The number of homes affected by defective building blocks in Limerick could be far greater than in Clare where it's estimated that over 1,000 properties have been hit, a leading expert has warned.
Aidan O'Connell, a chartered civil engineer with extensive knowledge of pyrite, said the situation in Limerick is “far worse” than in neighbouring Clare.
The Clare Pyrite Action Group has said the number of homes affected in Clare is over 1,000, and potentially several thousand.
However, Mr O'Connell, who is one of the foremost authorities on the problem, said: “In Clare, it is quite isolated, or the affected homes can be found in small pockets. Whereas, in Limerick, you've got a large municipal centre there. There is loads of it in Limerick."
The structural expert said there is strong evidence that affected materials have been used extensively across Limerick, in particular in and around the city.
“If you look at the boom houses built 2003, 2004 and 2005, there's absolutely no question about it, they do have it,” Mr O’Connell said.
Limerick City and County Council sampled five houses, chosen at random, as part of a report looking for pyrite, mica and other defective material.
A spokesperson for the council confirmed that defects were found in all five houses sampled, and the report was then submitted to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
“There is no definite figure on how many are affected by pyrite in Limerick, only an extrapolation/estimate,” the spokesperson added.
According to Mr O’Connell, it is too early to put a figure on how many homes may be affected in Limerick, as the problem will not become evident for some time.
A builder, whose own house is plagued with pyrite, says he helped build hundreds of houses across Limerick and even more across the Midwest, using the same blocks as in his own home.
The builder, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that construction workers were unaware that the blocks they were using were defective.
“I had never come across it before, not in my 20 years in construction,” the builder said after experts informed him that pyrite was present in his family home.
“I put everything that I had in it to build my home, and knowing now that my house could fall within the next few years, it’s heartbreaking,” he added.
He said that even people with years of experience in the industry were completely unaware of what was in the blocks.
“When I was building my home, I waited for a really good block layer. I got one of the top guys in Limerick city to build my house,” he said.
However, he now has to face the reality that his home will need to be demolished, less than 25 years after it was built.
“People won’t have even paid off their mortgages in that time. The houses might not last 20 or 30 years,” he said.
“If I knew it was something like that was in them when I was building, I wouldn't have touched blockwork. We didn't know,” he added.
For those in Limerick who have already discovered pyrite in their homes, the battle for answers is ongoing.
Ann Ryan, from Askeaton, Co Limerick, said both her and her brother’s homes, built within sight of each other, are full of the detective blocks, leaving the two houses “fit for demolition.”
“I had the blocks tested there a few years ago now. Some of them just crumbled, as they call them, the Weetabix blocks, and others are like mud or wet cement. You can leave the print of your finger on them,” Ms Ryan said.
She said the damage to her home was initially put down to water getting under the foundations.
“So, the insurance paid €25,000 to unpin the foundation and re-roughcast the walls,” Ms Ryan said.
“About a year and a half later, the cracks on the outside were back again. The engineer put it down to settlement cracks. I wasn't happy with that, but I didn't know what it was,” she added.
However, even after an engineer's report and connecting with the Pyrite Action Group in Clare, Ms Ryan and her brother wait to see what, if any, measures will be taken to help them.
“It's just it's going on and on and on, I can’t see an end to it,” she added.