New home-build quality standards are slipping — and how you can protect yourself

May 23, 2017

I am going to depart this week from my normal question-and-answer format to tackle a long overdue topic.

I’ve been writing this column for more than 23 years. It was my original goal to help you get the most for your money when you hire a remodeling contractor or a builder to make your housing dreams come true.

Over the years this goal has been distilled to a simple sentence that’s at the bottom of my free newsletter: Do It Right, Not Over! Sadly, as each week passes, I feel like I’m pushing a large boulder up a mountain.

I say this based on what I see with my own eyes and in the vast amount of email and comments I receive each day at and on my YouTube videos.

It’s painfully obvious that you and millions of other homeowners need a quality-control checklist before you start a project. This checklist would allow you to understand what needs to be done so you don’t have to do things over, wasting your valuable money and time.

In the New Hampshire town where I live, a new house is being built. I pass it all the time going to and from town. I decided to stop by as often as possible to take photos and monitor the progress. What I see every time I stop shocks me.

The day the subcontractor poured the footing, I was there. The footing of a home is perhaps the most critical aspect of its construction. The foundation rests on the footing. The footing is in direct contact with the soil underneath, and it must be strong. It needs to have reinforcing steel in it. Period.

Not wanting to bother the workers as the concrete flowed down the chute into the trenches, I marveled at the lack of reinforcing steel in the footing. I was taking photos and at one point one of the workers asked who I was and what I was doing. Once he discovered I was not a threat, I asked him why there was no steel in the footing. “Oh, the builder didn’t want to spend the money for it.”

As the weeks have progressed, more and more mistakes and poor quality issues have blossomed at the house. One of the biggest was allowing the insulation and drywall contractors to proceed with their work while the outside of the house was not weatherproof.

Here in the Northeast we can get howling nor’easters in the winter. Most are usually blowing snow, but it’s possible to have a violent wind-driven rain in the late winter. It happened here just weeks ago. All winter long the house sat with no siding on it.

The house had a patchwork of air and water infiltration barrier fabric on it. The rough carpenter put a piece of it on each wall as he built them on the floor and tilted them up. He never took the time to apply the special tape to seal the seams. There were some places where bare oriented strand board sheathing (OSB) was exposed with no waterproof covering.

His actual method of installing it was wrong, as the air- and water-barrier product is meant to be applied as one full piece as you’d wrap a birthday present. Just as you end up with just one seam on the underside of a gift box, you should just end up with one seam of barrier product on the wall that is least exposed to the prevailing wind.

I have no idea how much wind-driven rain penetrated into the walls, soaking the insulation, but I’m sure some did. It’s unacceptable to allow this to happen. I’d debate that to my dying breath with any other builder.

Last week, the siding contractor finally started to work on this house. It was my hope he’d fix the rough carpenter’s mistakes. Alas, he didn’t. He started to put up his vinyl siding right over the bare OSB and untaped air and water barrier.
Here’s my rhetorical question of the day: Did the siding contractor even know he was covering up bad workmanship, or did he know and not care? A yes to either question is egregious and representative of an epidemic of poor quality that appears to be the new normal.

Oh, I hear you saying: “But, Tim, what about the building inspectors and the building code? Won’t those two things protect me and my investment?” No. In many locations, including many towns in New Hampshire, there are no building inspections.

It gets worse. The building code is a set of minimum standards. If you build a house to code it’s like getting 70 percent on a test. It means you pass by the skin of your teeth. You can build many things with little additional cost and greatly exceed the standards in the building code.

I’ve put together a basic new home quality control checklist you can get at my website free. It can be used on room addition projects and many other projects around your home. I hope it helps you Do It Right, Not Over!

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