Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

Photos from New Construction Home Inspections, Part III

November 12th, 2013 | No comments

You’d be wasting your money if you hired a home inspector.  This is a brand new house that has been inspected dozens of times by the city of Perfectville, and they’re especially picky.  If there was anything wrong, they would have already caught it.”

Sound familiar?

This is the same line that most builders give to new home buyers while trying to talk them out of a home inspection.

New houses are never perfect.  Instead of discussing all of the ways that new construction homes get built improperly and things get botched, I’d like to share some photos I’ve taken at new construction homes over the past year.  We inspect a lot of new construction homes, and we find a lot of defects.  Some of these photos are similar to photos I’ve shared in the past, but none are the same.

Exterior

Is this safe?  Click on the photo to see a blowup.  You’ll see that the deck is about 30″ above grade, measured from the edge of the deck.

Exterior - Unsafe dropoff

Here in Minnesota, we’re still using the 2006 IRC for our building code, which allows the installation shown above, but what happens when the grade drops off right away?  The photo below shows the same deck.  As you can see, the grade drops away from the deck immediately, making a fall significantly more than 30″.  While this is arguably a code compliant inspection, home inspectors don’t inspect for code compliance; we get to make recommendations based on common sense.

Exterior - Unsafe dropoff 2

Common sense says this isn’t a safe installation, and as soon as Minnesota adopts the 2012 IRC, this won’t be a legal installation any more. The diagram below from CodeCheck shows what the 2009 and 2012 versions of the IRC require for guards at a deck.  If grade drops below 30″ measured 36″ out from the deck, a guard is required.  I told the new home buyer to install a guard for safety.

Guard requirement diagram

Here’s a terrible flashing detail at a new home in Plymouth.  Water runs down that piece of metal and into the trim board.  This will rot very quickly.

Exterior - this will blow up

Here’s a double whammy.  The composite siding on the left needs to be installed at least 6″ above grade, and the stone siding (adhered concrete masonry veneer) needs to be installed at least 4″ above grade.  These are basic requirements that come from the manufacturers.

Exterior - siding too close to grade

They say stone siding is the new stucco.  It’s details like this that makes people say this.  The head flashing should be thought of as the drain.  When it’s caulked, water can’t drain out.  This is a problem waiting to happen.

Exterior - Caulked head flashing

Builders typically don’t / won’t install gutters, but home inspectors recommend gutters at most homes.  It’s not just about wet basements and foundation problems; it’s also about protecting the exterior envelope of the home from water.

Exterior - grading

I wrote an entire blog post on water management at new construction homes earlier this year.  The photo below gives an excellent example of horrible water management at a gorgeous new construction home in Eden Prairie.  A ridiculous amount of roof water gets directed to that single downspout, and there’s no simple way to deal with this water.

Exterior - poor water management

I also wrote a blog post this year about connecting downspouts directly into yard drains; this is a bad practice that can lead to water backing up the downspout during the winter.

Exterior - downspout connected directly to yard drain

This handrail was installed too close to the guardrail; it needs to be at least 1-1/2″ away.  Do I go around measuring handrails?  Heck no… but if I grab the handrail and my knuckle hits something, it’s too close.  I measure it to document that it’s not installed properly.

Exterior - handrail too close to guard

Most new construction homes don’t come with decks, but decks can sometimes be added on by the builder for an additional fee.  In many cases, the fasteners are severely over-driven into the deck boards.  This will shorten the life of the deck boards.

Exterior - overdriven nails at deck 23

Exterior - overdriven nails at deck

There are also a lot of new construction homes with overdriven fasteners at the siding.

Exterior - overdriven nails at LP Smartside

Exterior - overdriven nails at LP Smartside 2

Thankfully, this isn’t a major defect; LP Smartside has a list of fixes right in their installation instructions.  Nevertheless, I’m always glad I’m not the one who has to go around fixing it.

Exterior - Repair diagram LP Smartside

Roofs

Overdriven nails is a common installation defect with new roofs.  When nails have blown through the shingles everywhere, it’s a defective installation.  If this just happens in a few places, it might be appropriate to re-nail the shingles.  When this happens everywhere, the appropriate repair would be to tear the entire roof covering off and start over.  I’ve seen this happen at a number of new-construction houses this year.

Roof - overdriven nails

Side note: Owens Corning has addressed this issue with the creation of SureNail® Shingles, which have a strip of fabric running through the nailing area to help make the shingles stronger and to help prevent improper nailing.  Milind just had these installed at his own house, and said it’s just about impossible to overdrive the nails.   These shingles seem like a great idea.

This new construction home in Maple Grove had several shingles missing at the back corner of the house.  It was a fairly steep two-story roof, so I never got close enough to the edge to figure out what went wrong with the installation.

Roof - missing shingles

Plumbing

This image shows a new construction house in Saint Louis Park that had a leaking shutoff valve inside the wall; the water was draining down the PEX tube and dripping onto the kitchen ceiling.  This was a lucky find; if I hadn’t been using my IR camera to scan the ceiling for a leaking shower, I never would have identified this leak.  Click on the photo for a large version.

Plumbing - leak identified with IR camera

The whirlpool tub pictured below apparently leaked a lot of water through the house a few hours before the inspection, and was being repaired when I arrived.

Tub leaked

The part that the builder didn’t know about was that the water traveled across the first floor ceiling, through an exterior wall, and down into the basement.  An infrared scan and a follow-up test with a moisture meter confirmed there was water in all these places.  Let’s hope it all got dried out.

Plumbing tub leak 3

Plumbing tub leak 2

Plumbing tub leak 1

Not all plumbing defects are so obvious; dishwashers need to be installed with a high loop at the drain to help prevent a potential cross-connection.  The dishwasher drain shown below doesn’t come close to being correct; the drain hose needs to be looped as high as possiblenot simply to the underside of the sink.

Plumbing - misisng high loop at dishwasher drain

It’s common to have a bath tub access panels with just drywall behind it, but this particular access panel, disguised as a return register, was hiding a comically undersized access hole for the tub.

Plumbing - comically small bath tub access panel

Electrical

There aren’t a lot of electrical defects at new construction homes, but they do exist.  Last year I blogged about how chandeliers above bath tubs are a no-no.  This no-no zone extends 3′ out from the tub.  The chandelier shown below was about 20″ away from the tub, measured horizontally.  Too close.

Electrical - chandelier too close to tub

This next image shows the electrical disconnect for an air conditioner along with some information printed on the air conditioner, stating the minimum ampacity of the conductors is 31.9 amps.  The orange cable coming into the box has 10 gauge conductors, which are good for up to 30 amps.  No more.

Electrical - undersized conductors for AC

A fairly common defect with new construction homes is a main electric panel improperly recessed into the wall.  With combustible construction (wood framing), the main panel needs to be installed flush with the wall.  It shouldn’t be recessed at all.

Electrical - panelboard recessed

Here’s a surprising defect; someone forgot to install a cable clamp where the cable entered the panel.  This is done with ‘handyman’ wiring all the time, but was a surprising defect to find on a new construction home.

Electrical - missing connector

HVAC

Gaps in ductwork all over the place.  All the time.

HVAC - sloppy ductwork

In last week’s blog post I discussed how to check the temperature rise on a furnace.  Of course, I don’t do this at every inspection, but if I put my hand on the supply plenum and it feels too hot, I’ll check.  In the photo below, this brand new furnace had a temperature rise of nearly 110 degrees, while the specs called for a max rise of 70 degrees.  Let me remind you, this installation had already been inspected and approved.

HVAC - high deltaT

I don’t know what the problem was with this hood fan, but the damper didn’t open for the fan at the exterior.  We find these types of defects because we start our inspection by turning on all of the exhaust fans, then we head outside and make sure they’re working as we inspect the exterior.

HVAC - problem with hood fan

This gas fireplace was leaking exhaust gases back into the home, and those exhaust gases had a high level of carbon monoxide.  Scary stuff for a new installation that’s already been inspected and approved, dontcha think?

HVAC - leaking gas fireplace 2

It’s fairly common to have a brand new furnace that leaks condensate from a loose connection inside the upper cabinet.

HVAC - leaking condensate (2)

Here’s a brand new HRV that wasn’t balanced.  If it had been balanced, the dampers would have been screwed into place.

HVAC - HRV not balanced


Here’s a super easy one.  That lower white pipe in the photo below is the combustion air inlet for the furnace; if it gets blocked, the furnace won’t run.  Can you guess what’s wrong with this installation?  I’ll have the answer at the end of this post.

HVAC - combustion air inlet too close to grade

Framing

If you’re having a new home built and you make any framing changes to the original plans, beware of hack modifications.  The photos below come from a pre-drywall inspection I did earlier this year where a big beam had to be moved, and it wasn’t done properly.

Framing - Kludge 2

Here’s another photo from the same house.  There’s no way that beam is supposed to be hanging from that truss.

Framing - kludge

Damaged and broken trusses will sometimes show up in hard-to-access attic spaces.

Attic - damaged truss

Attic - damaged truss 3

Attic - damaged truss 2

Attics

As I mentioned in a blog post at the beginning of the year titled “Who Inspected Your Attic?“, the vast majority of attics never get inspected after the insulation is installed.  The insulation installer simply leaves a certificate that says the insulation was installed to code, and the building official signs off on it.  That orange mark on my yardstick shows what the insulation depth was supposed to be.

Attic - insufficient insulation

I find insufficient insulation at roughly three out of four new construction houses that I inspect, probably more.

Here’s an unexplained void in the garage insulation.

Attic - insulation void

Here’s an easily explained void in the insulation: the wind wash barrier blew out of place, so wind blew into the attic and pushed the insulation out of the way.

Wind wash barrier blown out

Here’s a photo from a different new construction home where the wind wash barrier was blown out of place in the garage. The garage attic was also supposed to have been insulated, according to the buyer.

Wind wash barrier blown out

Plan Review?

Here’s a fun one that probably shouldn’t have made it past plan review… but it did.  It made it past all of the inspections.  Take a look at the blueprints showing the square footage for this bedroom, then look at the size of the window.  See any problems?

Interior Design

Here’s the issue: the text at the top of the drawing, “3050 SH”, indicates a 3′ 0″ x 5′ 0″ single hung window.  Just for the sake of argument, let’s say the window has a glazed area of 36″ x 60″ (it’s actually less).  That would be 2160 square inches, or about 15 square feet of glazed area.  The minimum required glazed area for a bedroom is 8% of the floor area (R303.1).  That would be acceptable for a window having up to 187.5 sf.  While the finished size of this bedroom is less than 256 square feet, it’s obviously much more than 187.5 sf.

In other words, this bedroom is missing a window.  Oops!

Finally, to come back to that photo of the furnace inlet installed 4″ – 5″ above the ground, the issue is that it could get blocked with snow.  If it gets blocked, the furnace won’t run.  It’s supposed to terminate at least 12″ above the highest anticipated snow level, according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions.

That’s enough photos for this year.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty more next year.

If you’re going to purchase a new construction home, hire a private home inspector to inspect it.  If you’ve already purchased a new construction home and you’re still within your one-year warranty period but you didn’t hire a home inspector before you purchased, hire a home inspector to perform a one-year warranty inspection.

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Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

          

Photos From New Construction Inspections

November 2nd, 2010 | 13 comments

If you’re buying a new construction home, get it inspected by a private home inspector.

I could wax on and on about how important home inspections are for new construction, especially if the builder tells you that a private home inspection isn’t necessary, but I’ve found that photos are far more convincing than anything I could say.  I took all of the photos below at homes in Minnesota that were either new construction or only a couple years old; the issues that you’re seeing are all ‘original’ issues; they weren’t created after the homes passed their final inspections by the city.

Click on any of the photos for a larger version.

Roofs

The first thing that I typically inspect is the roof lines – I start doing this as I drive up to a house.  When valleys dump next to a wall, or even worse, in to the back side of brick veneer siding, you’re asking for trouble.  These roofs are designed to fail.

Roof lines 2

Roof lines 3

Roof lines 41

Roof lines 1

I took the photo above at a house that was almost ten years old.  Thankfully there was a small portion of unfinished basement where I was able to pull the fiberglass insulation away from the rim space to confirm my suspicions; this had been leaking for a long time.  I really wanted to know what it looked like behind the siding… but my home inspections aren’t invasive or destructive so I couldn’t get all ‘Mike Holmes’ on them.

Roof lines damage

Decks

I’ve written several blogs about deck construction defects, but unfortunately handy homeowners and weekend warriors don’t have the market cornered when it comes to shoddy workmanship.  Yes, I find plenty of deck defects even on new construction.

The most common deck defect that I find is improper nails used on joist hangers.  The nail I’m holding in the photo below isn’t even half as long as it should be.  I seem to find this defect at just about every other deck inspection.

Decks - joist hanger nails

When special / non-standard joist hangers are needed, there’s about a 20% chance that the installer will use whatever happens to be in their truck.  In other words, this is usually done right, but I still find a lot that are done wrong.  The joist hangers shown below were the wrong ones for the job and won’t hold what they’re supposed to.

Decks - joist hangers 2

Decks - joist hangers

Stairway stringers seem to be a hard thing to cut.

Decks - Steps

Deck stairways aren’t difficult to attach properly, but some people sure make it look difficult.  Those long metal straps shown below are certainly not holding this stairway up.

Decks - Steps2

In the next two photos, the deck stairway is attached to a piece of siding trim with deck screws. This is ridiculously wrong.  Yikes.

Decks - steps3

Decks - steps31

Electrical

I don’t find a lot of electrical defects on new houses, but I do find them.  In the next two photos below, there are double tapped circuit breakers and double tapped neutral wires.  These breakers aren’t designed to be double tapped, and neutral wires are never allowed to be double tapped.  I honestly think the electrical inspectors never even looked inside these panels, because these are blatant violations.  By the way, these weren’t at the same properties.

Electrical - double tapped breakers

Electrical - double tapped neutrals

This next violation was more comical than anything else; it’s no big deal, but someone obviously missed a day of training.

Electrical - wrong low voltage tap

Plumbing

There are two common defects that I find on new construction houses all the time – one is test plugs or test caps still in place at the plumbing vents.  Test caps need to be installed at plumbing vents so the drain, waste and vent system can be pressure tested.  After the pressure test is done, someone needs to get up on the roof and get rid of the caps or plugs, but this is often forgotten about.  This effectively disables the vents.

Plumbing - knockout in place

The other plumbing issue that I find all the time with new construction houses is missing access panels for bath tubs.  Either there is just no access provided, or someone installs a panel but never puts a hole in the wall.  I always chuckle when I remove an access panel and there is nothing behind it… but I’m no longer surprised.

Plumbing - missing access panel

HVAC

I find a lot of the same HVAC installation defects over and over.  In the photo below, the AC units should have been at least 24″ from each other.  Let me remind you… this is new construction, and these installations have already passed the city inspections.

HVAC - AC units too close

Venting for high efficiency furnaces gets installed improperly all the time.  I often find installation manuals that have never been opened.  In the photo below, the vent terminals for the furnace were installed wrong; the diagram below the photo came right out of the installation manual.

HVAC - wrong vent terminals
HVAC - wrong vent terminals 2

Any time the vent passes through an unconditioned space, it needs to be insulated.  This doesn’t always happen.  By the way, I read installation manuals.

HVAC - missing insulation on vent

HVAC - missing insulation on vent 2

Powervent water heaters have a huge list of things on the outside of the house that they can’t terminate too close to; in the photo below, the vent terminates way too close to the gas meter.

HVAC - wrong vent terminal 3
HVAC - water heater vent terminal diagram

Heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) have their own required clearances – for instance, the intake and exhaust need to be located at least six feet from each other.  The HRV shown below has the intake and exhaust with about four feet of separation.

HVAC - HRV clearances

Most HRVs need to be balanced when they’re installed; if there are no screws present to lock the dampers in place, it hasn’t been balanced or someone wasted their time balancing it and it needs to be done again.

HVAC - HRV not balanced

Structure

Most structural problems manifest themselves years down the road from latent defects, but sometimes they’re obvious.  In the photo below, someone took a sizable notch out of one of the beams.  If this was part of the original plans, great… but I’d bet anything it wasn’t.

Framing - notched beam

Remember how I said that the wrong hangers are often used on decks because installers just don’t have the proper hangers with them?  Sometimes this happens inside the house too.

Framing - wrong hanger

This next photo is one of my favorites; someone bent the heck out of this stairway stringer bracket and used it on a floor joist.   Just in case you needed a reminder, this is new construction.  Big, reputable builders.

Framing - torn hanger

Attics

As I’ve said in previous blogs, attics should always be inspected, whether the attic access panel has been ‘sprayed shut’ or not.    In the photo below, the roof vents weren’t properly lined up with the holes in the roof sheathing, which significantly reduces the total amount of attic ventilation.

Attics - bad hole for roof vent

In the next photo, they completely forgot to install a roof vent; I’m glad I didn’t put my foot through.

Attics - missing roof vent

Broken truss chord – I’m guessing too many bundles of shingles were unloaded in one place.  I can’t be too critical of this because I’ve done it myself,  but the big difference for me is that I fixed it after I broke it.

Attics - broken truss chord 2

Same thing, different house.

Attics - Broken truss chord

This photo below shows a disconnected duct from a bathroom exhaust fan; just think about how much moisture would get pumped in to that attic over the years if it never got fixed.

Attics - loose bath fan duct

When truss manufacturers put green stickers on every truss saying “Permanent Lateral Bracing Required”, I expect to see permanent lateral bracing installed.  This new construction house didn’t have any.

Attics - permanent lateral bracing required

Finally, here’s one of my favorites.  I took this photo at a five-year-old townhouse that had two separate attic areas.  One was insulated, one wasn’t.  Wow.

Attics - missing insulation

I have a lot more photos that I could share, but hopefully I’ve made my point; just because a home is new doesn’t mean it’s right.  If you’re buying a home, get a home inspection.  It doesn’t matter if the house is new or not.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email – Minneapolis Home Inspections

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New Construction Inspections

January 17th, 2009 | 4 comments

One of the most common myths related to new home construction is that new homes don’t need to be inspected.  I personally know several people that have purchased new homes and didn’t have them inspected because they were ‘new’.   I’ve seen far too many problems on new construction homes to think that they’re not worth first inspecting, regardless of the builder.

One common myth that builders will sometimes tell buyers is that the home has already been inspected many times by the city as part of the permit process, so the buyer is wasting their money hiring a private inspector.  While there may have been many brief inspections performed by the city along the way, things still get missed every day.  Did you know that unless a ladder is provided at the site for the city inspector, they won’t even get up on the roof to inspect it?  It’s actually common practice for roofers to leave a few photos for the building inspector to look at to sign off on the roof.  The photos below show a hole in the roof of a new construction townhouse that I recently evaluated, and the builder was a reputable, well known builder that you’ve definitely heard of.  The builder had actually tried to talk the client out of getting a home inspection.

Another myth is that because a home is new, there won’t be problems.  While new homes don’t have the same types of problems as old homes (such as components reaching the end of their life expectancy), they can still have serious issues, typically related to improper building and installation methods.  These are the types of issues that an average homeowner will know much less about; it’s easy to look at cracks in a foundation or rust in a furnace and know there’s an issue, but it’s impossible to identify installation defects without knowledge of building, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical codes.  While a private inspection is certainly not a code compliance inspection, an excellent home inspector will be aware of code requirements , and will be looking for any problems.

Below are a few photos of problems I’ve found at new construction homes, or homes that were relatively new.  Remember, these were built by big, reputable builders.

This window was on a second story, and I suspect it had been dropped before being installed.

Cracked Window, taken at an inspection in Rogers

The two photos below show a whole house fan that was supposed to be exhausting to the exterior; the bottom photo shows the wall that the fan should be exhausting to.  Obviously, the person installing the siding went a little too fast.

Exhaust duct in attic Improper duct termination.

These photos show where a roofer was going too fast – they forgot to install the damper for the bath fan exhaust, so there was just a hole in the roof.

Clean roof at a Burnsville townhouse Missing damper on Burnsville townhouse roof

This photo shows the heat duct and the exhaust opening for the HRV, located right next to each other in a basement bathroom (one supplies air, one sucks air out).

Heat register and HRV exhaust located right next to each other

I can’t tell you how many plumbing vents I’ve seen with knockout plugs still in place. These are supposed to be removed after the final plumbing inspection, but it’s commonly forgotten about.  This means that the plumbing fixtures are not vented.

The knockout at this plumbing vent was never knocked out

Many, many, many air conditioners get installed with the wrong size circuit breakers.  Note the text on the label for the AC that reads in all caps “MAX FUSE OR MAX CKT. BKR. – 20″  The 30 amp breaker is what fed the AC unit.

AC rating lable - max fuse is 20 amps

30 Amp Circuit Breaker

I could go on and on with these photos, but hopefully I’ve made my point; new homes need home inspections too!

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – EmailMinneapolis Home Inspections

POST EDIT, 5/17/09: For a great post on why new construction should be inspected, visit http://dallashomeinspectionblog.com/archives/23