By Wes Grant, NPI Franchise Owner, Indian Trail, North Carolina
I hear this question often from folks buying a newly built home, and it has compelled me to explain the virtues of having a new-construction home properly inspected by a professional and qualified home inspector.
Firstly, I am not writing this to bash home builders, per se. For the most part, I know many custom home builders who do a fine job. Unfortunately, I also know many home builders who do a mediocre to poor job and who are only concerned with their bottom line regardless of the marketing propaganda they feed new-home shoppers. I have been labeled “Deal Killer” by some of these builders because I point out the flaws and poor workmanship they try to pass on to their buyers.
Home inspectors are the one — and often only — party who has no skin in the game. What does it benefit us to be a deal killer? The builder makes money selling the house; inspectors are the only objective party involved in the transaction because we are paid to inspect the home whether or not a buyer goes through with the purchase. Buyers of new-construction homes are often inexperienced in the new-construction home buying process. They mistakenly assume that because a home has passed all local code inspections, it must be OK.
My short answer is this: Don’t assume your builder, or the subcontractors they use, did a good job just because the home passed code inspections. A professional home inspector is your last line of defense against major and minor defects that could literally cost you thousands of dollars and cause you many a restless night.
At National Property Inspections, we work with many professional Realtors, and they know us and understand that we are here to help our mutual clients and keep them from being fleeced by parties who choose to ignore poor quality or simply don’t care.
OK, I’m getting off my soap box. Here, I outline the most severe issues I regularly find during new-construction home inspections.
Improperly Installed Cement Fiber Plank Siding
Most frequently, I find multiple issues with improperly installed cement fiber planks. Major manufacturers of this product are James Hardie and Certainteed. I’m not going into the class-action lawsuits that are currently in process with some cement fiber plank manufacturers — that’s for a later discussion. I’m simply pointing out that many new-construction homes I have inspected have siding that has been installed improperly.
I find that nails are often overdriven or multiple nails are driven into small areas. Nails that are overdriven no longer have holding strength and/or crack the corners of the siding. In either case, the individual planks will begin to fail over time, and some fall completely off the house, many times within just a few weeks after construction.
Per the Certainteed installation specs: “Do not over-drive the fasteners. Seating them below the surface of the siding reduces their holding power and creates an entryway for moisture. Do not place fasteners in the center, unsupported area of the siding.”
Another issue is siding planks and boards that have large gaps between the ends of the siding. The butt ends of siding should be in moderate contact and should have joint flashing, joint caps or sealant at each joint connection. (Depending on local code, many manufacturers recommend against using any joint sealants.) Open gaps between the butt ends allows easy access for water intrusion behind the siding.
Problems With Stone Veneer Siding Installation
Improperly installed manufactured stone veneer siding is also a common defect. Failure to follow the manufacturer’s installation procedures can lead to water intrusion inside the wall cavity behind the siding. At a recent 11-month builder’s warranty inspection, we discovered very high moisture readings on the interior walls of the home using a Tramex encounter plus noninvasive moisture meter. The manufactured stone veneer, commonly referred to by builders as “lick and stick” was installed with no visible weep system at the base of the wood frame walls or horizontal transitions. We found other problems, too:
- No visible weep system at the tops of windows and/or doors
- No visible sealants along seams between the stone cladding and siding, trim, windows and/or doors
- No indication of a flashing and/or weep system where the stone cladding is in contact with roofing materials or along head flashings
- Metal lath was visible, indicating that the proper base coats of mortar were not applied prior to installation of the stone cladding
The lack of proper detailing and flashing is conducive to water penetration behind the stone cladding and possible hidden damage. The home owner contacted the builder after receiving our report that night (we always deliver same-day reports). The builder started removing stone, and multiple areas of the interior wall had water-soaked insulation and mold growth. We saved the customer thousands of dollars for which she repaid us by referring at least six of her neighbors in this new-home community, all for 11-month builder’s warranty inspections.
Unprotected Roof Penetrations
We frequently discover improperly installed flashing and boot vents at roof penetrations, as well as missing kick-out flashing at the end of sidewalls. We were inspecting a brand-new home on the same day our customer was doing the walkthrough with the builder. It was raining on the day of inspection, and as we made our way into the attic, I noticed a large puddle on the OSB plywood just in front of the furnace. Upon further inspection I determined that the subcontractor who cut the hole penetration in the roof to extend the furnace flue had cut the hole much too large allowing water to pour into the attic area.
This is a brand-new house — even after the roofers, HVAC technicians and who knows who else had been in or around this roof and attic, nobody noticed the light coming in around the furnace flue penetration, and no one saw the gaps around the flue penetration on the exterior roof while they were putting on the shingles? Had the customer not had a home inspection, how much damage would this leak have caused before it would be discovered?
On a 10-year-old brick home we inspected, kickout flashing was missing over a window at the front porch, and visible staining was noted on the exterior brick veneer. On the interior walls, we found moisture intrusion, and the window sill area was very soft. At the band sill (viewed during the crawl space inspection), our inspector noted rot and severe water damage directly under the area missing the kick-outs. If the missing kick-outs had been noted at the time of construction (regardless of code), these home owners would not have been looking at spending thousands of dollars in repairs 10 years later.
During the crawl space inspection of a new-construction home just this year, I noted water leaking from under the master bathroom toilet area. It appeared that the plumber forgot to install a wax seal! I have actually caught this three times in new-home construction.
Funny story: My Daddy was a plumber, so from the time I was able to walk, I was required to be a plumber’s helper. I can clearly remember Daddy having me finish installing some copper supply lines in a bathroom of a new-construction home when I was about 14 years old, while Daddy went back to the supply house to pick up some elbows. I was fluxing my heart out and connecting pipes and was so proud of the job I did. I remember when Daddy was testing the water pressure all the joints blew at the bathroom I completed — seems I forgot one important task: soldering the joints. Not my best moment! Point being, everybody makes mistakes or forgets things sometimes. A home inspection will catch many of these lapses.
Improperly Flashed Window and Door Openings
This defect is normally only discovered if the customer is having a pre-drywall inspection (a very good idea for new-home-construction buyers). We got a call to do an inspection on a 4-year-old house in a new home development that stalled in 2009 during the economic crash after several houses had already been constructed.
In the interior of the home, around the back-door threshold area, the floor was very soft and “giving” when stepped on. During the crawl space inspection, we noted evidence of water intrusion, wood rot and mold growth in the subflooring components under the back-door threshold. The sellers agreed to repair the problem, and the contractor doing the repair work started demolition. They discovered that there was absolutely no flashing around the door threshold, which could have been caught with a pre-drywall inspection.
This year, we have done several new-construction inspections and pre-drywall inspections in that same neighborhood (building resumed full force in 2014), and we are finding that this particular builder is routinely failing to install flashing at some areas of windows and doors, or not using any type of rubber tape adhesive flashing at some of the corners (bowtie cuts) and just using caulk sealant. This is sloppy work by a subcontractor, which will lead to expensive damage in the future.
These are just a few of the major issues we have discovered during new-construction home inspections that have saved our customers thousands of dollars and more than justify the cost of a home inspection. All of these issues have been identified by a qualified professional home inspector.
A new home will be the largest financial investment most of us make in our lifetimes. For the cost of pennies on the dollar, you can buy peace of mind that your purchase is a sound financial investment with an objective home inspection. Call National Property Inspections today to book your next home inspection. We will save you money in the long run.