Retirees Karen and Richard Bennett were supposed to pay off their Woods Cross, Utah, home by 2013. Instead, they had to take out a $133,000 home equity loan that year to help pay for repairs caused by their home sinking 2 inches.
The Bennett’s home is one of at least 20 houses in a subdivision built in the 1990s that have moderate to severe damage from sinking foundations, said Woods Cross City Manager Gary Uresk. He said the problem seems to be spreading within the 200-home subdivision in the city north of Salt Lake City.
“It appears to be getting worse,” Uresk said. “It’s not stopping.”
City officials don’t know for sure what is causing the problem, but Uresk said it could be linked to a sinking water table that’s 20-30 feet deep. When the homes were built, it was 5 feet above the surface. The concentration of clay in the soil may also be a contributing factor, he said.
The development was approved based off a 1986 geological study that determined the land was adequate for home building, Uresk said.
“What we’ve pieced together so far is that as the table drops and pulls water out of the clay, that soil tends to collapse,” Uresk said.
The values of the homes are plummeting as the sinking foundations crack ceilings and walls and cause sagging patios and floors, the Deseret News reports. Others have minor damages such as cracked driveways.
Many of the homes are being appraised at less than half their previous values by county assessors as a result.
The city has requested funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency but that the problem is not widespread enough to qualify for money, Uresk said. The city is also exploring whether the state emergency management division has any way to help.
The city plans to issue a new report in January with a summary of what officials have discovered from research that has included boring into the soil to determine what’s causing the sinking.
At the Bennett’s house, drywall began separating on their ceiling and trusses inside walls were twisting with their edges pulling apart. That led them to the tough decision of taking out the loan.
“We had no choice. It was either that or give up what we’ve already put into our home,” Karen Bennett said. “The city had said if the trusses had pulled completely away, they would have condemned the home. We would have had to move out.”
Stephen Lamb’s problems are more evident in the basement, where the floor slants to the south, doors don’t close and cracks spider around windows. He said he has decided to wait until the city determines a cause and to find out if he can receive any state or federal assistance.
“I just want to wait and see,” Lamb said. “Let’s define the whole scope of the problem first.”
The Bennetts worry that some neighbors don’t realize what is happening.
“I think some people are in real trouble, and others are in denial,” he said. “I’m most concerned for those who have bought not knowing what they’ve got.”
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