Our home was a cracked house

My First Home

My six siblings and I grew up in a house built in 1926. It had one bathroom with a tub, no shower. The closets were extremely small. I can only assume that in 1926 people did not own many clothes. The furnace was covered with asbestos. I promised myself that someday I would live in a new house.

In 1986, I married and moved to Arizona. My husband and I bought a new house in a new development. Things were fine for the first few years — until the cracks starting appearing in the ceiling and walls. The house is just settling, we were told.

By the sixth year, our kitchen floor had cracked open. You could trip over it. If this was the result of a structural deficiency, the repairs would not be covered, our insurance company said, but if it’s a plumbing issue, they would be. The builder ignored us, stating that our warranty was for only two years. A plumber ruled out plumbing issues, and a home inspector told us to hire a structural engineer.

Ripping up all our wall-to-wall carpeting revealed that the entire house had cracked in half. The structural engineer said the only remedy was to use pressure grouting to force the house back up on its foundation. That fix would cost thousands of dollars.

We went back to the builder, who accused us of damaging our house by watering the yard too much and allowing moisture to seep under the foundation. Did I mention that we had desert landscaping that doesn’t require watering?

Stress was now the new norm. We had two little boys whom we were worried about falling over the crack and injuring themselves. We had a house actually falling apart, an insurance company that wouldn’t cover the damage, and a builder who wasn’t taking any responsibility.

I canvassed the neighborhood and discovered that a lot of neighbors had encountered “settling’’ problems with their houses, but not as severe as we had. In one case, the builder bought back a home that had cracked.

Poring over public records, I found a record of that sale. Armed with this information, we contacted a lawyer. He told us that we had a case against the builder, but that suing him would involve a lot of time and money. We were on the right track with our discoveries, the lawyer said, so we should exhaust our own efforts before seeking judicial remedy.

We compiled all of our documents, photos, and interviews and sent them to the chairman of this national building company, in Florida. If the problem was not resolved to our satisfaction, we would involve the media. We received an immediate reply assuring us that the house would be repaired.

The company that did the pressure grouting jackhammered numerous holes. Did I mention that I was working nights? It became even more difficult to sleep when we learned that the pressure grouter company had put a lien on our house.

This six-week repair was successful; the truckloads of concrete they pored into the holes really did lift the house back on its foundation. The builder paid the pressure grouter, and the lien was lifted.

We later sold the house at a loss. Arizona law requires you to disclose any problems with a house before selling. The irony was that this was now the strongest one in the development.

We live in Massachusetts now, in the house I grew up in. We have modernized it and felt confident doing so. The house had been standing since 1926, so we didn’t think it would fall apart like our Arizona house did.

Patricia Henkenmeier, a passport acceptance clerk for the Postal Service, lives in Lynn. Send comments and a 550-word essay on your first home to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.