When you buy something you really want and need, like a brand new refrigerator, lawn mower, or car, you expect it to be in perfect condition. We naturally bring the same train of thought to the purchase of a recently built home. Everything about the new home is shiny and fresh, from the smell of freshly applied paint to the feel of the newly installed carpets. However, many new homes have problems starting the day a developer hands over the keys at closing.
Bob and his family, recent clients of mine, bought a beautiful new home in a great area from a reputable builder. At the start of my inspection at 9AM, the inside of the house was cool and comfortable. Yet three hours later, when it reached 90 degrees outside, the house was close to 80 degrees inside, even with both air conditioning units running. As a larger home, it had a smaller A/C system for the north side of the house and a larger A/C system for both the center and south side. The smaller sized unit was cooling very well, but the larger unit was barely cooling the air at all. I was perplexed since the thermostats were good, the ductwork was good, the condensers and air handlers were running well. Since I am not a licensed HVAC (heating ventilating and air conditioning) contractor, and I do not perform repairs, I recommended to Bob that he hire a professional to thoroughly diagnose the problem.
Before the end of the day, Bob called and to tell me they hired a contractor to check the A/C systems. He said to me “Greg, you won’t believe this. The original installers connected the small A/C condenser to the larger air handler and vice-versa. Can you believe that?”
All buyers of new homes should hire a professional to inspect their house well before the closing date. It is very common for problems to exist in new homes, especially “spec built” homes. (A “spec” home is built by and under the control of a developer for the expressed purpose of selling it for a profit – thus built on speculation that a buyer will be found.)
The issue is not that builders conspire to build problematic homes, but rather, profit is their primary objective; so all their decisions and efforts are based on maximizing that goal. Therefore, they hire sub-contractors with the cheapest bid, often with no specifications for what the contractor is to do, how they are to do it, or what level of quality shall be used for materials and components. All sub-contractors want to make the largest profit possible too. So, in turn, they use the cheapest components, hire the cheapest workers (some with no training), and they spend a minimal amount of time on the job. Although code inspections are required, typically, there is no thorough quality audit or inspection by a developer after a sub-contractor finishes their work.
Common problems I find in new homes include: hot and cold water faucets reversed, windows that do not close or lock, interior hollow doors used for garage access doors where fire rated doors are required, poorly installed flashing on roofs, no drip pans or proper drains for water heaters, improperly sized circuit breakers, missing electrical disconnects, attics with exposed electrical wires, cut trusses, poor ventilation, and A/C drip pans with no drain pipe.
Whether you are about to buy or whether you recently moved into a new home, hire a professional to perform a thorough inspector before your warranty period ends typically one year). That way you can find and correct issues the builder must fix before you have to pay for them yourself, and before you may try to sell the home a few years down the road.
Greg Bertaux PE, CIEC.
Copyright 2015, PRIME Engineering & Environmental Building Services