houseThe Huggins bought their home in Richmond Hill in 2001. They've had a world of trouble since.
When Richmond Hill residents Mitch and Chanel Huggins moved into their first home together in 2002, they did it for the same reason most families do – because they wanted something to call their own. But what they didn’t bank on was their new home having so many problems.
The Huggins’ slab house was completed in 2001 by Fred Williams Homebuilders in the Main Street development, purchased for just under $150,000. They took out a conventional loan and got a two ten warranty through the homebuilder.
"The two ten is very explicit with what they cover, and is a nationwide standard for builders. After the two ten stops covering it, then the insurance takes over," said Fred Williams of Fred Williams Homebuilders in Pooler.
During the first year in their new home, the Huggins’ living room ceiling cracked. So Fred Williams Homebuilders came out and fixed it, Huggins said. But after the full warrantee ran out, the pipe under the kitchen sink sprang a leak. Huggins said she first felt the linoleum floor in front of her kitchen sink getting hot.
"A couple weeks later, we’re leaking," she said. They paid to have a plumber come out and fix the first problem.
When two leaks sprang up under the slab in their hallway, they filed a claim with their homeowners’ insurance company, Allstate. Repairs were done in fall of 2006 by Richmond Hill’s Tony Perks Plumbing, Inc.
Tony Perks, owner of Tony Perks Plumbing, Inc. has been a plumber for twenty years. He said the home’s plumbing was done with type M-copper, which is the thinnest kind of pipes that can be used.
"It’s permissible, but there’s going to be a lot of people having trouble from it. I fix that stuff all the time. I’ve talked to some inspectors, and they’ve discussed requiring L-copper (a thicker pipe) in the future," Perks said. His said for buyers, especially when a house is under construction, to "be aware of what kind of piping is going under the slab. If the house is off the ground and you can get to it, it’s not a big deal," he said.
Because the hot water heater, which is located in the Huggins’ attic, appeared to be the source of the problem, they started turning it off when they didn’t need it. On Aug. 13, if the heater was on, it only took a few minutes of running water to create flooding in the bathroom, hallway and bedrooms. This month, the Huggins’ had to stop showering, doing dishes, and washing clothes in their home.
The City of Richmond Hill originally conducted the occupancy certification upon the homes completion. Huggins contacted an inspector during the first week of Aug. to get a copy of it, and another inspector was contacted on Aug. 13. After three follow up phone calls, the city had not found the home’s certification as of Tuesday.
Sean and Leighanna Carroll bought their Main Street home across the street from the Huggins in Aug. of 2006, as second owners. The slab house was built in 2002 by Fred Williams Homebuilders, Sean Carroll said. He purchased the home with a general major repair warrantee, which helped cover the first leak they had.
"It probably happened within a month, and we did get that repaired. It was just a slab patch job, and from that individual leak that we repaired, there was already a patch where they had done (previous) repairs in the same room," Carroll said.
When another leak sprang this spring, Carroll knew it was not a good sign.
"I took the option of rerunning the plumbing out of the slab, and ran it through the walls and ceiling. It was about $2500, the warrantee did not cover any of it," he said. "I’m not trying to place blame on anyone, but…I’ve been in a home that’s five years old, and I’ve put in $4000 repairs because of slab leaks," he said.
Huggins said she and her husband have talked to Fred Williams on several occasions.
"The only thing we can do is call our insurance and have the pipes rerouted through the walls, they told me." Huggins said, adding Williams’ secretary told her problems would continue if they did not reroute.
Williams said he’s heard problems of an "unusual situation" of acid in the soil causing pipe deterioration in some locations. As to whether that might be the problem in Main Street, "I don’t know how many houses are hitting this out there," he said.
"I’ve never heard of the insurance company not taking care of a claim like that…I know for a fact that insurance companies do cover (rerouting). If you bought a policy for your house, you would hate to think that they wouldn’t cover it," Williams said.
Huggins said Allstate agreed that rerouting would fix the problem, but said they would not cover a piping project. While several Allstate agents and a media relations representative were reached, none would comment.
Dave Colman, Executive Director of Georgia Insurance Information Services, said insurance is based around claims.
"If the pipe broke, it might be covered…the only way the insurance wouldn’t cover it, is if it appears to be negligence on the homeowner’s part," he said.
But whether or not rerouting would fall under homeowner’s insurance, Colman said he "really didn’t know that it would."
"I think that’s an individual thing," he said.
Colman suggested all homeowners do personal home inspections from time to time, checking under cabinets and in areas where pipes are under constant pressure (by the refrigerator, washing machine, etc.).
"Once you find an issue, make sure you understand what your insurance covers," he said.
Every one to two years, he said homeowners should talk with their insurance agent, and find out exactly what is and isn’t covered.
"The problem is, most people find out how it works once they have a problem. We definitely encourage people to understand before, rather than after the fact," he said.
On Aug. 13, Huggins pointed to the dirt underneath the slab of her home’s foundation, which should be packed tightly. She said because water has been rushing out of the leaks, parts of the foundation have literally washed away.
Huggins said when she was younger she can remember the neighborhood being "perfect for mud bogging."
Williams said he did not know whether or not the land had been a floodplain or wetlands prior to development.
"If there was marsh lands under a home, it would exacerbate it and make it settle faster; you can never really build up property," said Chandra Brown, Ogeechee/Canoochee Riverkeeper executive director. "The problem with all of this is that we live in a buyer beware state."
Ali Wall is the executive director for Georgia Watch, a nonprofit consumer watchdog organization.
She said homebuyers often don’t realize they’re buying a home built on raised and/or filled land. While the state is behind in offering consumer help for the public, she said the population boom is outracing property requirements.
"Flood maps are not reliable, developers are not reliable, and even real estate agents are no longer reliable – because topographical and flood maps are all conflicting and outdated," Wall said. "It’s such a nightmare."
With Bryan County expected to face more growth and development, she said this issue is only going to get bigger.
Not that it seems small to the Huggins.
"My problem is, we are struggling as it is," Huggins said. "If we had enough money, I wouldn’t be complaining about this. But there is no reason why this young of a house should be having leaks busting every four months."
"I’m wanting to live like a normal person, I’ve got four kids. I thought about selling the house last year, but you can’t. I wouldn’t sell this to anybody, I couldn’t," she said. "We’re just trying to make it, that’s all."
But the Huggins have had some luck. Perks offered to reroute the pipes for free on his own time.
"Well, we’ve fixed a few leaks there and the piping just started deteriorating. And it got to where Mitch didn’t want to lay down new carpet because a new leak would appear" Perks said.
"Mitch’s been a longtime friend of mine, and didn’t have the money to really put out at this time, so I decided to help him out. What goes around comes around," he said.
Editor's Note: On Wednesday evening, Aug. 22, after waiting roughly two-and-a-half weeks for their home's occupancy certification, the Huggins' received a hand delivered copy from City Inspection Supervisor Randy Dykes.