Over the years, they added brick and vinyl siding. They’ve replaced the windows, added central air, a fireplace, a bathroom/laundry room and a patio room, and even put in an in-ground pool.
In 2000, the Newton couple redid a 330-square-foot path that led from the driveway to the front door, and around the house from the garage to the patio in the back with stamped concrete.
As this vicious New Jersey winter barreled through, the path was often covered with copious amounts of ice.
In January, Joe Cetti decided he’d had enough of the ice. He did some research and decided to purchase a snow melt/de-icing product from a company called Bare Grounds Solutions.
The website says the product, an “environmentally friendly and virtually noncorrosive liquid spray,” is “safe on all surfaces.”
But one look at Cetti’s crumbling stamped concrete indicates otherwise.
“We used their product because of what we read about their warranty that says you can use it on stairs, walkways and driveways without doing any damages,” Cetti said. “ It was only after using Bare Grounds Solutions’ product that this damage was caused. There is no other explanation.”
AN ICY SITUATION
This past winter was an unusually bad one, and Joe Cetti said this is the first season he purchased anything to help with de-icing.
“When I first noticed the damages, I was very upset and I said to my wife, ‘What was different this winter that could have caused this to happen?’ ” he said.
The only change was his use of the Bare Grounds de-icer, he said.
He did some more research.
The home’s stamped concrete path, installed in 2000 and sealed every two years, was “scaling,” the term used for the crumbling of the concrete. Scaling generally occurs shortly after installation if the concrete wasn’t allowed enough time to cure, or if there was too much water in the mix.
But this wasn’t a new path. It was more than a decade old, leading Cetti to believe it was the Bare Grounds product that caused the scaling.
On March 20, Cetti e-mailed the company explaining his problem.
The company replied the next day, saying it didn’t think the product was the cause. It asked for photos of the damage, which Cetti e-mailed the next day.
By March 24, he hadn’t heard back, so he e-mailed the company to make sure it saw the photos. He also asked if the company ever tested its product on stamped concrete.
Four days later, Cetti sent another e-mail, this one directly to company president Ed Brookmyer.
Cetti receive a response on April 4. Brookmyer didn’t answer the question about how the product has been tested, but he said it was tested lots.
“I am surprised by this because our product has been tested extensively and found to be virtually noncorrosive,” he wrote, and he promised to send Cetti’s claim to the company’s insurance company.
Two weeks passed and no word.
On April 15, Cetti wrote to Brookmyer again, asking for action.
After two more weeks with no response, Cetti contacted Bamboozled. We reviewed the documents and recommended he try one more time before we got involved.
Cetti wrote again to the company on May 11, reiterating his problem and noting that he had talked to Bamboozled.
“Several days later his insurance called me,” Cetti said, and an appointment was set for an insurance representative to view the damage. “She asked me to get an estimate of how much it would cost to get it fixed and also to get a receipt to prove that I purchased the product.”
On May 15, Cetti e-mailed the estimates and the receipt to the insurance rep. One estimate was to repair the damage for $398, but the contractor said he couldn’t guarantee the permanent fix. The contractor said the real solution — to restore the path to its original appearance and to prevent it from degenerating again — was to tear up the concrete and start over for a cost of $3,662.50.
On May 26, Cetti said he called the insurance rep. She said she wanted to send another expert to look at the damage.
The expert came and went, and Cetti heard nothing.
He called the insurance rep again on June 3.
“She said (the insurance company) would pay for repairing the damages, but they would not pay to do it over again,” Cetti said.
But Cetti was worried a repair wasn’t good enough, so he asked the contractor again on July 1.
“He said that it would look like new again, but it is only a temporary fix,” Cetti said. “He said once scaling happens with stamped concrete, the concrete loses strength and it will scale again. He said the proper thing to do is to tear it up and redo it.”
Cetti called the insurance rep with the report and offered to compromise on the cost to finally bring the situation to a conclusion. He said the rep said she’d talk to Brookmyer and get back to him.
She called Cetti on July 11.
“The company said they would not pay for anything,” Cetti said.
After months of dissatisfaction, Cetti said it’s no longer about getting paid for damages. He wants the company to test its product on stamped concrete so other customers wouldn’t have this problem.
“I’m not out to rip them off,” Cetti said. “The fact that the path has been down for 11 years and I never had this scaling problem? The damage usually happens when it is first put down, so I feel that’s proof that it was the product.”
ASKING FOR HELP
Bamboozled contacted Bare Ground Systems, located in Billerica, Mass., and Brookmyer said there is no proof that his product caused the damage.
He said there have been extensive reports about the product, which won the 1998 “Best Product of the Year” award from the Civil Engineering Research Foundation.
He also said as part of the Transportation Equity Act of 1998, state agencies that used the product to treat bridge approaches and overpasses received federal subsidies “because it’s virtually noncorrosive and wouldn’t damage the infrastructure.”
“There could be 100 reasons why he had scaling of the concrete,’’ Brookmyer said. “Perhaps it was put down by someone who hadn’t done it before. Maybe the water wasn’t taken out of the concrete properly. Maybe the concrete wasn’t allowed to cure.”
Sure, Bamboozled agreed, those are reasons why stamped concrete could scale. But the path was put in more than 10 years ago. That kind of damage would occur after the first winter, according to experts we talked to.
“You’re right. There’s no question for something from that long ago, obviously the product would have cured,” Brookmyer said. “I don’t know what the issue may have been.”
But he won’t allow that it could have been the Bare Grounds de-icer.
So we asked: Has Bare Grounds Solutions ever been tested specifically on stamped concrete?
“I believe that you will find that concrete is concrete,” he said in an e-mail.
That was Brookmyer’s last word, and Cetti is left with the bill.