New homes are attractive to homebuyers because they feel they can customize a home to their liking and move in with minimum problems. Often, homebuyers feel because the builder is offering a warranty that they don’t need to have a new home inspected.
So, should you get a home inspection on a new construction home? Absolutely! You should have a home inspection on every home purchased whether the home is new or older. Home inspections on new homes often find many defects that can be corrected before they become significant problems.
In today’s real estate market, most new homes are being built very quickly. The demand for new homes is very high; so high that builders are having a hard time building new homes fast enough. New homes today can be constructed within six months from start to finish.
Let’s look at some of the six reasons why you should have a home inspection on a new construction home.
New Homes Aren’t Perfect
Many homebuyers think that new homes are perfect and they need no work or little maintenance. The problem is new homes can have just as many faults as older homes. Remember, new homes are built by people just like you; they’re human beings and make mistakes and miss things too.
They are workers who clock in and out daily for a paycheck. Many times employment of tradespeople is very fluid. Often times you find licensed plumbers, electricians, and HVAC contractors will have several apprentices a month, some never last much over a couple of weeks.
Building Codes is Only Minimal Construction Standards
The building code is nothing more than a set of minimum building standards. Many people that hear the new house has been inspected and passed the building inspector fail to realize that it doesn’t actually mean much. When a home meets “building code,” it merely means that it meets a set of locally adopted minimum building practices.
The building code in a local area is defined as a set of minimum standards the house must meet for the owner to obtain a certificate of occupancy for a home. The certificate of occupancy is provided by the building department to the electrical company authorizing them to turn on electrical utilities.
These standards are updated every few years, but they vary widely from location to location because it’s left up to the local government agencies to decide which building codes to adopt and which not too. These building code interpretations are often very subjective.
Building Code Inspectors are People too
Building code inspectors work for the city and are tasked with the job to inspect every new residential home and new commercial property that is being constructed at any given time.
This can create a strain on the overall workload, resulting in many city building inspectors spending a minimal amount of time inspecting each property with residential homes, often taking a back seat to larger commercial projects.
Building inspectors only have a few hours every day the view and inspect properties that are under construction. I’ve seen firsthand where building inspectors have walked onto job sites and only be there for about 15 minutes.
That’s not necessarily a knock on the building code inspector, but more so a reflection of the workload that they are under daily. Building inspectors are people too, and they make mistakes just like anyone else does.
General Contractors are Project Managers, not Builders
Yes, you heard that right. Nowadays, most general contractors rarely build anything; they act as project managers for a team of subcontractors. The National Association of Home Builders says there are over 3,000 components that are used in building a house and this doesn’t include fastening hardware like nails, screws, adhesives, caulking, etc. Larger houses can have many more than 3,000 components.
Some 20 different subcontractors will work on the home you are building. Every subcontractor will have maybe 3-5 employees who will do some amount of work on the home. It’s highly probable that as many as 100 people or more will have worked on your own by the time it’s all said and done.
Back when I was growing up, from 1970-1990, my father owned a home building business where he actively worked at his craft daily. Weather permitting, he and his crew were on site, physically working daily.
Back then it would take upwards 12 months to build a house under 2000 sq feet from start to finish. Larger homes could take upwards two years to construct depending on the size and the amount of custom work that was going into it. It’s not that way anymore.
Nowadays, with the use of cranes and engineered materials, a house can be framed in a manner of days. Most contractors have several projects ongoing all the time. It’s a constant juggle of subcontractors from job site to job site and the continuous pressure of looming deadlines to get projects completed on time and on budget.
National companies that build large residential developments often times have a general contractor in another city or state that is overseeing the project. Companies will hire project managers (who may or may not be licensed building contractors) to oversee job sites and manage local subcontractors.
Building Code Doesn’t include Everything
Many people think that building inspectors inspect every detail of a home’s construction. It shocks people to find out how little building inspectors actually inspect.
The majority of homeowner complaints with general building contractors start as what the homeowner thinks is a building code violation only to end up discovering the charge is more of a workmanship complaint rather than a building code violation.
Building code inspectors generally only inspect up until the drywall is installed. Inspections often include a:
- Foundation Inspections / Pre-Pour Inspections – Pier foundations and concrete slabs require a pre-pour inspection before the concrete can be poured including inspection of the footings, trenches, structural rebar, water and sewer plumbing, electrical chases, etc. Inspection of the underground water service, sewer piping, and electrical service must do done before the trenches are covered.
- Framing inspections – the building inspector will inspect the floor joists before floor sheathing installation, exterior walls, roof rafters or trusses, roof, and exterior wall sheathing, and interior wall framing. This is to confirm the material and layout matches the building plans, and that proper mounting hardware is used to secure the structure to the foundation.
- Rough-in inspections – Rough-in inspection of electrical wiring, electrical boxes, plumbing and gas pipes, mechanicals, and ductwork must be inspected before drywall is hung.
- Final inspections – The building inspector will look for properly working mechanicals, lighting, plumbing fixtures such as tubs, showers, and sinks, smoke alarms, windows, doors, and a variety of other components. Often these items are deferred to manufacturer specifications.
I once conducted an 11-month builders warranty inspection for a client (we will touch more on these later). I noted many items in my inspection report such as interior walls out of plumb, bathtubs out of plumb and exterior stone veneer that was not installed correctly, etc.
The homeowner fought with the contractor for over two years before calling the state licensing board. A representative from the state licensing board came to meet with me and my client to review their claims.
Unfortunately, the state licensing representative informed my client that while he agreed the work was “less than desirable”, it violated no building codes and no action would be taken.
Their advice was to pursue a lawsuit against the contractor for breach of contract and hopefully, that would compel him to take action. Having a professional home inspection report helped them get many of the items repaired that otherwise may not have happened.
When Building a Home You Need Two Inspections:
When you hire a home builder you should also hire a home inspector to examine the house as it’s being built. You should consider hiring a home inspector to:
Perform an inspection before drywall is installed – A pre-drywall home inspection will examine the multitude of building components before the walls are closed up.
Things your home inspector will examine are plumb wall framing, exterior wall, and roof sheathing, roof trusses, electrical and plumbing rough-ins, exterior doors and windows, exterior house weather-resistant barriers, window and door flashings, and much more.
Perform an inspection prior to your Final Walkthrough with the builder – once your home is complete, you should have a home inspector examine the house with you prior to your final walkthrough with your builder. This final inspection gives you the opportunity to have your punch list completed before taking ownership of the home.
You should walk through the house with your home inspector to notate defects. Make sure you take a roll of painters tape to note any visible drywall and paint defects such as thin areas of paint, paint drips, uneven paint lines, rough surfaces that need sanding, etc.
Common Defects Found in New Home Construction
Foundation and Structure Problems
Surprisingly, structure and foundation problems in new construction are more common than you may think. Some of the common structural issues we have found in new home construction are:
- Foundation cracks due to settlement – many new homes are built on lands that had to be cleared before building could begin. This can lead to settlement problems if the ground wasn’t prepared properly prior to construction.
- Damaged framing materials – when building materials are delivered to a job site they should be stored raised slightly off the ground and wrapped in plastic to protect them from moisture. Sometimes even with the best efforts, building materials such as wood framing get wet. Depending on how long exposure was, the building materials may be fine once they have dried out. However, oftentimes wood will twist or bow over time.
- Walls that are not straight – sometimes building plans are not followed exactly as indicated. Sometimes it’s due to a needed change but sometimes it’s due to a misinterpretation of the building plans. Closets, doorways, windows, etc can easily be framed correctly but in the wrong location.
- Uneven roof or floor trusses – Most homes are now built with engineered roof trusses and floor trusses. These trusses are often unlevel or sag if not properly supported. Uneven roofing creates sagging in the roof structure or waviness in the roof sheathing which causes the roof coverings to be uneven. Uneven floor trusses can cause “creaking in the floor” from the subfloor movement.
Improper Lot Drainage Issues
One is the major contributing factor to foundation failure is lot drainage, even in well-built homes. The lot needs to be tampered away from the house to encourage stormwater runoff to flow away from the house. Left uncorrected, water problems around foundations cause erosion and increases settlement which can adversely affect the foundation.
- Basements – since most basements are underground, lot drainage is important to prevent water intrusion through the walls.
- Crawl spaces – drainage around crawl spaces is a lot like basements in many ways. However, water intrusion in the crawl space can sit for a long time unnoticed causing wood rot to the floor structure.
- Concrete slabs – with concrete slabs, poor drainage can cause a concrete slab to crack and shift which can affect the entire interior as most slabs also serve as the base under walls and flooring.
Windows Installation Problems
Windows are prone to several problems in new construction. Some of the problems with windows in new construction include:
- Leaks where windows were not flashed properly
- Windows that don’t open and close well because they were installed to tightly
- Broken windows from settlement or construction defects
- Fogged windows from bad thermal seals.
- Windows with various manufacturer defects
Exterior and Interior Doors Problems
Exterior and interior doors are prone to several problems in new construction. Some of the problems with doors in new construction include:
- Exterior doors that are not closing tightly allowing air penetration reducing energy efficiency.
- Leak around exterior doors due to flashing that is not installed properly.
- Exterior door hardware that doesn’t latch properly. Doors that don’t close properly can be adjusted.
- Interior doors need to be checked to verify they are closing properly.
- Interior doors that drag across the floor.
- Interior door hardware that is missing or installed correctly.
Problems with Heating and Cooling Systems
Heating and cooling systems in one of the most important systems in new construction. Some common problems with heating and cooling systems include:
- The ductwork is not sealed or connected properly resulting in air leaks that cause condensation and mold to form.
- Improperly connected power or fuel sources such as missing service disconnects and gas shut off valves.
- Undersized heat pump and air conditioning systems for the square footage of the house
- Water leaks from condensate discharge pipes leaking onto ceilings and into wall cavities.
- Poorly insulated refrigerant lines that sweat causing condensation in basements, attics and wall cavities.
- Missing condensation pans under air handlers or furnaces.
- Improperly vented gas furnaces in attics, basements, or mechanical rooms.
Problems with the Electrical System and Components
There are a lot of components within the electrical system and all of them need to be inspected. Having so many components leaves room for mistakes. Some of the common problems with electrical systems include:
- Reversed polarity in electrical outlets
- Missing ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets.
- Arc fault interrupter breakers that fail to trip.
- Meter bases are not secured well to the house.
- Electrical service panels where breakers are not correctly labeled.
- Electrical junction boxes with missing cover plates.
- Light fixtures that have not been installed.
Problems with the Plumbing System and Fixtures
Next to the electrical system, the plumbing system has numerous components and many potential problems. Common problems with plumbing systems include:
- Gas tank or tankless water heaters that are not vented properly.
- Gas water heaters in garages with no stop block.
- Gas water heaters are not elevated 18 inches in the garage.
- Water supply pipes that have hot and cold water lines reversed.
- Water leaks in supply and drain pipes
- Leaky faucets at sinks and bathtubs.
- Leaky water shut off valves under sinks and other plumbing fixtures.
Roofing Installation Problems
The roofing is probably the most important exterior system in your new home. If the roof is bad, everything else will surely follow. Some of the common problems in roofing include:
- Roofing materials are not installed properly.
- Roof flashing is not correctly installed.
- Exposed nail heads on ridge vents and other roof penetrations
- Drip edge flashings not installed correctly
- Vulnerable roof configurations
- Gutters not installed correctly to drain stormwater away from the roof.
Exterior and Interior Painting Issues
Painting is typically one of the last things done in a new house. It’s also sometimes rushed through in an effect to meet deadlines. Be mindful many contractors only include one coat of paint with touch-ups so if the paint is not installed correctly you can have areas of thin paint where mud lines show the room.
Oftentimes to make the paint go further, painters add water to thin paint that is thick. This is usually done it painters are using sprayers as thick paint will clog sprayer heads.
Problems with Exterior Siding Installations
There are many types of siding you can install on a home. Some of the most popular kinds are brick veneer, stone veneer, vinyl siding, cement fiberboard lap, wood lap, and stucco. Common problems can exist with each type of siding. Some of these defects include:
- Brick Veneer – no weep holes at the base of walls and over windows and doors, cracks in mortar joints, no sealant around windows, improper sloping window ledges, and improper flashing.
- Stone veneer – installed without proper wall prep, no flashing at the top, and no sealant around windows
- Vinyl siding – loose siding that doesn’t have enough fasteners, improper trim outs around windows and doors, improper wall penetrations.
- Cement fiberboard lap siding – missing joint flashing, wavy siding, no sealant around trim boards, not properly overlapped, etc.
- Wood lap siding – sealant around trim boards, windows, and doors, loose siding, flashing problems, painting issues, etc.
- Stucco – peeling stucco finish, gaps, and cracks between trim and wall penetrations, sealant around windows and doors, etc.
Problems with Floor, Wall, and Attic Insulation
Common problems with insulation include problems in 3 different areas (2 areas if the home is slab foundation construction):
- Crawl Space / Unfinished Basement – Insulation in the crawl space or unfinished basement would be located in the floor structure. There is some debate among contractors that floor insulation in crawl spaces does more harm than good when it comes to moisture control. Many contractors are opting for encapsulated crawl spaces or a raised slab foundation to offset these problems.
- Exterior Walls – Exterior walls (in most areas) need a minimum of R13 insulation value. This should be confirmed during the pre-drywall inspection. Home inspectors today will use tools such as infrared cameras to seek out insulation voids without damaging the home.
- Attic – Most new homes today have blown fiberglass insulation of a minimum of R30. Some areas such as in northern states will install up to R60 or greater in insulation. R30 blown fiberglass insulation is typically 12-14 inches thick. Spray foam is gaining in popularity and may overtake blown insulation in the coming years.
Problems Found Inside Crawl Spaces
Crawl space construction is not as popular as it once was. However, some common issues found inside new crawl space constructed homes include:
- Not enough foundation vents or foundation vents that were never installed.
- No vapor barrier over the ground in the crawl space.
- Unsecured ductwork in the crawl space.
- Leaking plumbing supply and waste pipes in crawl spaces
- Plumbing waste pipes that were never connected.
- Plumbing supply pipes that have not been insulated.
Problems Found Inside Unfinished Basements
One of the biggest concerns with unfinished basements includes:
- Water penetration through concrete walls due to improper waterproofing and poor drainage.
- Water intrusion due to gutters that are discharging near the foundation and leaking into the basement
- Groundwater penetration through the concrete basement floor
- Improper window wells allowing water intrusion into the basement.
Floor Covering Installation Issues and Defects
Flooring in homes is one of the most expensive investments due to the need to be durable and long-lasting. Common problems with new flooring installations in new construction include:
- Uneven tile work and bathrooms kitchens and laundry rooms
- Scratches and other surface damage to hardwood and engineered wood floors
- Wood laminate flooring that is installed too tightly causing it to bow in places
- Wood flooring has been installed without proper acclimation to the environment.
- Carpet that has not been seamed improperly or needs to be tightened.
- Flooring installed on concrete slabs without a leveling compound.
Problems with the Kitchen Cabinets, Countertops and Appliances
Another area where a majority of the money in a new home build goes is the kitchen. With the cost of custom cabinets, stone countertops, and appliances you can easily spend a small fortune in some kitchens. Some of the common problems found in kitchens include:
- Kitchen cabinet doors and drawers that are not level
- Cabinet doors or drawers that do not close properly
- Cabinet doors and drawers with missing cabinet hardware such as pull knobs
- Countertops that have not been secured properly to the base cabinets
- Caulking around backsplash and sinks
- Appliance installs that are not done correctly
- Plumbing leaks under sinks
Incomplete Projects Your Builder has not Completed
When the closing day is approaching it’s a mad dash to get the house completed. Oftentimes when we inspect new houses we will find several incomplete projects such as:
- Faucets in sinks still needing to be installed
- Mirrors that need to be hung
- Shower doors that need to be installed
- Painting touch-ups
- Final cleaning of the house
- Light fixtures and ceiling fans that need to be installed
- Outlet cover plates they haven’t been installed
- Incomplete tile work such as tub surrounds, backsplashes, etc.
Final Word on Inspecting a New Construction Home
I hope by now you’ve seen why it’s important to have your new home inspected. It can make all the difference when it comes time to move in. However, if it’s past time for your inspection or you’ve already closed there’s still some hope. It’s called the 11 Month Warranty Inspection.
When you close on your new home, the builder will agree to come out one more time for any repairs at the one year mark. However, you have to be prepared with your one-year repair list prior to the year is up or risk not getting any repairs made at all.
Your builder will provide you a one year warranty that covers everything including cosmetic defects like nail pops, tape joint cracks, etc. The 11-month warranty inspection is a home inspection done in the 11th month right before the 1-year warranty expires.
This home inspection affords you the opportunity to have the entire house thoroughly examined by a licensed home inspector who will document a detailed repair list inside an inspection report. You can forward this report to your builder to draft a final repair list.
Having a professional home inspector document these items gives you leverage in the rare event that you have to seek legal action to get the repairs you need to be completed.
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