As an inspector I’ve often heard “I don’t need to get an inspection, it’s a new house.” Big mistake, made by the inexperienced,most often young couples. New construction is where the biggest problems exist. The problem is not ‘glue verses wood’ or any other technological innovations. Each technology selected is a working durable system and as long as it is fully implemented and integrated into the home construction it’s fine. The knowledge is there.
The problem arises from lack of supervision both in the architectural decision stages and the on site management. It used to be the norm that a building was erected by a general contractor who put a full time supervisor on site and directly hired (on payroll) all the required manpower and tradesmen. Only materials suppliers were subcontractors.
Now there are no general contractors like that, they are project managers, and everyone working on the building is a subcontractor. So there is no supervision, or very little, and no one has detailed responsibility for any given building. Developers are often the project managers themselves and are having sections of a development or series of condo structures being erected at one time. Typically they are concerned with managing contracts, controlling costs, and making sales at the same time.
Any given tradesman may be 90% finished his work at quitting time Friday, and then be sent to another building site or condo come Monday morning. These gaps in work completion are expected to be noted at later inspections and be completed with final punch lists (deficiency lists). Work proceeds, walls get closed and gaps and errors are not seen till problem symptoms show up in occupied dwellings. If an apprentice has made mistakes or a tradesman is less than competent with a new technology, then errors and defects will be present. Too often when such errors are found, they are corrected at that point, but rarely does anyone go back over the previous construction work for correction.
For example, there are many (16 to 18) new ‘engineered flooring’ systems that have replaced the old wood joist – cross-braced traditional floor framing. They are great. They don’t squeak. They are stronger. They are lighter. They can span greater distances. Etcetera. But detailing at rim zones, stair openings and passthroughs for electrical, plumbing and HVAC equipment is different and specialized for each system. Additionally there are code-mandated reinforcements required at perimeters, openings and above (and below) bearing partitions. The specifications are different for all of them. They are not standardized and they cannot be mixed with traditional floor framing.
Even for a floor framing contractor it would be nearly impossible to know all of it and the other tradesmen who come later to install or pass their systems through the flooring, they know even less of such detailing and reinforcement requirements. This is where knowledgeable supervision and coordination through the course of the site work is valuable. Ask any inspector how many times he’s found framing badly compromised or weakened to pass plumbing, wiring or air ducts.
That’s only one example. I could easily talk about similar problems with insulation and vapour barrier systems, building framing ventilation, attic ventilation, fire blocking, access panels & hatches, framing protection at windows and doors, window wells and foundation drainage, plus building envelope and roofing flashing-counterflashing systems.
There are lots of new materials / products available that offer improvements or lower cost / labour installation. They have benefits but equally their use and installation has new detail requirements.
You might be lucky. Some systems may be overbuilt and minor deficiencies never cause a problem (roof trusses in the 70s for example). The symptoms of some errors may never show up for years and be hard to diagnose.
Certainly the builders never see them and can’t relate to something they may have missed. Once the walls are up and the finishes installed that’s all you can see, the finishes. That’s usually what sells the house, but the value is in how well it is built.
“New builds” are not automatically inferior. As a matter of fact all eras had similar standards problems (or lack of), poor workmanship and rushed construction concerns. Those buildings either got replaced or corrected over time, so now all the ‘old’ ones are ‘good’ ones.
Just like antique furniture, the well crafted and well maintained remain. The substandard got renovated or replaced. There are relatively few ‘dogs’ around and even they are usually modernized, at least in part.
There are lots of houses build before the Civil War (and WW1, WW2, etc.) that are no longer seen. Some are gone because of fires and random acts of nature but many because they weren’t as well built as the ones that do remain.
That doesn’t meant that new houses are categorically ‘ not as good’. They just don’t have enough history yet.
So unless you’ve commissioned the construction of a new home and paid a professional to supervise that construction you can’t know what you are getting.
If you are buying a new home, condo or town house, under construction or soon to be built by a developer, then hire an inspector to do a new construction series inspection for you. This will be multiple visits and photo documentation through all stages of construction with periodic or phase reports and comments from the inspector.
The previous two scenarios are your best options but at the very least have a newly built home inspected at the time of purchase. A Pre-Purchase Inspection.
The final walk through inspection at the time of property turnover with the builders’ inspector may be presented to you as your inspection. But that is not the case.
That inspector is usually on contract with the builder and is working for the builder, and the purpose for them is to establish a list of items or details that remain to be completed as their final obligation to the buyer. That list is usually minor finish defects, paint, hardware or some exterior items that cannot be done now due to the season or supply delays.
But that is not a pre-purchase home inspection and that means you have not done your ‘due diligence’ with regard to the purchase of the property. What that means is that you may not be able to get resolution from the courts if a problem manifests later.
Once you sign that list and the other paperwork, you are on your own but for the good will of the builder. To be fair, most of the time you’ll be OK.
The best you can do to protect yourself is be represented by your own real estate agent (no additional cost here) and to have your own inspection done on the property, regardless of type or age. If you can have your construction series inspector checking for you through all the phases of a new build, so much the better.
Original blog post on ActiveRain: Link to Blog Post