House Disrepair

As you may know, we moved into a brand-spankin’ new home a couple years ago. This is the third brand-spankin’ new home we have bought in our career as grownups. I didn’t think anything could have been worse than our first one, where there had been a labor dispute during the final phase (which was where our house was of course), the experienced contractors walked off the job, and the builder had to hire anyone he could get to finish the houses on our street. As a result, a lot of the finish work was horrible. Ours was mostly cosmetics, poor cleanup, and water damage (it was an El Niño year), but nothing as serious as our next door neighbor, who had a two-story house, took a bath and when she pulled the plug she discovered that the drain was not connected to anything and all the bathwater ran through the floor to the dining room below, ruining their family heirloom dining furniture. The tub only went halfway through the hole in the floor/ceiling, so I guess they were lucky in that respect.

There are a million stories like this in California, mainly because production houses are built wiki-wiki and with the cheapest materials possible, and a lot of contractors are skinny, hard-drinking, dubious dudes. The houses aren’t worth a shit, it’s the dirt lot they sit on that is where the steep prices come from. Location, location, location. In our case, we have a 2200 square foot house and the price tag was around a million. That’s about $485 per square foot. Unbelievable, huh.

So here we are, two-plus years later, and our house is coming apart at the seams. No, really.

Last fall, as in most years, we had a powerful Santa Ana wind and it felt like the walls were being blown in by the Big Bad Wolf. As it turns out, they were.

Because of these winds and the fact that the hills are alive here, houses are built to be flexible. Slabs torque, walls move, earthquakes happen, it’s all part of the magic that is California. Bear with me. After many months and various engineers and experts crawling around our house, I finally have a grasp on what and why this happened. But first, pictures.

This is the first spot we noticed where the wall separated from the ceiling.



Then we saw more and more places like this. It was scary because we didn’t know how much bigger it would get. As it turned out, this was about it. But still—holy shit!


Then the wall started lifting from the floor, or maybe the floor was dropping down, we didn’t know. We put the coins in there to show scale.


We even had cracks outside. Yikes!

We had more engineers and specialists in here than you could imagine. No one really knew what they were up against, and no one wanted to assume responsibility ($$). Who messed up? Was it the slab guys? The framers? The farmers?


And then we learned some of our neighbors were having similar cracks, but we were the only ones whose floor was falling. So we were what you might call ground zero.

Speaking of ground zero, this really is it. The attic. Sort of makes me think of the movie Poltergeist.


Are you still with me? We have learned that the fault lies in the trusses. What’s a truss? I am so glad you asked! Truss 101, coming up! No! Not that kind of truss! Please!



THIS kind!  The trusses are fastened tightly to the exterior walls. But not the interior walls, which divide the rooms, are not load-bearing, and are supposed to remain in place when something makes the house move (earthquake, wind, big bad wolf). When they are installed correctly. Which they weren’t.


In a nutshell, when the house moved with the wind, it took the interior walls with it. Capisce?

Here’s how it looks today. Pictures are worth 1,000 words.




They are literally unbuilding the house. We are in day four of a three-day job, and my guess is they’re barely at the halfway point.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your stewardess speaking... We regret any inconvenience the sudden cabin movement might have caused, this is due to periodic air pockets we encountered, there's no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight... By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?”


  1. Rian: I live in a 55+ community that Lennar built and although I have had zero issues (but my house is 10 years old) others have had various issues like mold, concrete breaking, settling and walls cracking. NOTHING like you are going through. And they bitch and bitch and bitch. I just want them to read what you are going through and be grateful we live in CO and not CA. Sew sorry you have to go through this. Hopefully they will fix it and this will be it. Try to enjoy the beginning of Fall. And, good luck!

  2. I just can't imagine ! I can't imagine how we would feel but know that it would be devastating and stressful. Hopefully, they have the right answers. When we backed out of the AZ build, one reason was it just didn't smell right and the farther we got along, the more concerned we were ..... Seemed like it would be hard to try and find someone to blame if things went haywire. We gave up the earnest money and the relief was worth it. I would hope that Del Webb (isn't that what you're in ?) would be responsible and it sounds like they are trying.
    The inspection on the patio home went perfect with one of their minor recommendations being that we trim the bushes too close to the house. This house had nothing major as well (same builder).
    Will be thinking of you and hoping that your beautiful house will once again be solid and whole and able to tolerate what ever California throws at it.......Meanwhile, I hope there's some nice partying going on this weekend.

  3. Wow. My brother, who was just visiting, was a claims adjuster for Great American and told us lots of interesting stories about claims he handled claims against various builders in the Las Vegas area during its big building boom a while back. He described lots of problems like yours and how extensive mediation between all the involved parties was required to come to settlement. But he didn't show us photos like you did. A picture is worth a thousand words....

    It's pretty sobering. How do you undo a house and then rebuild it? Amazing.

    Well, we can only hope that this, too, shall pass. Age does bring perspective.

    Your fire photo was also sobering.

  4. Yikes! Sure hope they can fix it right! Glad to see your post, and I posted back but on something you had on you blog last January. Is this the same blog as then?


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