The Stages of Construction - When to Inspect

In my experience, at many home inspections of re-sale properties, and after reciting the litany of problems with the home to the dismayed client, I have heard well intentioned Agents comment, "If you want a perfect home you'll have to go buy a new one!" This is when I usually jump back into the conversation and politely, but strongly disagree. I tell the client that we frequently find more problems with new construction than with older homes. With re-sale homes there has been a time frame of actual performance to evaluate, as opposed to new construction where the home has not been put through years of "testing" and correction. Now, don't misunderstand me, I'm not promoting re-sale properties as superior to new construction. I'm just saying that new construction has the potential to contain many deficiencies that may take years to surface, and are rarely "perfect".

There are many reasons for imperfection in new construction, but that is not the topic of this article. The purpose here is to identify the key "stages" of construction and opportunities for having private inspections in order to promote quality control. Most residential construction projects can be broken down into 5 stages:

  1. Foundation

  2. Framing

  3. Rough Plumbing, Mechanical & Electrical

  4. Insulation and Drywall

  5. Paint, Trim, Finishes
  1. Foundation Stage - This includes excavation, footings, foundation walls (or slab), waterproofing, backfill and compaction, and underground plumbing. Municipal inspections are typically performed on the foundation (prior to pouring) and underground plumbing. In some areas an engineer can inspect and sign off on the foundation in lieu of municipal inspection.

  2. Framing Stage - This includes wood or steel framing, exterior wall and roof sheathing, exterior trim and siding (and/or stucco/brick), windows and exterior doors, and roofing. Municipal inspections are typically performed on the rough framing. Some municipalities inspect the roofing.

  3. Rough Plumbing, Mechanical, Electrical Stage - This includes water and waste/vent piping, plus setting of the water heater; ductwork, venting and furnace installation; wiring and electrical panel installation. Municipal inspections are typically performed on all three.

  4. Insulation and Drywall Stage - This includes wall insulation, (but not attic insulation at this time), drywall installation, tape and texture. This stage cannot begin till the rough stage inspections are passed. Many municipalities do not inspect the insulation but rely on the contractors "certification" of installation. Many municipalities have a drywall nail/screw inspection prior to tape and texture.

  5. Paint, Trim, Finishes Stage - This includes finished flooring, cabinets, countertops, wall tile, mirrors, shower doors, final electrical (including fixtures), final plumbing (including fixtures), and final mechanical. Municipal inspections are performed on the final electrical, plumbing, and mechanical. When these inspections are passed, the municipality then typically performs a "Final Inspection." I usually call this a "FINAL-final inspection" to avoid confusion. Based on this "Final" inspection the Certificate of Occupancy (CO) is typical issued.

So with all these inspections by the municipality, why on earth would a buyer need inspections by a private Home Inspector? After all, doesn't the municipality sign-off mean that the home is up to code and that there are no problems? This is EXACTLY what the builder would like you to think! The builder would also like you to believe that any problems that arise after closing will be promptly dealt with during the warranty period!

Here are some builder excuses I repeatedly hear:

"We build it that way on purpose."

"It meets the industry standard and that's all we have to do."

"The City passed it so we don't have to do anything about it."

"If we do it for you, we'll have to do it for everybody else too."

"That would have been an upgrade; what you got was standard."

"The City inspections are there to guarantee that everything is done right, so you don't need your own inspector."

"We'll take care of that during the warranty period."

"You didn't catch that on the walk-through, so we don't have to fix it now."

"That's routine homeowner maintenance, not our responsibility."

There are many more, but you get the picture. The fact of the matter is that the municipal inspections are there to determine code conformance, but the inspector obviously cannot see or check everything. The municipal inspector is typically overwhelmed with all the inspections to be done in a day and therefore cannot spend much time at each home. Each municipal inspector has his/her own "pet peeve" items that are closely checked for, but the rest get a cursory review at best. Smart superintendents soon learn each inspector's "pet peeve" items and make sure those are taken care of prior to calling for inspection, and frequently get signed off when other issues are overlooked. The Code does state that the purpose of the plan review and inspection process is to "ensure the life, health, safety, and welfare of the public" but in actuality the builder is ultimately responsible for self-enforcement of code conformance, even if the inspector misses something. Besides, something may pass code but still be poorly (or even improperly) done.

So, what's a buyer to do? I recommend that buyers of new construction homes have periodic inspections during construction by their own Inspectors. And I don't just say that to drum up business for inspectors! It is a sad fact of life that many, MANY issues slip by the superintendent and municipality inspector. You have more leverage to get action from the builder PRIOR to closing than during the warranty period. Some issues are discoverable by a good inspector prior to being covered up with drywall, but if not discovered they may not manifest into actual problems till after the warranty has expired. In short, you need your own inspector to discover the issues and then you have much more leverage with the builder to get things corrected if you have an expert on your side and report in your hand.

Inspections are recommended at the conclusion of each of the above described stages, prior to the start of the next stage. The final inspection by your personal inspector should occur just before your pre-closing "walk-thru" so the home will be complete (or as near as possible) and you will be armed with the information you need for the walk-thru.

Martin Morgan
All Bay Home Inspection, Inc.

 

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