5 On Your Side

Sinking driveway prompts call to 5 on Your Side

Posted July 15, 2008

— WRAL's 5 on Your Side hears about a lot of house problems, but a sinking driveway was something out of the ordinary.

“You never buy a home thinking it's gonna cave in,” Tyjuanna LaBennett said.

Now, LaBennett's home has not caved in, but she said she can't help but worry it could because of what a construction crew found when they tried to repair her sinking driveway.

"They said, 'You need to come out and see this, ma'am.' And when I came out to see it, I was floored,”  LaBennett said.

The area underneath the driveway was filled with railroad ties.

“What you're seeing here are 10 feet of stacked and staggered rail road ties. ...Ten feet deep,” LaBennett showed 5 on Your Side's Monica Laliberte.

A foundation repair contractor, hired by LaBennett, said he saw two main problems: the criss-cross ties also serve as a support for the front of the garage, and it appears other support walls underneath the home are not properly reinforced.

“Goes right through. Look at that. Nothing in there. Hollow,” contractor Rodney Carrington said. “So all it has is a shell. An outside shell. Outside framework, but nothing of substance that supports it.”

Because of that, Carrington said he fears the garage could collapse.

“This is dangerous,” he added.

Carrington's estimate for the fix: about $100,000. LaBennett also called Pulte Homes, the company that built the house 20 years ago. She wanted someone to at least look at the problem.

“They said, 'We won't be sending anybody out here. We're not gonna even look at it,' they said, because the driveway and the garage is only warranted for two years,” LaBennett said.

WRAL asked Bob Strowbridge, chief building inspector for the town of Cary, to take a look.

“This is a new 'wow.' I haven't seen this before. I really haven't. But that's not a throw-up-the-red-flag-and-run-for-the-hills kind of thing right now. It's certainly something that can be dealt with,” he said.

Strowbridge said while railroad ties are very unusual, support walls can be built out of many materials, as long as the design was approved by a licensed engineer. 

"If it's done properly, not bad at all. Absolutely nothing wrong with it, if it was designed and built properly," he added.

Since the house is 20 years old, it is not clear whether the design was "engineered." However, the town of Cary has hired an engineer to assess it.

After 5 on Your Side called Pulte, representatives went to LaBennett's home. The company also hired an engineer. As for LaBennett, she said she is just worn out.

“This is why I call this 'the house from hell,'” she added.

WRAL talked Tuesday afternoon with a Pulte spokesman who said the railroad ties were "intentional" and 20 years ago were a "fairly common and acceptable practice." He also said the company's engineer has been out to the house twice and expects to file a report soon.

LaBennett had another big problem with her house, and it is one that many other homeowners could be dealing with. Watch WRAL News at 5 on Wednesday to learn more.


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  • bullrod002 Jul 18, 2008

    Denver Bob you sound as guilty as Pulte Homes when you say "when we were building those homes"

  • ncmickey Jul 17, 2008

    My buddy bought a Pulte home in Breckenridge Subdivision in Morrisville. They have had continious problems with there A/C units. They also had some improper wiring in the basement. Their deck looked like it was built by an amatuer. Pulte pretty much ignores them now. I would never buy a house from them.

  • Xiaoding Jul 17, 2008

    So...sue Pulte.

    But..just put in some more railroad ties!

  • denverbob234 Jul 17, 2008

    for the 1st 150 years of Raleigh's existance, it used the Cary area as a land fill, so if you see dirt in Cary, there is probably land fill under it. Does that answer your question. Dig and see what you dig up. I personally dumped some old batteries and used motor oil in Cary years ago before all the recycling stuff started. You may be surprisd at what you dig up. Being that most people in cary over paid for their houses, they might be shocked by what they find

  • Timbo Jul 17, 2008

    denverbob234, where is/was the old landfill?

  • Timbo Jul 17, 2008

    Rumor is, that in Cary, the city inspectors in the '80s were "in tight" with the tract housing builders and let a significant amount of substandard practices go by.

    I have heard this from 3 different home inspectors in the Cary area that I employed to inspect my 3 homes that I have purchased in the last 14 years.

    So, if your house was built in Cary in the '80s, I'd contract a Home Inspector that is also a Certified Structural Engineer. Money well spent. Also put in your offer that the offer is contingent on the house passing and inspection.

    Personally, I wouldn't buy a Pulte house.

  • denverbob234 Jul 16, 2008

    P.S. I know exactly how to fix the problem and for less than $100k. I saw the problem when it was being created 20 yrs ago. I can fix it for you for $79,987.50, Now you should feel a little better, at least $20,012.50 better

  • denverbob234 Jul 16, 2008

    I remember when we were building those houses. The idea was: by the time the homeowner finds out about it, it wont be our problem anymore. There are worse problems in those house besides a few railroad ties. Keep looking and look hard, you will be surprised what you find, some of it is down right scarry. By the way, allot of Cary is old landfill. Some of it, you really don't want to live above.

  • stupiditydeservesnosympathy Jul 16, 2008

    This is reason why i will not buy a home in the cookie cutter subdivisions in Raleigh or Cary.

  • katrinawb Jul 16, 2008

    Thanks, owlady, for the info. Our inspection is scheduled for tomorrow....will need to pay close attention. Thanks again.