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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 Installation

21%

 

 

EXAMPLES

CONSEQUENCES

Lack of roofing paper

Premature roof deterioration

Poorly installed eave, rake and valley details

Water intrusion

Improperly placed shingles

 

Stapled installation

 

 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     SIDING INSTALLATION

PROBLEM AREA

% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED

Siding Installation

15%

 

 

EXAMPLES

CONSEQUENCES

Thin stucco, easily damaged

Framing rot and mold

Poor details

Water intrusion

Lack of proper brick veneer details

Visual distrotion and irregularities

 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     WINDOW & DOOR INSTALLATION

PROBLEM AREA

% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED

Window & Door Installation

23% and growing

 

 

EXAMPLES

CONSEQUENCES

No flashing

Poor window operation

Inadequate attachment

Water intrusion

No sealant or incomplete sealant

Framing rot and mold

Out-of-square rough openings

 

 

 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     WINDOW PERFORMANCE

PROBLEM AREA

% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED

Window Performance

12%

 

 

EXAMPLES

CONSEQUENCES

Leaks through window frame

Framing rot and mold

Broken seals

Water intrusion

 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     FRAMING ADEQUACY

PROBLEM AREA

% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED

Framing Adequacy

18%

 

 

EXAMPLES

CONSEQUENCES

Unbraced roof trusses

Structural sagging

Casually braced roof framing

Structural distortion, leaning

Cut and compromised floor framing (plumbing, electrical, etc)

Compromised door and window operation

Inadequately attached sheathing and/or shear walls

Unsusally springy floors

Lack of bracing or structural sheating

 

 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     HVAC/MECHANICAL EQUIPMENT

PROBLEM AREA

% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED

HVAC/Mechanical Equipment Installation

16% and growing

 

 

EXAMPLES

CONSEQUENCES

Inadequate service access

Lack of reliability

Poorly installed ductwork

Inadequate performance

Marginal capacity

Short service life

Inadequate safety standard compliance

 

 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     FOUNDATION CONSTRUCTION

PROBLEM AREA

% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED

Foundation Construction

14%

 

 

EXAMPLES

CONSEQUENCES

Concrete spalling

Premature deterioration

Exposed aggregate

Water intrusion

Significant cracking

Compromised structural performace

 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     SITE SELECTION/SOIL PREPARATION

PROBLEM AREA

% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED

Site Selection/Soil Preparation

19%

 

 

EXAMPLES

CONSEQUENCES

Poor surface drainage

Water intrusion

Differential settlement

Settlement and distortion

Structural distortion

 

 

 

PROBLEM AREA:     USE OF UNPROVEN MATERIALS

PROBLEM AREA

% OF NEW HOMES AFFECTED

Use of Unproven Materials

12%

 

 

EXAMPLES

CONSEQUENCES

Polybutylene (PB) pipe

Water intrusion

Hardboard siding

Premature 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.