Cracking, sinking, falling apart: KSL Investigates structural issues in multiple new homes
Apr 4, 2023, 11:01 PM | Updated: 11:04 pm
BLUFFDALE, Utah — Utah needs more homes. That has been the mantra of many government officials for the last several years.
While Utah’s new home construction market is booming, some of these new homeowners have seen massive construction issues: cracking walls, sloping floors and sinking foundations.
It’s not what Chris and Connie Brosky thought they would be dealing with when they built their home in Bluffdale and moved in July 2021.
“We saved for two years to buy this house. We put down everything we had in savings,” Chris said. “We haven’t had a chance to enjoy it to this point.”
Watch this brand new home rise after it sank.
Several homeowners spoke with @MikeHeadrickTV and @CindyStClair08 saying their new builds are cracking, sinking, and have big structural issues. Watch @KSL5TV Tuesday at 10PM as we dig into why this is happening. #KSLTV pic.twitter.com/CFa8w8mhO6
— KSL Investigates (@KSLInvestigates) April 3, 2023
A year after moving in, the Broskys said their house started to settle.
“You would see a perfectly fine wall in the morning, and three hours later, there would be a split,” Chris explained.
Cracks popped up in several rooms of his home, including his foundation. What the Broskys later discovered was their home had sunk three inches in about 10 days.
For months, the Broskys’ lives were disrupted as workers dug out their finished basement to place multiple push piers under the home.
“They basically just keep putting one in on top of the other and pressing it down until they hit what’s called load-bearing strata, which is either bedrock or soil that’s so hard that it begins pushing upward again,” Chris said.
He watched his home rise once the piers were placed and was surprised how much it moved.
“This should not happen to a house that is less than a year old,” he lamented.
Not the only ones
The Broskys’ story is a familiar one.
In December, KSL Investigators shared the story of Eric and Carole Kamradt, after Draper City forced them to move out of their brand new home. Their house had sunk so badly the city revoked its certificate of occupancy.
Since then, the Kamradts have been renting a different home while they await a fix.
“We can’t live in that house, but we still have to pay for that house,” Carole said.
In Eagle Mountain, Hayes Barnes said he’s put in multiple warranty claims since his family moved into their new home in 2019.
“We started having cracks in the basement,” Barnes said. “They continued to grow and more cracks are in there. They say it’s normal to have that.”
Barnes said he heard pops and cracks in the home.
“Our stairs are pulling away from our wall,” he added.
KSL Investigators spoke with multiple neighbors in these three communities, who also described structural issues, but feared of speaking with us on camera due to a non-disparagement clause in their sales contract.
There’s a common thread: each family built with Edge Homes.
In an email statement, Edge Homes claimed settling like this “rarely occurs.”
Their spokesperson sympathized with the homeowners, saying “we know it is inconvenient, stressful, and unacceptable when a brand-new home experiences settlement and needs to be structurally stabilized and repaired to its original condition.”
Hazards beneath Utah soils
None of these homeowners are building experts, but looking at the sales contract, they might be expected to have a builder’s background.
A clause labeled “soils disclosure” indicated the “Buyer acknowledges that it has been given the opportunity to completely review reports of these [soils] investigations and other tests.” By signing the agreement, “buyer waives any warranty… regarding the soils on the property, under the residence, and under common elements.”
“It shouldn’t fall to the homebuyer to be experts in soil compaction or where you can or cannot put your footings on a house,” Chris exclaimed. “That’s why we paid Edge Homes.”
The report detailed in that soils disclosure is created by experts. It’s called a geotechnical investigation and is completed well in advance of any building on the proposed project.
Many cities in Utah require developers to submit geotechnical investigations. The reports, put together by professional geotechnical engineers, detail types of soils found on the site, water content, geological hazards like fault lines, and recommendations on how to safely develop the land.
Edge Homes did submit these reports on the homes affected, and indicated they collaborated with “structural, civil, and geo-technical engineers… to better understand any failure and improve our processes and construction methods with our site contractors and engineering professionals.”
KSL Investigators looked through these reports for the homeowners who contacted us. While some information was self-explanatory, we sought out a professional engineer to help with the rest.
Dr. Kyle Rollins, an engineering professor at Brigham Young University, said we weren’t alone in our curiosity.
“Some parts of it will be difficult for a lay person to understand, but a lot of that will be pretty clear,” Rollins said. “You can then check to see, were the recommendations of the geotechnical report really carried out in the construction?”
Rollins said when things go structurally wrong on a project, it’s usually down to two bad actors.
“Poor compaction of fills, and two, poor drainage of the soil,” he said.
Rollins explained Utah has two common types of problematic soils.
“In the valley floors, we have compressible clay,” he said. “If you load them, they can settle a lot.”
In the foothills, Rollins indicated soils are relatively stable when dry. Adding water creates instability, even landslides.
Rollins said homes can still be built on these areas, but not without proper soil treatment. That could involve digging out the unfit soil and replacing it with a more stable soil, or placing the home’s foundation on supports that rest on load-bearing strata like bedrock.
“This can work very well if the soil is compacted properly,” Rollins explained. “But there are standards that we need to follow. Sometimes, when there’s not a lot of good inspection, loose soil can get in place. Loose fill is a real problem actor because it can settle when it becomes wet and settle quite a lot — 10% of its height. So, if you’ve got 10 to 15 feet of fill, you could have a foot of settlement if it’s not compacted well.”
Most new homes will settle as temperatures change and cause foundations to expand and contract. This means cracks can appear, which should be no wider than a quarter of an inch.
Rollins said engineers design for settlement of no more than an inch.
“It’s when you start to get three or four inches of settlement that you have problems,” he said.
Here in Utah, making sure the engineer’s report is followed usually isn’t up to city building inspectors, who primarily make sure construction follows building code.
“It’s really important that the engineer be kept in the process so that they can see the ground when they excavate,” Rollins said. “Is that what we thought we had when we wrote the report?”
Digging into the damage
While Edge Homes’ staff did not want to speak with us on camera, they agreed to meet with us.
We sat down with Edge Homes’ co-founder, Steve Maddox, the company’s attorney, and engineer for more than an hour, looking at soil compaction tests, engineering documents, and discussing what went wrong.
For the Kamradts’ home in Draper, Edge said tons of soil was dug out and replaced before building, as recommended by the engineer.
They say the third-party excavator hired to remove the soils didn’t do so properly, leaving some loose soil below the home, which is contributing to the settling issues.
Edge indicated they have severed their relationship with that excavator.
As far as a fix, they’re at a standstill. Draper City has told Edge Homes they want to wait until the spring runoff dries out to see if the home sinks any further before remediation work begins.
The Barnes’ home in Eagle Mountain experienced “normal” settling, according to Edge.
“The repairs to the items of concern, that were previously thought by the homeowners to be related to settling, are completed,” wrote Edge’s VP of Construction, Spencer Harvey.
“Their home is in excellent shape and is not settling as confirmed by on-site inspections and on-site measurements that we took for the peace of mind of the homeowners,” Harvey continued.
The separation in the stairs “is unrelated to any foundational settling,” and is related to “separate framing elements.”
As for the Broskys’ Bluffdale home, the company says they are flummoxed. Edge said it is not sure why the home is sinking, saying they also followed the engineer’s recommendations.
We reached out to Bluffdale City about the issues in the Broskys’ neighborhood and were told by a spokesperson, “the City is aware generally of the issue and fulfilled its role in the permitting and inspection processes according to the applicable laws,” and called the matter a “private dispute.”
Regardless, Edge Homes said these homeowners will have their issues fixed at no charge.
In a statement sent to KSL Investigators, Edge said they “stand by our 10-year structural warranty,” and “remain fully committed to completing the long-term remedies and taking care of our homeowners.”
The Broskys and Edge Homes told KSL they’ve talked and settled all claims and disputes to the Broskys’ satisfaction.
Eventually, some of these homeowners plan to leave their dream homes behind, taking with them anger, frustration and an education in soil compaction.
“We pay for a brand-new house and we’re living in a refurb,” Chris lamented. “That’s not right.”
Rollins’ best advice for future homebuyers is to ask for the geotechnical investigation report and other geotechnical engineer’s reports for your build.
“It’s at least three times the cost to repair (structural damage) from what you originally paid to do it right, so you should always do the extra effort to make it right to start with,” Rollins said. “I know homeowners may not know what that is, but you could also consult with an engineer to make sure that things are done the way you had hoped.”
Rollins said this approach is unusual. Hiring an engineer to review the documents and build can also be expensive.
“It’s probably in the order of a few thousand (dollars), but when you’ve got a $600,000 investment, I’d consider it,” Rollins explained. “I think it might be a good idea.”
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at firstname.lastname@example.org or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.