Flooding dampening their dream

June 25, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

Last September, Dave and Dana Rice moved their three small boys into their dream home, a two-story classic brick with five bedrooms, a three-bay garage and lots of room for the boys to play.

They were so happy with their new surroundings, they said, that they recommended Tilghmanton Estates to three other families who made plans to purchase homes in the subdivision.

But since March, life in their new home has turned into a nightmare, they said.

The basement flooded March 9, they said. It flooded again March 21, resulting in $56,000 in damage to their still-unpacked belongings, stored in the basement until they had a chance to put them away, said Dave Rice, a Montgomery County police officer.


On June 3, all five members of the Rice family were hospitalized with what appeared at first to be carbon monoxide poisoning after another flooding, they said.

Later, Dana Rice said, they were told the problem wasn't carbon monoxide - it was sewer gases coming from the basement.

Since then, the Rices have been living in a hotel, courtesy of the home's builder, Insignia Homes of Union Bridge, Md. They've sent the boys, aged 5, 3 and 2, to stay with Dana Rice's parents in Michigan until they can get their living situation resolved.

Pumps run nonstop in the basement of the $307,000 home off Md. 65, but Dana Rice said she doesn't think the pumps will solve their problem.

"Two engineering firms confirmed that the house was built into the water table," she said Monday. "They can't pump down the water table."

"All the surface water in the basement has bacteria in it, including e coli," said Laurie Bucher, director of environmental health for the Washington County Health Department. "But it's not all through the house."

Bucher said her department planned to test for gases in the home.

She added that the lot had been perc tested before construction began last year, but the test was done for the septic system and "pretty far from the house." There's no indication, she said, that effluent from the family's septic system is seeping into the home.

John Priddy, a partner at Insignia Homes, said Monday his company believed everything was fine when the home was constructed.

"When we dug the hole, it was dry," he said, adding that "the county told us to set the house at a certain elevation. We got it certified by engineers. Every indication we had was we did the right thing."

Since March, Priddy said, "there's been a series of pumps and whatnot," that have gotten overloaded and shut off the home's electricity. "We met with a representative of the pump's manufacturer and got his recommendation for a better pump, and we're in the process of putting that in now."

Priddy said he hoped to have the new system installed by the end of the week.

"We're not running from the issue at all," he said. "We're going to continue to work to rectify the situation."

Bucher on Tuesday said a county perc test determined that lines for the septic system could go 4 feet below ground level without hitting water.

However, the tests showed that the builder could hit water if workers went 7 to 8 feet below ground, Bucher said. The builder was told that information, she said.

The builder may not have seen any water when building the house and basement last summer because the water level was lower than usual due to the drought, she said.

But that has changed in recent months as the drought ended and the water level rose, she said.

Priddy on Tuesday said the county never told him not to construct a basement. When the company filed for permits, it stated that the home would have a basement and nobody told them that should not occur, Priddy said.

Washington County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said it is not the county's responsibility to tell people where they should or should not build basements. It is the builder's responsibility as the agent for the homebuyer to ensure whether excavation is appropriate, he said.

The Rices said they are growing weary of the situation and fear they won't be alone. Dana Rice said that while theirs is the most severe case, other houses in that subdivision were having water problems, too.

Long black tubes attached to pipes to draw water away from several homes were visible Monday.

"We're so frustrated now we don't know what to do," Dana Rice said.

She said there's mold in the house's ventilation systems, the water heater no longer works and the furnace has been "severely damaged" as a result of the flooding.

"We're like any other young couple," she said. "When you buy a new house, you max yourself out."

Hotel living, she added, "is not a feasible situation, especially with three young children.

"We've got our kids registered for school next fall and now everything's in limbo," she said. "Our whole life is on hold."

"The Rices planned on being here forever," Dave Rice said.

Staff writer Scott Butki contributed to this story.

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