Just because it’s “New” doesn’t mean it’s done right.
When your heart, soul and financial future are tied into a brand new home, you want it to be built right and last for generations to come. Most homeowners expect impeccable craftsmanship, attention to detail, and a flawless living space in their brand new properties. However, even the most experienced builders and contractors can inadvertently make mistakes, or omit important steps when constructing new homes. By identifying these pitfalls (generally found during the series of home inspections) homebuyers, homeowners, and even builders themselves can become more aware and proactive in ensuring the quality and longevity of newly built homes. Here are 5 common Mistakes that are regularly found by Inspector Jo during the inspection phases of newly constructed homes.
1. Missing Paint and Sealant on trim.
Many modern contemporary homes have exterior trim that is constructed of MDF or other fibrous materials for trim boards and fascia, instead of solid wood like in the past, or more durable longer lasting vinyl/composite materials. These components play a crucial role in protecting the underlying structure from the elements (moisture). MDF board, when properly installed and maintained can be a cheaper alternative and look just as fresh and professional as its more durable counterparts. Without proper paint and sealant, moisture can seep into the porous MDF material, causing it to swell, warp, and eventually rot if not maintained. As moisture infiltrates the trim and fascia boards, it can also make its way into the surrounding areas, potentially compromising the integrity of other components and systems of the home. In newly constructed homes the proper application and maintenance of paint and sealant throughout the property is the responsibility of the builder before closing, and often continues to be warrantied for up to 12 additional months.
Unfortunately, as a home inspector, Jo has seen defects in the paint/ sealant of the trim and fascia on almost EVERY new construction inspection to date. Often, even after noting the defects on a new construction closing inspection, the same defect will still exist, unrepaired by the builder 11 months later at the warranty inspection. That is why it is imperative as a homeowner that every 2-5 years you walk around your property and note any areas where the paint, or sealant may need to be repaired. Even the best quality, stretchiest caulk is going to crack eventually, replacing the damaged seal with a fresh bead of sealant is easier than you might think.
2. Poorly designed downspouts and drainage
Gutters and downspouts are an essential part of the moisture mitigation and the overall protection of the property from the elements. Homes with properly installed and functioning gutters and downspouts can effectively draw the rain water and additional weather elements away from the home’s environmental envelope and foundation. A well designed drainage system can reduce the potential for damage, high humidity, uncomfortable living environments, mold and biological growth and increase the life of the home.
One poor design for drainage that Inspector Jo see’s often in newly constructed homes are short roof terminations for upper story downspouts. When a downspout terminates on a roof deck, it is designed to dump gallons of water directly onto the shingles (or roofing material) installed. The problem is that shingles are not designed or such direct moisture exposure, shingles are NOT a waterproof material. Eventually with this design moisture finds its way underneath or between the singles near the short downspout and that moisture leads to damaged roof sheathing and framing underneath. Many builders are aware that this is a poor gutter design and not best building practices, but still continue to build houses this way.
Inspector Jo’s recommendation if you have a home with short roof downspouts is to extend the downspout to the ground if possible and terminate about 6-10 ft horizontally from the foundation, or if possible extend the downspout to terminate directly into a lower roof deck’s gutter system.
3. Loose Plumbing lines
To the average person reading a home inspection report, noting on loose or wobbly plumbing lines may seem a bit nitpicky. Sure, almost any older home owner will tell you they would love to reduce the loud sounds their pipes make when the washing machine or upstairs shower turns on, but is that really a deficiency or just a nuisance to residents? The truth is loose plumbing lines are not just a noise complaint, they can also lead to leaks in the plumbing, often those leaks are small, and located in areas that cannot be seen or monitored by residents, like inside the walls and behind the shower enclosure. Usually when there are loose plumbing lines in a home it is the result of plumbing repairs or poor DIY work, as there are codes and regulatory standards for properly securing plumbing to the framing during construction. When Jo finds loose or wobbly fixtures and piping in newly constructed homes that is a potential concern. Properly installed new construction water fixtures should have no movement as they are not “retrofitted” and were installed by licensed professionals who know the codes and regulations. Jo is quick to report loose and wobbly water fixtures, especially shower heads, at all properties, but especially at newly constructed homes as they may be an indication of other corners cut, or important steps missed by this builder throughout the home.
Inspector Jo’s recommendation if you have a home with loose of wobbly fixture plumbing is to secure the plumbing as much as possible. If it feasible to open up the wall and properly secure the pipe to the framing members, for example maybe under a sink or behind a toilet or from below in an unfinished basement this is the best solution. Opening up the wall would also allow you to view, and repair and potential damage from leaks. If you have a loose shower head with a tiled wall or a full shower enclosure, sometimes its feasible to open up the wall behind the shower and expose the plumbing from behind to secure.
4. No Education on Humidifiers
Many newly constructed homes in the Midwest have a built-in HVAC humidifier that is often controlled by a humidistat or thermostat. A humidifier can serve an important role in maintaining optimal indoor air quality and comfort in newly constructed houses, especially during the cooler winter months when the heating system can leave the interior air excessively dry. An HVAC humidifier adds moisture to the conditioned air and can help alleviate issues like dry skin, irritated nasal passages, and the annoyance of static electricity. In older homes with lots of wooded finishing, trim and elements and humidifier can also help prevent damage to furniture, trims, doors and finishes that might be susceptible to changing moisture and dry air.
Just like any system or component in a house, a humidifier does require some semi-annual maintenance in order to properly perform. Often at new construction inspections and 11 month warranty inspections, Jo discovers that the homeowner either did not know they had a humidifier, or did not know there was maintenance involved. Although homeowners are often pleasantly surprised to be told they have this extra part of their HVAC system, they generally respond with alarm when they realize that lack of regular maintenance may have exposed them and their families to mold, irritants or allergens.
A poorly maintained humidifier can have detrimental effects on both the air quality and the health of the residents within a home. A humidifier is generally used in the Winter when the air is dry and turned off in the Summer when the air is humid.
Before the heating season homeowners should typically 1. change out the humidifier filter (they get very calcified and gross in the off season), 2. Open the valve that feeds water to the system and 3. open the damper so that the HVAC can flow air through the system, past the wet filter and create moist air.
During the summer the HVAC system turns to cooling, where it begins to pull moisture from the air, so it is very inefficient to keep the humidifier on. Most systems are shut down for the summer, 1. The water valve is turned off 2. The damper is closed. When the damper to the unit is left open in the Summer, it allows air to pass through the humidifier system that is no longer in use, meaning the previously wet filter pad, this can lead to unhealthy particles, pathogens, and dust to enter the conditioned air space unfiltered.
Inspector Jo’s recommendation is regular maintenance of the humidifier system. However, home inspectors are aware of the “out of sight, out of mind” effect that occurs with home systems that the owner doesn’t regularly interact with. If your home has a humidifier and you’re a forgetful person like Jo, try setting a reminder to change the system over on your phone’s calendar. Or if you’re confident you’ll still never remember, it’s always better to have the system OFF and the damper CLOSED (summer setting) so that there is no risk of exposing the home’s residents to harmful air quality from a neglected filter.
5. Poorly Installed cabinetry
Recently Jo replaced the older particle board cabinets in their home with brand new modern “Rev-a-shelf” solid plywood shaker cabinets. The hefty price tag was hard to swallow, but the change in quality of material and ease of use was unparalleled. What was harder to understand as the homeowner was that the cost to install was almost half the cost of the cabinetry themselves, “isn’t it just a couple of screws”. There are actually a lot of factors that go into property cabinet installation; use the wrong fasteners and the top cabinets can come crashing down, don’t properly level the lower cabinets and that new granite countertop can crack and split within a year.
One thing Inspector Jo noted during this process when ordering her cabinets is that, even with high quality materials, not all pieces arrive unblemished from the supplier. A quality installer, like the company Jo hired, will note a cabinet door with a crack, or a cabinet drawer that seems to be coming unglued, before installing the unit and request a replacement piece so that your cabinets are 100% at final install. In Jo’s experience this happened, there was a large 54in tall cabinet door that spit at the corner before arriving at the job site. Our cabinetry company immediately notified us of the damage, and ordered a replacement, never installing the damaged piece, BUT we had to wait close to 2 months for the replacement piece to arrive and be installed. However, a builder that has a deadline to finish completing a home, may not have a couple months to wait for a replacement, or may not want to go through the hassle of arranging a replacement altogether. More often than not on new construction property, compared to smaller home remodeling projects, time is of the essence and so small details like, a poorly installed cabinet drawer or a cracked door front go unnoticed or ignored.
As a home inspector or Newly constructed homes, it’s Jo’s responsibility to speak on behalf of the house, not the closing deadline. In the kitchen and all the bathrooms Jo opens and closes every cabinet and drawer to ensure proper install, continued use and function, and in the case of New construction check for cosmetic blemishes and perform quality assurance. No new homeowner wants to watch a crack develop in their brand new granite countertops, they are supposed to last generations.
In conclusion, being aware of common mistakes found in new construction homes is essential for both homebuyers and builders alike.
By understanding these pitfalls, homeowners can take proactive measures to protect their investment and ensure a safe and durable living space. No matter how much you have confidence and trust in your new home’s builder, Inspector Jo recommends scheduling a pre-drywall inspection to allows for early identification of issues (even larger than those posed above), giving builders the opportunity to rectify them before they are later concealed. New Construction inspections before the Closing day of a new house can provide a comprehensive assessment of the finished home, ensuring that all components meet quality standards. Most important though are 11-month warranty inspections, as these inspections are often the last chance any new home owner has to bring up and address and mistakes of issues with the home’s construction. 11 month inspections, similarly to pre-closing inspections, help address any lingering concerns that potentially haven’t been adequately repaired and ensure that the builder has maintained best building practices throughout the entire process before the end of the builder’s labor warranty and responsibility for most materials and systems. By prioritizing these inspections, homeowners can have peace of mind, knowing that their new construction home is built to the highest standards and will provide them with a comfortable and worry-free living experience for years to come.
For more tips and tricks
about the home buying and home owning process, or to learn more about your friendly neighborhood female home inspector follow Jo on Social
What to expect when expecting a home inspection
Read this short blog about what to expect from a home inspection and what you can do to best prepare.
New Construction Inspections
Read this short blog about what to expect from New construction inspections and the different inspections available and recommended throughout the building process.
GET OUR EXPERT ADVICE