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Homebuilding defect rate and prevention

bluesolar | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

Hi all – I was disturbed to hear about a coworker’s experience. The short of it is that he found almost daily defects during construction of his house. Is this normal?

He was having a house built in Tucson, Arizona. It was in a new development. I think some of you here call this scenario a “production builder”. Or maybe a “spec home”, but I’m not exactly sure what a spec home is. Are all homes in a new development spec homes?

He ordered the house, with a few extra options, and construction started. He and his wife would visit the construction site every evening, and he’d take a look at the work. He’d notice a defect or error and leave a note for the construction supervisor or foreman or whatever.

He said the supervisor was very good to him, was always diligent about fixing the problems. That’s fine, but I was more alarmed that he was finding errors almost every day. Almost no one inspects their production builder home construction the way he did, so this implies there will be lots of errors in the average production builder house. Is that right?

What about custom home builders? In your experience do they have a high error rate as well? I don’t know of any stories (except actress Sandra Bullock apparently had a nightmarishly bad home building experience in Austin: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1474292/Actress-wins-7m-for-builders-shoddy-work.html).

I think Malcolm or someone said recently that buyers weren’t welcome on job sites of production builders. I’m not sure how else to exert some quality control. I know of another buyer in Tucson whose house was missing insulation in one bedroom wall. That’s hard to understand – I mean how did the drywallers not notice that the wall had no insulation?

Would you strive for daily inspections on your home’s construction? What else would you do?

Thanks.

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Replies

  1. user-723121 | | #1

    Now days it is all about lot availability and control of land. Production builders have the resources (normally) to buy up the close in tracts of undeveloped land and develop them as they see fit. The sale of the lots is as much a part of making a profit as is building the house. From my experience, the national builders do not deviate much if at all from their standard plans. Change orders if optional will be quite expensive.

    As far as quality control, who is doing the actual work and what are the company standards? Missing insulation in a wall is not acceptable. I had a reason to be in the attic of a new home here in MSP and a large bonus room over the garage had no insulation. I contacted the supervisor of the building company and they had the blown insulation installed. It happens from time to time, this particular company has a very high standard of insulating and air sealing.

    I personally like as much owner involvement with my building projects as possible, ask a lot of questions to make sure the customer understands all of the options ahead of time. Give your opinion when asked and be persuasive if you see trouble ahead but try to avoid imparting you own personal taste on style choices.

    If you want to do daily inspections I would say you want to spell that out up front. Best advice, hire a builder with high quality standards and one that welcomes customer participation.

  2. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #2

    Bluesolar,

    I should clarify what I said. Owners or owner's representatives are of course welcome on site and should be inspecting the work at regular intervals when they are having a house built for them - but with certain caveats.

    1. They need to agree on when they do inspections. No builder wants a client standing over them while they work.

    2. They need to realize that they will not have the same rights on what is essentially a speculative build the they put a deposit down on before completion, than they do a house they have contracted as a custom build. A developer can't have every prospective owner of say a 200 unit condo project wandering through their units every evening deciding they don't like the way things are framed.

    3. There is a difference between defects, which are essentially limited to things that do not meet codes or follow the specifications set out in the contract drawings , and preferences - even if these preferences are the right way to do things. So for instance if your builder is flashing the window openings in a way you don't like, unless it is a code violation, or the drawings show an alternate detail, that's too bad.

    The way around these problems or conflicts is to have a good set of agreed contract documents that lay out things that are important to you, and have a representative do the inspections for you. That role was traditionally the purview of the architect, but now can fall to any number of experienced professionals.

    1. bluesolar | | #4

      Thanks Malcolm. What sort of person would make a good representative? For example, would a home inspector be good for inspecting during construction? I mean the home inspectors who normally come by during the home purchase closing process. They normally inspect existing/finished homes, but would they be useful during construction?

  3. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #3

    “Spec” homes are homes built for an anonymous buyer that the builder hopes will come along after the home is completed. Spec homes are different from custom built homes in that “custom” built homes are built for a specific client, and that client generally works with an architect to get things exactly the way they want. Basically spec homes are built by a builder to make money, custom homes are built as a project of the owner of the home. Hopefully that makes sense.

    Defects aren’t always a big deal, especially when “found” by an inexperienced homeowner. Some people thing knots in joists, or checking, or any of the other lumber defects that can exist are a big deal, but graded lumber allows for these things — it’s just the size and number of those “defects” that change the final grade stamp that that particular board will receive. Some people want a PERFECT drywall finish, known as “level 5” in the trades, but homes are not typically finished to this level. There are plenty of other examples, and most things a typical buyer will “find” are really just cosmetic.

    Real “defects” as builders and engineers think of them are usually code, safety, or reliability issues. Can you see copper through the insulation on some of the wiring? That is a defect, but not technically a code violation as code violations are normally thought of. A missing jack stud at the end of a header is a defect. Feeling the wind blow through the trim around a window is a defect. These are all issues that are more than just cosmetic. Most of these things will be missed by the average home buyer, however, since they tend to be hidden from view, or the home buyer doesn’t have the experience to know what they’re looking at (not many outside the trades will even know what a jack stud is).

    I agree with Malcolm too — no one wants the buyer looking over them as they work. I have seen that get so bad that people have walked off of jobsites before (myself being one of them a few times). It’s not that we, as the builders/crew, don’t want to be caught doing sneaky stuff, it’s that it’s hard to work when constantly being asked about every little detail, or things that don’t matter or aren’t understood by the client. The future owner needs to work with the architect to get the design right, then the builders job is to build the project according to the plans.

    I do recommend weekly project meetings for my commercial customers. These meetings are with the owners, architect, and key members of the construction crew (usually the GC along with leads from various trades as needed). The meetings usually do a walkthrough to check any surprises that come up during the build (there are always surprises, it’s a normal part of construction), and to work out solutions WITHOUT bothering all the trades. Any changes or modifications get formalized as change orders or plan revisions that the GC circulates (hopefully) to all the trades. Try to get everything right before project start, since change orders are expensive, and multiple plan revisions cause confusion.

    Bill

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