UP to 20,000 homeowners are facing the devastating "pyrite problem" which is destroying recently built houses.
The Irish Independent has learned that this many claims for pyrite-related damage, such as cracked floors and walls, have been made to the builders' insurance company HomeBond -- which may not have enough funds to cover the cost of all the claims.
Its cash reserves have dropped from €50m in 2007 to €26m, according to its latest accounts, due to declining stock market returns.
This means it would only be able to pay around €1,250 per household. The average cost of removing the pyrite from a house and repairing the damage is between €50,000 and €70,000.
HomeBond only covers a portion of the cost if the builder is liquidated or unable to pay for all the repairs -- so families are facing potentially huge bills to repair their homes.
The claims against HomeBond are separate to a landmark case presently before the High Court.
According to an Irish Independent investigation, there are 20 building firms which have used material containing pyrite from at least four suspect quarries -- which are located in Dublin and Meath. These quarries are still functioning.
The affected houses are located in parts of Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Offaly where pyrite -- a mineral that expands in the presence of moisture and oxygen -- has been discovered in the infill material put in below their floors.
In Kildare, one family bought a €560,000 home which has been damaged by the presence of pyrite. Yet they are being offered only a €38,000 settlement by HomeBond when the total repair bill could be up to €220,000.
Fine Gael Meath East TD Shane McEntee said there was a "pyrite epidemic" waiting to be uncovered.
"Over the past 12 months I have been contacted by numerous householders who are experiencing defects within their homes. This is a problem which is affecting estates extending all the way from south Meath to north Dublin and into parts of Kildare," he said.
HomeBond was established by the construction industry in 1978 to provide a warranty to homeowners to ensure builders would fix defects that arose in their home over a certain period. And it would then step in to cover some of the costs if the builder was unable to pay.
HomeBond has provided cover for 680,000 homes since 1978 and now has 300,000 homes under warrantee.
Mr McEntee called on householders who were experiencing pyrite-related defects within their homes to contact HomeBond immediately.
HomeBond confirmed it was currently processing a number of claims for problems associated with excess pyrite under floors. It said it did not offer to cover the full costs of every household against structural damage because there were limits specified in every agreement.
Meanwhile, in the High Court, the Menolly Homes building firm and three associated companies are claiming damages of more than €18m against Irish Asphalt and the Lagan Group. The claims follow the discovery of pyrite in the infill material used under concrete floors in three new housing estates in north Dublin. The repair bill for the 400 houses affected is estimated at €20m.
The High Court is also due to give judgment tomorrow on an application by 175 of the affected homeowners to take separate legal action against Menolly Homes.