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Questioning the Quality of Framing Lumber and the Builder

MikeTXMS | Posted in General Questions on

Hi, y’all.
Thank you for the ideas\advices in the  previous my questions.
I’m on the new step with my communication with the builder.
So, I need fresh advices. 🙂
On high level:
My builder(from top 10 in the USA) is building home for me in Georgetown TX (Austin area).
I found that some lumbers are heavy damaged. Now we know that I have rotten wood,carpenter ant damage, etc. I tried friendly ask my construction manager to replace them, but he “doesn’t see any problems, he has 20 years experience, etc… “. It ridiculous because I see that they have damage(photos are attached).
I found that all other homes(even with the same model) have lumbers grade 2. I checked this in more than 12 homes. In my home builder uses grade 3.
I asked in email and during personals visit to confirm that it is in the plan and explanation why I have 3 in my case. Answer: “It is what it is and we don’t have this in the plan. It’s only our decision. The walls are prefab engineered walls.  We use engineered panels that are covered for 10 yrs. You can have grade in documentation only if building w/ conventional stick lumber (no engineered wall panels). We shouldn’t tell you if we decide to do it in this home, etc…”. They extremely rude with me end realtor(he was the this appointment).

I know that for walls they use 2x4x14′ Dbl.T.Plt. grade 3 on the first and second floor. Pretty damaged, but one more time: “we don’t have any problems” (C) construction manager
Balks also have damage.  They have gage 2(most of them). But many of them are so rotted, that I can stick in Ikea pencil in to 1/2 inch by 1 hand. Crazy situation. By construction manager told me that “it’s ok” during my visit. He saw this in person. 

I can see that they have this situation only in my home. Other homes are fine. Good lumbers with grade 2. No rotten wood, etc. I understand that builder is good, but somethings going wrong with  my case.  I told about this to my builder inperson and in email. They ignore this part.

The building department doesn’t wan to share information about this home plan.
The architect that drew the plans and put his stamp on this plan told me that he doesn’t want to have any conflicts with the this builder, so doesn’t want tell me anything(they saw my email with examples).
I sent email to the National Hardwood Lumber Association of the USA and they told me that I should contact COFI. COFI doesn’t answer.
I tried to find some  frame inspector in my area, but first 20 inspectors from the yelp don’t want to participate when see all my problems from my email.
Next step: I’ll try to contact the central office…. I’m not sure that it will help.

I tried to use all advices from my previous question(https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/question/some-strange-damage-in-the-frame#comment-189301?utm_medium=email&utm_source=notification&utm_campaign=comment_notification&utm_content=view)
0 results.
Maybe somebody have another  ideas? 

I don’t know what I can do in this situation. I see only one way: cancel my contract and fix losses. Do you have any ideas?

I’m attaching some examples of my problems and lumber grade.
Picture 1- lumber grade from walls
Picture 2,3 – damage and bad quality on the roof and vertical balks.
Picture 4- Example of rotten wood in walls. have about 20 parts like this.
Picture 5- Example of rotten balk between second floor and roof. I have about 5 like this.

PS. BTW construction  manager  broke a piece of the wall by 1 hand when tried to show me that it was not rotten, but strong…. Facepalm…
PPS.  Sorry for some mistakes in my text. I’m learning your language 🙂

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Replies

  1. MikeTXMS | | #1

    few additional photos

  2. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #2

    I don't have any business advice.

    The context of this is that there is a nationwide shortage of lumber. Prices are up 50% since the spring. There are stories of contractors seeing a lumber truck on the highway and following it to the lumberyard, kind of like there were for toilet paper in the spring. So it may be that this is all that he is able to get. Or it may be that he is losing money on your house, if he priced it back when lumber was lower.

    Neither one of these excuses his behavior, but it might help explain it.

    1. MikeTXMS | | #4

      Thank you. I understand this. I'm not asking for business advices. :) It's more to get 3th opinion about this situation. I'm new in this country :)
      BTW, the same model on the same street has price plus 12% from my. So, you're right about cost.

  3. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #3

    I think you have some serious issues here and also the possibility of other, hidden problems that you can’t see. Some of this looks like damage from rot and insects, probably from the wood being stored in wet conditions for too long. The softness where you can poke your pencil in is probably from rot. This weakens the structure and is a problem, especially if the rotten parts are in areas of high shear (shear is like the force scissors make cutting paper, pressing force on a small edge), like where the end of a joist is on top of a top plate.

    You may have an unfortunate issue unique to your project. If your English isn’t good, it’s possible the contractor is trying to take advantage of you or sneak things past you. English is my wife’s third language and she used to have this happen to her on occasion, and it’s happened to her dad.

    I think you should try to find a home inspector or a new architect or consulting engineer. A consulting engineer would probably be best. Have them come through the project with your contractor and see what they say. You may also end up needing a lawyer if you have to stop payment on your project.

    Bill

    1. Expert Member
      NICK KEENAN | | #5

      I'm thinking a lawyer is the right professional to be talking to. He'll know what other professionals to bring in.

      1. MikeTXMS | | #7

        How I understand, based on my contract, I'll lose just 1000$ during cancelation. I asked sales manager to confirm this. If it's true, I can go through this process. If more, definitely I'll work with lawyer.

        1. Expert Member
          NICK KEENAN | | #8

          If similar houses are selling for 12% more he would be a fool not to let you out and sell the house to someone else.

          1. MikeTXMS | | #9

            I have the same opinion. 3 from 5 buyer in this community are Californians. They buy remotely, so don't check frame... Just regular inspection.
            But, unfortunately I'll pay the same +12$ for another home from another builder. Crazy market in the Austin TX...

      2. user-5946022 | | #26

        +1 based on these photos. Make sure it is a residential construction lawyer.

    2. MikeTXMS | | #6

      Thank you. Bill.
      Seems, we're on the same page.
      During this hurricane season in TX all these lumber were in the water\under rain for about 3-4 weeks.
      I sent a few emails about this with photos, my concerns, etc., but my builder ignored these. They tell "it's ok".
      Also I have strange moment. Builder told me, that they don't want to share any home plans. It's private and etc. I asked about this for a few times in emails, visits, etc. Every time they're extremely aggressive to me or relator(native speaker). They don't want to share plan with somebody.

      I'm not professional, so definitely there are issues, that I don't see. For example I saw small black ants colony(seems, carpenter ants). My constriction manager was with me and told me that on some step they will have inspection for this. Now "it is what it is(C) manager". But they're destroying home tight just now... Stupid situation.

      Also builder told me that 3th side opinion can't push them to fix\change somethings. We had this conversation. They told me: it's in the contract, so we don't care. They're right about my contract... Ans as usually... "we don't see problems any with this home" , "we don't care if you show all this information to somebody".

      Unfortunate when I try to find some construction engineer from yelp, on first step they're agree to help. They provide cost estimate of the service, etc. But when I'm sending email with full set of home photo, address, detail information, my notes, logs and etc., introduce to my realtor and ask my realtor to make appointment with my builder(based on contract), some of them rejecting me, some just don't answer to me introduction email. Builder just ignores major part of my emails last time and answer only on realtors emails.

      In the new email from the builder I have information, that they are adding senior construction manager from central office to this situation. They did it after my call to central support center. Also a few missed calls from sales manager from this community.

      PS. About insects damage… My construction manager told me, that it's not bid deal when we were on the stairs (on the photo you can see stair railing). He doesn't see any reason to replace this part, but "if you want, I can double up this part". Facepalm....

      1. user-5946022 | | #27

        That photos looks alot like insect damaged wood.
        At this point I am wondering if they are purposely doing this.
        You should consult with a construction attorney to figure out what it would cost to get out of this contract. That is probably the best path forward and probably cost alot less than what is sure to be a fight from now until they finish your house.

        If they are purposely trying to poke you in the eye now, the problem won't be the obvious issues you can document in photos. It will be the smaller aesthetic or other issues that are just borderline enough to pass code or that don't pass but that the inspector does not see.

        Personally I would take ALOT of photos of that last piece (are you SURE that is not just a temporary railing? - but even so if it has insect damage it should not be on the jobsite) both up close photos and successive photos further and further back to show it in context and say it is just one example and you have many. Then use it to negotiate your way out of this deal. If they are able to sell the other house for more then they might be relieved to get out of the deal. Or buy it and turn around and flip it but that has risk.

  4. spenceday | | #10

    Please don’t take my answer as offensive towards you.
    It sounds very much like you have bought from a national production home builder.
    New subdivision? 20 lots and 2-3 floor plans to choose from? You pick the finishes from a set range of options? Set price range? You close on it the day before you move in?
    While the houses they build may look great new and have some awesome amenities and finishes, underneath they typically aren’t well built.
    Production builders have figured out how to squeeze every last dollar out of building a home.
    For example, There a thousands of builders who wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing the shower they just installed is probably going to leak within 10 years because they saved $200 by using cheap materials. Production builders have no such sense of guilt.
    Inspectors, engineers, and other experts won’t touch those projects with a 10 ft pole because there’s no money in them.
    Have some serious thought about what you want in a home and maybe get a lawyer to get you out of your contract because the builder is not likely to change things much.

    Production builder definitely have a place in the industry but you are asking more questions than 95% of their other customers and that is why they are being difficult.

    That said, some of what you’re looking at is normal as far as wood these days. A smart builder will use the crappy wood in places where it doesn’t matter, eg blocking and temporary parts. It’s also true a cost sensitive production builder will use more crappy lumber than most because it’s cheaper.
    Is it possible the bug eaten wood is just part of a temporary stair railing that will be replaced during a later phase?
    Some of what you are picturing is parts of the roof trusses. Often trusses are built with ugly looking lumber that meets the engineering specs of the manufacturer and can not be replaced without replacing the whole truss. The mold on the trusses would be expected given the climate, time of year, and exposure. Once the roof is on, it should dry out and not be an issue.
    Best of luck.
    -Spence

    1. MikeTXMS | | #15

      Thank you, Spenceday.
      Each opinion is matter. :)
      You're right with first part of you comment. Also I'm agree with some your points.
      But in the same time I pay price a little bit bigger than average on the market. Because this builder has good reputation. Also I know that ALL other homes of this model in this line have better lumbers. I can't get explanation from my builder why they do it for me. I can't get information is it(grade umber 3) acceptable based in the plan or not.
      About "Is it possible the bug eaten wood is just part of a temporary stair railing that will be replaced during a later phase?" I can say that no. it's permeant structure that will be with the home all the time. :(

  5. walta100 | | #11

    At this point you need to understand you have signed a contract to buy a home they promised to build at some undefined point in time. This means you own a piece of paper if you read the fine print in the paper you are very likely to find you are prohibited from entering the construction site without permission and an escort. If you make yourself too much of an annoyance builders can will and have had contract owners arrested and charged with trespassing so be careful.

    It seems very unlikely the builder is going to replace any low grade lumber. That leaves you with two options one is to accept the house as built the other is to hire a lawyer to get you out of the contract to buy a house from them. The way housing prices have gone up outside of urban areas in the last few months the builder may see you walking away as a windfall and resell the home for a larger profit. The cheapest way out may be to resell the completed house without ever living in it.

    If you want to be a real nuisance see if you can get one of the local TV news stations to investigate. The one thing the builder does not want is bad press. Note the TV stations want exclusive stories so do not work with more than one at a time.

    Walta

    1. MikeTXMS | | #13

      Thank you, Walter.
      You're right about the access and timelines. But I find first problems with lumbers before framing step. Just regular walk through street. If lumbers are on public street, why I can't make photo? Whey were in the water for a few weeks and already damaged. I sent email, but was ignored.
      I had second visit with the construction manager, so technically it's ok, based on contract.

      I'm not sure, that it's possible to sell this home with damage like this if I accept this home. I'm not sure that somebody wants rotten parts that can be easily found during inspection.

      Thank you about idea with local new. if they don't want friendly (with 1k$ penalty) cancel this contract, I'll use this possibility.

      This week I'll have appointment with senior constriction manager. Maybe he will understand that it's not best idea to use rotten lumbers. If not, I'll start work with lawyer.

      1. user-5946022 | | #28

        If the penalty to cancel the contract is only $1k, you should seriously consider it.
        If the builder can sell the house for more, they might let you out of the contract with no penalty. Just start mentioning a few times you wish you could find a way to get out of the contract without losing $1k and you might find they offer to let you out penalty free.

        1. MikeTXMS | | #31

          Thank you. I'll use this approach. Unfortunately they don't answer on my emails. They answer only on emails from real-estate agent.
          But I already found that my situation isn't unique based on BBB reviews.
          Usually people have the same situation with this builder on final inspection and they cancel contracts.
          Also I got email from senior construction manager that he want met me inperson and discuss my situation. It's after his visit to this construction.

  6. onslow | | #12

    Mike TXMS,

    If you truly stand to lose only $1000 by cancelling the contract, I would run from this house as fast as you can. If you are on the hook for more money, go to your realtor's superiors and whatever board they answer too. They should become very nervous about continuing to sell for that builder. Contact your local congressional representative and see how interested they are. Edit: I see Walta has commented and I agree that one way to achieve an escape would be a potentially explosive TV expose'. As Walta noted, you may be at risk of retaliatory litigation for trespassing, but you do have photos and a paper trail already. I would think they would be smart to let you walk away with no penalty - if you walk away quietly.

    If you are trapped into keeping this mess under contract, pay for an independent engineering assessment as soon as possible, before they start to cover up all the observed defects. That ant eaten piece being "OK" because it is under the stair railing is outrageous. Do keep multiple copies of the damage photos and ALL emails and contacts from ALL parties. The behavior described is reprehensible.

    The fact that you have seen better wood in other homes nearby is disturbing to say the least.

    1. MikeTXMS | | #14

      Thank you, Roger.
      I have exactly the same understanding. After a few emails with my questions about cancelation price, they don't answer to this question, but told me that they're waiting senior construction manager on this home to speak with my contraction manager. I'd like to see results of this discussion.
      BTW I have photos from early steps before framing. I'm sure that make photos on the public street is legal. :) Also I have photos that I made during approved tour with my realtor and my construction manager.

      On photos you can see how my builder keeps lumbers. So I have good detailed photos of each part. I sent all these concerns about lumbers problems to my constriction manager before framing step. I have photos "on the ground".

      1. user-5946022 | | #29

        These three photos show fairly standard ways of storing lumber. These three won't get you anywhere. Drop them from your arsenal.

  7. Expert Member
    RICHARD EVANS | | #16

    I know Grade 3 Lumber is allowed in the building code but I didn't think builders actually use the stuff. (I've never seen it stocked at my local lumber yards.)

    Perhaps this is what you get during a lumber shortage? Yikes.

    1. MikeTXMS | | #18

      Thank you, Rick.
      They don't use. Only in this home :( Based on situation that I can see now

  8. onslow | | #17

    TXMS,

    The latest photos are the least concerning and to be honest the wood in the trusses looks clean. Storing the stacks on the ground directly is a bit sloppy and results in muck sticking to the bottom one, but dropping lumber bundles on the ground is definitely commonplace. I would not focus on cosmetic issues like these photos. The split, ant eaten and rotten ones described are more relevant. You previously mentioned splits in parts of trusses which, if true, are going to affect the strength. Mud and a bit of mold will not.

    If needed, certified letters to relevant persons with returned signature will mean more than email. Best of luck.

    1. MikeTXMS | | #19

      Roger, you're right.
      It was just part.
      Fresh photos and videos aren't so funny. Wrapping is terrible: https://youtu.be/7wTqa8ESVYM

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #20

        Mike,
        I was one of the earliest posters to comment on your first thread, and based on the photos, didn't see too much to worry about. I was wrong, and I think you are being very wise to cancel your contract with the builder. Hopefully that isn't too disruptive to your life and plans.
        Good luck going forward.

        1. MikeTXMS | | #21

          Thank you, Malcolm.
          I'll start process with cancelation this week. I'm tired with all this situation :(

  9. walta100 | | #22

    What is funny Malcolm is I was very disturbed by the one photo of the ant/termite eaten 2x4. I still see it as fraud in that the builder made a major changed in the quality of the materials used without any notice. In the end I have come round to the house will be just as strong and after the drywall is installed the house will look and work as the house across the street built with #2

    When I look at the house wrap video I saw some wrinkled product not pretty but just as effective. All the joints and seems seemed to be done better than most production builds.

    At this point I think Mike now just wants out and is looking to find problems.

    I do not think he will ever be happy living in this house any and every little thing will be a constant source of frustration.

    If Mike can get out cleanly for a few thousand it will be the best money he ever spent.

    Walta

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #23

      Walter,

      I agree that for the most part the po0r quality framing materials will have no appreciable l0ng term consequences. However it appears to be part of a larger issue around generally poor workmanship - and more importantly a dismissive attitude towards any concerns on the part of the contractor. They aren't someone I'd want building my house.

      1. MikeTXMS | | #25

        as additional concern from my side: I have email from my constriction manager, that he will double check ugly parts before\during framing. It was before framing when I saw these strange lumbers under the rain for a few weeks. After framing he told that "it's ok" and doen't see any issues and next he answers only to realtors email.

    2. MikeTXMS | | #24

      Thank you, Walter.
      Maybe you're right, maybe no.
      I don't have any experience, so ask peoples around.
      But definitely I can compare on high level what I see around.
      I didn't see anything like this on this photo in other houses from this builder.
      This balk is marked as grade 2, but definitely is rotten and damaged.

  10. user-5946022 | | #30

    Get out of the contract
    If you are not going to do that, get a lawyer and see if you can either get the building inspector or the Texas Pest Control division to require the builder to remove & replace the insect damaged lumber. Then get your own structural inspector and send those reports to the builder.

    Some of your photos show problematic issues, some show regular practices that are of no consequence. When you don't know the difference between the two you dilute the importance of any concern you bring to the builders attention. You need a third party who does. But really you just need to get out of this.

  11. walta100 | | #32

    I do think you are getting upset over things that look wrong to you but most of your photos are things that are not pretty but structurally sound and will later covered with drywall and look perfectly fine once covered in drywall.

    Let’s talk about the photo I labeled #7 I see one board that is ugly but sound no cracks, splits or voids. From what I can tell that wall is not supporting any load all that bit of wood needs to do is accept the drywall screws.

    Let’s talk about the photo I labeled #3 Yes this short board does have a crack but again it does not appear to be supporting any load it seems to be a spacer and seem to be strong enough to do what it is there for.

    Lumber stored on the ground for a week or 2 is not a problem.

    What would upset me is the insect damage in photo #1it looks to be ant or termite damage and the fact that they had been using #2 lumber in the homes you looked at before you signed the contract and have now changed to #3 without any notice feels wrong if that is what in fact happened.

    I think most of us are shocked to see #3 lumber used as we have just use to seeing #2 has been so commonly used. Given today’s lumber prices we may be seeing a lot of #3 wood.

    We see mostly custom builds on this web site and mostly they are built on a cost plus contract where your production build has total dollar cost in the contract.

    Walta

    1. Expert Member
      BILL WICHERS | | #33

      #1 is by far the biggest problem I saw in those pics. #7 might have similar damage, but it's hard to tell from the pic. The same goes for #3.

      That is carpenter ant damage. I've worked with wood with that kind of damage before. It doesn't hold fasteners very well, because a lot of the material is missing. The other issue is that a lot of the hollowed out wood can be INSIDE where it can't be seen, so it's difficult to really judge how badly any particular board is damaged. #1 would be an issue in either vertical or horizontal loading and I'd absolutely not trust it. #7 might be OK, but might not and it's hard to be sure from that pic. #3 might just be blocking in which case it's not a big deal, but it might have something tied into it that we can't see.

      My biggest concern here is that the contractor seems so "um, whatever" about all of this. When I see a split board I set it aside and either don't use it, or cut it up for something non-critical like blocking or something else that can use pieces I cut out from areas that aren't split. A severely chewed up board like that first pic shouldn't have been used. What makes me nervous is what other corners did they cut that we can't see?

      Bill

      1. MikeTXMS | | #34

        Thank you, Bill. I canceled my contract with this builder :)

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