(CBS13) It's hard to believe a house thatâs only three-years-old has a cracked wall makes it look like an ancient ruin.
Damage to this nearby home is so widespread, the original owners left nearly everything behind to escape the sickness spreading here.
And the owners of this home won't go inside with us, because of worries about their health. What could cause this kind of dread and damage?
"The wind!" said Bill Thomas.
Bill Thomas is a construction consultant living in El Dorado County. He's not an engineer, but he has years of experience diagnosing and dissecting the seismic movement of buildings, as well as the damage done by that kind of motion. He says he's seeing that damage across El Dorado County.
"It affects thousands and thousands of homes,â said Thomas.
Thomas spent a lot of time evaluating damage after southern Californiaâs Northridge quake. He says the damage in El Dorado Hills is the same kind, but has nothing to do with earthquakes.
"Wind moves the house. Moves it--flexes it,â said Thomas.
The wind is an almost constant companion to folks in El Dorado Hills. Those breezes can blow balmy or biting, but Thomas says with this kind of exposure they are also damaging.
Bob Yeadon believes Thomas is onto something big, and he points to his former home as exhibit "A".
"Its one of those things where you work all your life, and you get, you know, your dream home,â said Yeadon.
The Yeadon family moved out of their million-dollar home in the Serrano Country Club area on the advice of their doctors.
"I think we had 23 doctor visits between the kids and my wife that month, in May of 2005,â said Yeadon.
This, after months of symptoms that seemed like an endless series of colds and flu, under laid with constant exhaustion.
"I never put together it was the house,â said Yeadon.
The Yeadonâs finally brought in someone to sample the air in their home. The tests found so much moisture, an attorney suggested they look for mold, and they found it.
"I came back after a weekend of taking my kids', all of our clothes, and all of our belongings, and throwing them into a dumpster. I said, I can't see straight. I got blood in one eye and tears in another,â expressed Yeadon.
When the family bought this home, brand new three and a half years ago, they paid just more than $800,000, and then put in $100,000 more in upgrades like this pool. They just sold this house. The highest bid they could get--$425,000.
So what does wind have to do with mold? Bill Thomas explains it like this: high winds can rock the house from its roof to its foundation. But as the building sways, individual parts, like doors and windows move at a different frequency, and even different directions.
Thomas says that can break the seals, loosens the caulking, fractures the stucco and water gets into the walls.
"You feel that house kind of move in the wind,â said Thomas.
Bill Thomas says separating windows, and cracked walls with dark water spots like these at the Yeadon's house are signs a building is moving.
Rusting nails and staples in what are supposed to be dry spots are another sign. El Dorado Hills and much of the county below Lake Tahoe are zoned for what's called "Wind Exposure B".
Thomas says exposure "C" should be the standard here, but that would require stiffer materials and stronger design and drive up the cost of homes.
"If it costs you $10,000 less to build it and you just built 400 homes in the subdivision, then now, you're talking about real money,â said Thomas.
California's uniform building code says a home built with more than a half-mile of open space with gentle hills around it is technically wind exposure "C". In much of El Dorado Hills, the exposure appears endless.
"You can see all of the homes, along this ridge, in both directions, all have the same wind exposure,â said Thomas.
Its not just the top of the hill either.
"The house, in my opinion, and in our expert's opinion, is under-engineered for the wind exposure,â said Dave Crozier.
Stonebriar, a development of nearly 200-homes at the bottom of the hill, and south of highway 50 from Serrano. People here say scaffolding and mold remediation equipment are depressingly common throughout the neighborhood.
Dave and Vickie Crozier paid more than $700,000 for their home on the edge of Stonebriar. They're now living with their two-kids in an apartment paid for by the builder.
Dave Crozier works in construction. He and his wife say the wind has made their situation unlivable.
"Stress. Unbelievable stress. Just something you can't imagine because it's consuming,â said Crozier.
The Crozier's two-year-old home is laced with cracks, like one running the entire length of the east-facing wall. And they have the loose windows, rust and mold similar to the Yeadon house.
The wind has a long, clear shot at this home on at least three sides, but there're other problems, problems not related to the wind. The Crozier home has a, rippling roof line, and anchor bolts that aren't secure enough to stabilize the house.
"The builders call it 'value engineering'. Before they start building homes, they get all their engineers together, and say, hey, how can we save money on these houses? Where could we, cut corners--if you want to look at it that way,â said Crozier.
At the Croziers' home, Bill Thomas says, value engineering seems to have taken the form of very few nails on the roof tile, improper and incorrectly installed water barriers, and missing structural supports.
Some of the Croziers' neighbors say the builder, William Lyon Homes, has had to clean up mold in their homes three times since the houses were built. Many we spoke with site construction defects, too.
At Bob Yeadon's house, built by Woodside Homes, Thomas says there's too little rebar in the foundation, and inadequate drainage. Thomas claims that drainage problem, like the wind, affects much of Serrano.
Bottomline, Thomas, Yeadon and the Croziers say the homes in this story aren't even built to wind exposure âBâ, never mind wind exposure âC.â The Yeadons and Croziers have both hired attorneys.
Greg Fuz got some of his staff together to discuss home construction there. He told us the county adopts the code, then relies on engineers for the builders to determine if a home or development needs more than wind exposure âBâ, or other upgrades. In fact, that's what all the counties in the area told us.
"We think that we're certainly comparable to the other agencies and in some respects, we require an even more conservative standard,â said Fuz.
El Dorado County has 15 field inspectors checking out new construction, repairs and remodels. They claim 35,000 inspections last year. That works out to almost 10 a day per inspector, more than 2,300 a year.
The county says an inspector should visit a new home an average of 10 times during construction. But county officials point out those inspectors aren't looking for quality. Theyâre only looking for minimum safety standards.
"Sometimes individual homeowners would like their homes built to a higher standard, and that's their choice. But its not something that the county enforces, or regulates,â said Fuz.
And what about the builders and their engineers? We went the offices of Woodside and William Lyon, but they refused to talk about anything.
But a spokesman for an organization that represents builders in Northern California puts it on individual counties, saying "If the counties think we need stronger codes to do it right, we support that."