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New Construction: If It's New, Is It Good?

How good is new construction in the United States and Canada? Generally, it is pretty good, but there are some significant areas of concern.

Our goal is to provide information that will allow quality-oriented builders to improve upon the products they deliver.

The following is based on information and opinions gathered from the more than 70 offices of Criterium Engineers. Criterium Engineers is a network of affiliated offices throughout North America, in 35 states and British Columbia, Canada. The objective was to identify problem areas that have significant impact on the functional performance and quality "feel" of new homes. We asked our engineers just one question – "What problems are you finding?" An item made it to our list if we received the same response from various offices so as to consider it widespread geographically.

We evaluate all of the homes we look at by comparing them to what we consider to be typical of similar construction in that geographic area. We do not expect perfection.

In recent years, in our experience, the expectations of some homebuyers and owners have risen to the level of unfulfillable and unreasonable. We believe more education is needed to help homebuyers understand residential construction. Note, we did not survey homebuyers or owners.

Skill and workmanship are frequent causes of faulty construction. Material selection is the next most common cause. Finally, inadequate or superficial design and/or preparation is responsible for a significant portion of the quality compromises.

From our discussions with builders, it is increasingly difficult to find skilled and motivated workers, let alone train them. This may be the biggest challenge facing the building industry if the desire is to reduce number and frequency of construction problems.

Survey "Ground Rules" and Background

This is a summary of the information and opinions gathered from the Inspection Engineers throughout our organization. We adjusted for properties involving an existing dispute between the builder and owner since those would tend to skew our overall results. Our complete survey also examines the most probable causes of these deficiencies.

Criterium Engineers performs approximately 25,000 inspections per year of both new and existing construction. We have been in business since 1957.

Survey

The following are the highlights of our survey. If you are interested in a complete copy, please send us a self-addressed stamped envelope or e-mail at yourhome@criterium-engineers.com.

 

PROBLEM AREA:     ROOF INSTALLATION

PROBLEM AREA% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED
Roof Installation21%

 

EXAMPLESCONSEQUENCES
Lack of roofing paperPremature roof deterioration
Poorly installed eave, rake and valley detailsWater intrusion
Improperly placed shingles 
Stapled installation 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     SIDING INSTALLATION

PROBLEM AREA% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED
Siding Installation15%

 

EXAMPLESCONSEQUENCES
Thin stucco, easily damagedFraming rot and mold
Poor detailsWater intrusion
Lack of proper brick veneer detailsVisual distrotion and irregularities

 

PROBLEM AREA:     WINDOW & DOOR INSTALLATION

PROBLEM AREA% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED
Window & Door Installation23% and growing

 

EXAMPLESCONSEQUENCES
No flashingPoor window operation
Inadequate attachmentWater intrusion
No sealant or incomplete sealantFraming rot and mold
Out-of-square rough openings 

 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     WINDOW PERFORMANCE

PROBLEM AREA% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED
Window Performance12%

 

EXAMPLESCONSEQUENCES
Leaks through window frameFraming rot and mold
Broken sealsWater intrusion

 

PROBLEM AREA:     FRAMING ADEQUACY

PROBLEM AREA% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED
Framing Adequacy18%

 

EXAMPLESCONSEQUENCES
Unbraced roof trussesStructural sagging
Casually braced roof framingStructural distortion, leaning
Cut and compromised floor framing (plumbing, electrical, etc)Compromised door and window operation
Inadequately attached sheathing and/or shear wallsUnsusally springy floors
Lack of bracing or structural sheating 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     HVAC/MECHANICAL EQUIPMENT

PROBLEM AREA% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED
HVAC/Mechanical Equipment Installation16% and growing

 

EXAMPLESCONSEQUENCES
Inadequate service accessLack of reliability
Poorly installed ductworkInadequate performance
Marginal capacityShort service life
Inadequate safety standard compliance 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     FOUNDATION CONSTRUCTION

PROBLEM AREA% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED
Foundation Construction14%

 

EXAMPLESCONSEQUENCES
Concrete spallingPremature deterioration
Exposed aggregateWater intrusion
Significant crackingCompromised structural performace

 

PROBLEM AREA:     SITE SELECTION/SOIL PREPARATION

PROBLEM AREA% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED
Site Selection/Soil Preparation19%

 

EXAMPLESCONSEQUENCES
Poor surface drainageWater intrusion
Differential settlementSettlement and distortion
Structural distortion 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     USE OF UNPROVEN MATERIALS

PROBLEM AREA% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED
Use of Unproven Materials12%

 

EXAMPLESCONSEQUENCES
Polybutylene (PB) pipeWater intrusion
Hardboard sidingPremature failure
EIFS 

 

What You Should Do

Here are seven suggestions to minimize your risk if you are buying or building a new home:

  1. Know your builder. Check with the Better Business Bureau, your State Attorney General’s office and others for whom that builder has built homes, preferably homes built 3 to 5 years ago. Many problems in construction take some time to develop.
  2. Hire a Building Inspection Engineer to monitor the construction for you, starting with a review of the construction documents. For such review and three to four visits during construction, the fee is normally $1,000 to $2,000, a modest investment to minimize the risk of problems with your new home.
  3. If the home has already been built, hire a Building Inspection Engineer to thoroughly inspect it and work with you to develop a final punch list of things to be completed or corrected by the contractor. Do not make the final payment until those things are completed to your satisfaction.
  4. Take plenty of pictures during construction. They may prove invaluable later.
  5. Make sure you understand the extent and limitations of the builder’s warranty and any statutory warranties required in your state. Be sure to notify the builder of any problems you are having before the warranties run out.
  6. Work with a builder who participates in a third-party quality control program.
  7. To find a Building Inspection Engineer in your area, visit www.criterium-engineers.com, our Web site, or www.nabie.org, the Web site of the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers.

Owning a new home can be exciting. You should not assume, however, that all new homes are well-built, quality homes, no matter how much you pay. To become a happy homeowner, you will need to be a prudent, cautious homebuyer.


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