offer on a house in Kildare. When I mentioned this to a friend back home, they warned me about checking the house for pyrite damage. What is pyrite and what should I be looking for? Can I ask the agent?

All too often I have come across the effects of pyrite on residential properties. The effects of harmful levels of pyrite in a property’s construction can result in extensive remediation repairs being required. As part of the construction, the builder may have unknowingly used materials that contained the material.

Pyrite is a commonly found, naturally occurring mineral that is found in the ground and also known as iron pyrite (FeS2). Pyrite when present in rocks in low levels is generally fine. However, when the levels of pyrite are higher, and with oxygen and moisture present, this can cause the pyrite-contaminated material to swell.

When harmful levels of pyrite are found to be present in building material, this can cause building defects. On a recent visit to a 10-year-old house in the midlands, I observed the footpath outside the front entrance door had cracked and raised up. When I inspected the property internally, it contained dangerously high levels of pyrite material and as a result considerable damage was present.

Some typical examples of what harmful levels of pyrite can do include cracking or lifting of concrete floors; cracks in internal and external walls (cracks can be present above and below wall openings); bulging of walls; doors not closing (catching in frames and so on); and movement and displacement of cabinetry installations.

Local knowledge is best. When looking at properties in an area that you are not familiar with, ask questions: consult with the selling agent; call into businesses; knock on neighbouring doors (it’s amazing how friendly and welcoming most people are) and consult online forums.

The Pyrite Resolution Board (pyriteboard.ie) was established from the Pyrite Resolution Act 2013 to make a scheme for the remediation of damage to certain dwellings caused by pyritic heave and to oversee and ensure the effective implementation of a programme of remediation works for affected dwellings. Dwellings must have been constructed and completed between January 1st , 1997, and December 12th, 2013.

Co Kildare is one of seven council administrative areas eligible for the Pyrite Resolution Board scheme. Of the 2,214 applications received by the PRB to date, only 45 were from Kildare applicants. This would indicate that the issue is not particularly widespread in this area.

A damage condition rating system is in place and categorises damage across three categories: none, minor or significant. Applicants under the Pyrite Remediation Scheme must satisfy a number of conditions to be considered for assistance. Co Kildare is an eligible county, but if any damage is determined at the property, it will need to be significant.

A Building Condition Assessment is undertaken by a competent person as per Irish Standard IS 398 Part 1: 2013, for example a chartered building surveyor, engineer or architect who has sufficient theoretical and practical training, experience and knowledge appropriate to the nature of the work undertaken. The assessment rates relevant to damage are across five categories (in descending order of priority) as follows: ground floor surface level; fixtures and fittings; walls/partitions on ground floor; ground floor ceilings; and external walls.

As part of any potential house purchase, it is recommended that you would always engage the services of a suitably qualified building professional. Their report will include a consideration of whether any potential issue with pyrite is applicable.

Andrew O’Gorman is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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