Covering Louisiana

Dec 28, 2013 3:44 PM by katc

Make It Right's rebuilt homes have rotting wood

Actor Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation, which has built 100 energy-efficient new homes in the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Lower 9th Ward, is considering legal action against the manufacturer of an innovative glass-infused wood that was used in some of the homes' outdoor steps and front porches.

Foundation spokeswoman Taylor Royle said the wood has begun rotting, despite being guaranteed for 40 years.

Royle told The New Orleans Advocate that construction crews used the wood product, called TimberSIL, to build decks and stairs for about 30 homes from 2008 to 2010.

TimberSIL is described by its South Carolina-based manufacturer as offering "an effective barrier in lumber to rot, decay and common wood problems without using toxic ingredients."

Make It Right, known for its eye-catching designs and "green" building features such as solar panels and rainwater collectors, was seeking an alternative to lumber conventionally treated with chemicals.

The absence of chemicals in the TimberSIL wood meant it could be "mulched and composted at the end of its life cycle," Royle said.

But now, decks and steps built as recently as three years ago are showing signs of rot, with the wood taking on a dark gray tinge. "It was unable to withstand moisture, which obviously is a big problem in New Orleans," Royle said.

Joel Embry, executive vice president of TimberSIL, wrote in an email that the company would soon "begin the process of gathering the necessary information to evaluate the concerns and achieve a satisfactory outcome."

Since 2010, Make It Right has used traditional yellow pine instead.

Using new products is risky, said Loyola University professor Robert Thomas, director of the school's Center for Environmental Communication.

"It doesn't surprise me at all that they will run into some blind alleys like this, where they have to go in and regroup," Thomas said. "It's to be expected, but I applaud them for looking at products that don't have chemicals that may be dangerous."

Pitt, Make It Right's star backer, said as much in a statement.

"Make It Right is ambitious and tries new things all the time in order to make our homes better," he said. "Where we find innovative products that didn't perform, we move quickly to correct these things for our homeowners."

Robert Green, who moved into a Make It Right-built home in 2009, said he hadn't noticed his second-floor deck had started to rot until workers showed up to replace it.

"It's not something where porches are falling and houses are falling. That's not what's happening, but they are making corrective moves, and that's a good thing," said Green, 57.

The nonprofit plans to replace all the wood, spending about $150,000.

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