If you have a fireplace, you've probably passed by it a thousand times without giving it a second thought. But two families in the same neighborhood may never have peace of mind near their fireplace again after a concrete mantel crashed to the floor.
"We just hear this loud crash," said Jennifer Weiner, mother of the injured child. She remembers running into the living room to find her mantel on the floor in pieces. "And in the same instance, I just saw my baby laying there."
The mantel is cast stone, a type of concrete. The man who made it estimates it weighs about 100 pounds -- twice that of 7-year-old Alex, Weiner’s son. The day the mantel fell, Alex said he'd had his hands on it.
"Then it started to crash on me right here,” said Alex, pointing to his chest and leg. “I was hurting really bad."
He was starting to hyperventilate and he was shaking,” said Weiner. “I lifted his shirt up because it [the mantel] had been on his chest.”
Emergency room doctors found his chest was fine. But later scans would reveal his leg is broken and would require months to heal.
"I just couldn't believe that was just up there with glue," said Weiner, about the concrete mantel. “It didn’t have any screws. It didn’t have any anchors.”
She pointed out smooth circles that mark the area where she believes adhesive once was.
The family isn't the only one to report a mantel falling to the ground.
One of their neighbors in Benbrook's Mustang Creek, Christina Becan, also had a mantel fall from the wall.
Both had the same builder, and the same mantel.
"We were just sitting, all of us watching TV,” said Becan. "And then out of the blue, the mantel just fell off the wall."
Fortunately, no one was hurt.
"If we had been burning a fire, there's a good chance someone would have been there,” [sitting beneath the mantel] said Becan.
Like her neighbor, Becan's mantel appears to have been attached with only an adhesive. There were neither holes in the wall, nor hardware of any kind, Becan said. Instead, like Weiner’s home, there were smooth circles on the wall where adhesive may have been.
Both homes were built just over 10 years ago by Scott Schambacher of Sterling Classic Homes.
Public records show the business filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and 2011. A former manager said Sterling Classic Homes is now out of business.
NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit left numerous messages for Schambacher at two of his other businesses -- Sterling Companies and Avondale Developers -- as well as his Keller home. He didn't call back. But the mantel manufacturer, Stonecraft of Arlington, responded immediately. The owner, Mike Ryan, said the mantel is supposed to be secured with metal strips, called wall ties, drilled through the drywall.
Asked if adhesive alone was enough to hold the concrete mantel he said, "It would not meet my recommendation." While he can't be sure his crews installed the mantels that fell, he said it was likely done by workers who no longer work for him. He added, "I had three crews. I can’t say they always do things the way I tell them to do it."
Ryan immediately sent workers to both homes and installed new mantels despite the fact warranties have expired. After completing the work, a crew member did pull-ups on Weiner’s mantel to assure her the mantel was secure. While this Ryan replaced their mantels, both families wonder why the builder didn't initially catch the apparent mistake.
Dr. Diane DeSimone teaches building construction at the University of North Texas. She said the builder is ultimately responsible for the work done by subcontractors that he or she hires.
If the builder is paying attention to details, that's kind of the difference between something OK and something that is awesome, said DeSimone.
She is a former homebuilder and has advice for anyone choosing one. Builders in Texas do not have to be licensed and are not required to carry liability insurance. But DeSimone said if a builder doesn’t have liability insurance, that’s a red flag.
“Every builder should have liability insurance,” said DeSimone. If they don’t, I’d want to know why they don’t.”
DeSimone also suggests consumers check references. Check with homeowners who used the builder recently as well as those who used the company years ago.
Also ask for a copy of the soil test and foundation design. Lastly, remember that building a home is a lengthy process. You want a builder who encourages open communication and is willing to answer questions. So ask any potential builder about his communication preferences and building processes.
Others in the Mustang Creek subdivision whose homes were built by Sterling Custom Homes fear their mantels may have been incorrectly installed. The owner of Stonecraft Mantels told NBC 5 Investigates by email, “… we can go by and look at the situation individually.” He also has contacted his insurance company about Weiner’s son, and it contacted Weiner to start the process of paying her son's medical bills.
While Weiner is concerned about her son’s recovery, she praised Ryan for his willingness to replace the mantel and assure it was installed correctly.
"I think it was the standup thing to do, the right thing to do” said Weiner. “I'm really happy. The work looks great."