“It’s a new house… why would I need to hire a home inspector?” It is hard not to smile when we hear someone ask that question. We perform hundreds of new construction inspections each year for buyers all over North Atlanta. Here are what we have found to be the most common problems with new homes.
1. Roof Defects
The Problem: You may be tempted to think, “What could be wrong with a brand new roof?” The short answer: “Everything!” It is important to understand that no one ever checks a roof on new construction. The builder/superintendent will not get on a roof and county/city inspectors typically will not touch a ladder. This means that roofing subcontractors get away with shoddy work most of the time. It is very rare for us to inspect a new construction roof and not find at least some of the following:
- Damaged shingles (usually caused by painters, masons, etc. setting their ladders on porch roofs and poking holes in the shingles)
- Lifted shingles (caused by air compressor getting low on air and the roofer not taking time for it to catch up… this leaves nails sticking out of the roof decking lifting shingles up)
- Holes in shingles from siding scaffolding (siding contractors typically nail through the already installed roof when they put up their scaffolding)
- Holes in shingles from “toe boards” (contractors will often nail a 2×4 toe board to the roof to stand on or set a ladder on).
- Shingles hanging too far over rake/fascia (most shingle manufacturer’s allow a maximum overhang of 1″ – we regularly see up to 3″ overhang. This can subject shingles to wind damage.)
Why It Matters: It may seem obvious but defects with roof coverings can result in leaks and storm damage. The problem is that leaks can take several months or even several years to show up. It is not uncommon for us to inspect a 10-year-old house and find extensive roof damage from holes in shingles that were caused by sub-contractors at the time of construction. What should have been the builder’s responsibility to fix has now become a burden to the seller.
The Code: International Residential Code R903.1, Roof assemblies shall be designed and installed in accordance with this code and the approved manufacturer’s instructions such that the roof assembly shall serve to protect the building or structure.
2. Damaged Roof Trusses
The Problem: Roof trusses are pre-fabricated in a factory and dropped at the job site. They are then lifted into place with a crane and secured by the framing crew. We often tell our inspectors, “Always assume there is at least one broken roof truss – its your job to find it. The trusses are usually broken when they are dumped off the truck into a pile on the ground or when they are being lifted into place by the crane. Damage to a roof truss can compromise its ability to hold up the roof.
Why It Matters: Whenever you purchase a house it is always prudent to think down the road to the time when you will sell that house. We regularly inspect houses that are anywhere from 5-25 years old only to find trusses that were damaged at the time of construction. This is now the seller’s problem to address and they are usually the one’s who end up paying for an engineer and the repairs.
The Code: International Residential Code R802.10.4, Truss members shall not be cut, notched, drilled, spliced or otherwise altered in any way without the approval of a registered design professional [i.e., engineer].
3. Improper Grading
The Problem: If the dirt around the house does not direct rain water away from the house then this can cause some serious problems. Unfortunately, pooling water and negative grading (grade sloping back toward the house) are some of the most common code violations we see.
Why It Matters: Water is your home’s worst enemy. Moisture pooling against a foundation will eventually find a way inside. Proper grading, combined with adequate gutters and downspout extensions will be your first line of defense against a wet basement.
The Code: International Residential Code R401.3, Lots shall be graded to drain surface water away from foundation walls. The grade shall fall not fewer than 6 inches within the first 10 feet.
4. Defective/Missing Flashing
The Problem: Missing or defective flashing over windows, doors, or roof sections can cause significant water damage. We have been involved in multiple cases where a missing $2 piece of kick out flashing has caused $20,000-30,000 worth of water damage. Even though kick out flashings are required by code, this seems to be a code that few municipalities enforce. It is rare for us to ever find a properly installed kick out flashing on a brand new house.
Why It Matters: See the photo above!
International Residential Code R905.2.8.3: Base flashing against a vertical sidewall shall be continuous or step flashing and shall be not less than 4 inches in height and 4 inches in width and shall direct water away from the vertical sidewall onto the roof or into the gutter.
5. Improperly Installed Siding
The Problem: Adhered manufactured stone has become very popular because it is relatively cheap, easy to install, and provides nice texture/design. This type of siding is installed on tens of thousands of houses around the Atlanta area but unfortunately, we have never seen it installed properly. Common code violations include improper clearance requirements above the ground or roof, missing weep screed (flashing to allow moisture drainage), and improper detailing around windows or doors. It has been our experience that most local municipalities do not enforce code requirements on siding, and that is particularly true with adhered stone.
Why It Matters: Since adhered stone is basically “lumpy stucco,” improper clearance requirements can create paths for termites to access the walls and improper detailing can lead to moisture problems over time.
International Residential Code R703.12.1:
On exterior stud walls, adhered masonry veneer shall be installed:
1. Minimum of 4″ above the earth;
2. Minimum of 2″ above paved areas
International Residential Code R703.12.2: A corrosion-resistant weep screed or flashing… shall be installed to extend a minimum of 1″ below the foundation plate line on exterior stud walls.
These common code violations demonstrate why it is so important to obtain a private inspection on a new construction home. It is even more important however, to make sure you find a home inspector who is certified on building codes. Every inspector will claim they can inspect new construction, but only around 15% of private home inspectors in the Atlanta area are actually code certified and thereby qualified to inspect new construction. Be sure to ask if the inspector is ICC Certified and ask for proof of their qualifications prior to the inspection.
John Battaglia is a Code Certified Master Inspector, a building code instructor for the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and the Georgia Association of Home Inspectors, and the owner of At Ease Inspections.