In fact, if you bring up the word “contractor” at any cocktail party, everyone has a horror story to tell. If you’re having a home built, you start to wonder, “Who’s watching the construction of my home? Who makes sure it’s built right?”
Most new homeowners I talk to say, “Well, isn’t the local building inspector taking care of that?” Yes, to some extent they make sure the house is built right – but only from a building code standpoint.
Remember that the building codes are minimum standards your builder must follow. For example, the code says that a bathroom exhaust fan must provide a given number of air changes per hour for a given size of bathroom. The code doesn’t care how noisy the exhaust fan is.
The codes cover design criteria that are intended to keep your house from failing structurally. Codes also emphasize life safety issues, to protect you if you are not smart enough to know that you shouldn’t use your hair dryer in the bathtub.
It’s what the building inspector does NOT inspect that you should be concerned about. Rarely do they climb onto your roof to see that the roofing shingles are installed properly to prevent them from blowing off in the first wind storm. I don’t recall ever seeing any local code inspector check to see that the tile around your shower has a moisture barrier to prevent mold problems later.
If the building inspector is not watching your house construction, then your builder must take responsibility for the other 10,000 opportunities to build things right (or wrong). Many of the biggest builders in the country have internal inspection systems to ensure their homes are built right, but many do not. Some builders use third-party inspection organizations to check some of the structural items that the code inspector does not check.
Chances are, your new house was not inspected to the extent that you will be satisfied. What can you do?
The number one solution is to educate yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions if it looks like something is not right. One of the easiest ways to do this is to get copies of the installation instructions from the manufacturer of the products being installed on your house. Many are available on the Internet at the manufacturer’s Web site.
Another way you can protect your investment is to hire an independent inspector to periodically check the work in progress. This can be expensive, but it’s a bargain compared to what lawyers working on the problems that occur later may have to charge per hour. Check out the inspector’s qualifications; some home inspectors may be knowledgeable about new construction but may lack the experience needed to do a thorough examination.
People often hire inspectors after the house is built, just before they close on the sale. Houses must be inspected as they are built. Most inspection people are hired too late in the process, when the most important things are covered up or are difficult to fix.
Ask your builder if he uses an independent inspector. How often and at what milestones does he inspect the home? Are there inspection reports available for you to see?
Homeowner beware: don’t assume that your home is being built right. Take control of the outcome by educating yourself about construction practices and making sure your new home gets the quality focus you paid for.