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It’s what you’ve been waiting and saving for: it’s time to buy a house! You’re leaning toward a new construction build, not only because you want to have a custom home crafted as you desire, but you’ve also heard that new construction properties don’t have as many problems as existing ones … Right? Well, not exactly.
In fact, according to a review of 10,000 structural claims presented to the National Association of Homebuilders by veteran risk manager Will Keaveny, 25% of all homes in the U.S. will suffer some type of structural defect in their lifetime — and that’s just one type of defect!
Here are 17 important new house construction problems for which all buyers should be on the lookout.
1. Incorrectly applied siding
If stucco isn’t applied correctly, it might flake or “spall” off; you also might see cracks at window and door corners.
As for wood siding, it might be wavy or cracked; it might also swell from moisture intrusion.
Be sure to look at the wood siding where it meets trim around windows and doors, and the trim itself, to see if any of these issues have developed.
2. Gaps and cracks in decks and patios
Another issue that you might see in a new build: gaps and cracks in the outdoor flooring areas around the home and in the garage.
Check where the deck or patio connects to the house; there shouldn’t be a big gap in between the house and the platform. Additionally, look for any cracks or gaps in the deck and outdoor stair railings, walking surfaces (such as driveways and sidewalks), and garage floors.
Cracks in concrete could indicate a soil problem or improper installation of the concrete. Gaps in between fixtures such as doors, hose bibs, pipes, or windows can signal a problem with water intrusion.
3. Cracks in sidewalks and driveways
Cracks in concrete could indicate a soil problem or improper installation of the concrete. What many might not know is that concrete actually expands and contracts depending upon changes in the weather, specifically the temperature. When concrete sidewalks and driveways are poured as one big slab, expansion and contraction can cause cracks and breakage.
4. Grading and drainage issues
Another thing you’ll want to do is check to make sure that water drains away from your home (not toward the structure), and that your gutters are set up to direct water away from your foundation. Many issues with moisture in basements and crawl spaces are the result of improper grading issues.
- Metal, vinyl, and wood siding should be placed a minimum of six inches above soil level.
- There should be a slope guiding water approximately four inches away from the house.
Even in cases where the grading is properly installed, it’s natural for the house to settle a bit over the first couple of years. If this happens to yours, you might need to add more dirt to fill in around the foundation of the house to maintain your drainage. Failure to do so can often result in wet basements.
This is why you may want to hold off on fully landscaping your property directly around the house itself until you see how much settlement occurs.
5. Cracks in drywall
Lumber loses moisture content over time, including after it’s been used to build a house. The federal standard for residential lumber has an average moisture content of 19%, and after one heating season, this can fall to 9%.
As a result, the lumber shrinks, which can also cause the house to “settle.”
Houses often come with a builder one-year warranty that covers this very issue. After one heating season has gone by, the builder can repair any cracks that have occurred due to the shrinkage.
You will want to wait for a bit after any cracks appear to have them fixed, as your lumber may continue to shrink a little more. (And keep in mind that this is not the builder’s fault!)
6. Nail pops
Cracks in the walls can also make the drywall nail heads “pop.” When lumber shrinks, it can cause the head of a drywall nail to push the finishing compound loose and out of the wall. This typically happens near the corner of the ceiling or wall. It looks like a tiny, nail-head-sized tent shape popping out of the surface of your wall.
To fix nail pops, you will first want to use a punch in order to push the nail further into the wall before adding a new finishing compound, sanding, then repainting.
7. Truss rise
The bottom of your truss (the roof framing) is nestled in your ceiling, which is likely insulated. This means that the bottom of the truss is likely to be warmer in winter than the top, which can lead to shrinking, warping, and rising.
If you notice interior cracking at the ceiling of the top floor in the winter, this might mean that your truss has risen. Generally the truss will only rise once — during the first winter. If this is the case, you can repair the drywall tape at the point where the ceiling and the wall meet.
Unfortunately, though, it can happen annually; it does so in approximately 20% of cases. If you are one of the unlucky homeowners whose truss rises every year, the only thing that you can really do about it is to cover the joint of the wall with a molding.
Remember that this is not a structural issue; it’s linked to the insulation in your ceiling. Though this is usually not the builder’s fault, they should repair the joint after the first truss rise and install the molding if it continues.
8. Humidity inside the house
Moisture from the lumber in the truss and the rest of the frame has to go somewhere, and you might see it beading up on the inside of your windows. Windows, walls, and doors that aren’t installed with the proper amount of insulation are generally cool surfaces in the winter, while uninsulated cold-water pipes are usually cool surfaces in the summer.
When water droplets build up on these cool surfaces, they can run down the walls and into various structural parts of the house, ultimately causing rot and providing the perfect environment for new mold and mildew to grow.
9. Flooring issues
When water permeates the cracks in the foundation, it can cause problems with your flooring. However, so can shoddy workmanship.
One of the biggest causes of improper flooring installation is inadequate surface preparation. When glue, nails, or anything else rough is left on the surface, the flooring not only looks bad, but it also often doesn’t last as long. Improper installation can occur on the floor or the walls of the house.
There are a few reasons why you may find cracks in your tiles. They could be caused by the movement of soil or water, which causes your foundation to shift, or soil or moisture affecting your foundation could cause hairline fractures. Poor drainage can also contribute. However, no matter why the tiles cracked, it’s imperative that you fix them immediately, or else the cracks could become bigger.
Uneven wood presents itself as sloping or sagging floorboards. Uneven wood is often caused by incorrectly nailing boards or using the wrong fasteners during the installation process. Other things that can contribute to uneven wood can include boards spreading faster or slower than the contractors calculated, or incorrectly nailing the boards during installation. It could also be caused by poor manufacturing or poor quality in the wood itself.
Cracks between boards
Cracks between boards often occur as a result of installment during a humid period of time.
Curling linoleum can be caused by moisture when water has seeped through flooring.
Most water issues (though not all of them) are a result of runoff from the roof. When rain falls on the roof, or snow falls and then melts, the runoff water should be directed into gutters and downspouts. The gutters and downspouts direct the water away from the home’s foundation.
10. Wet basements or crawl spaces
Another water issue is water intrusion into basements or crawl spaces. Astonishingly, 98% of basements will experience water issues at some point, and roof runoff is one major culprit.
If gutters are clogged or blocked (leaves are a common culprit), then they won’t direct water away from the foundation the way they should, so make sure you keep them clean after you move in.
11. Doors sticking shut
When doors are improperly installed, or when they are absorbing moisture and swelling, they can stick shut. When the tops and bottoms of kitchen and bathroom doors remain unpainted, moisture may be causing the wood to expand.
A house settling or (yikes!) foundation issues can also cause doors to stick shut, so if you notice that doors that once swung open freely are sticking in their frames, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if there’s been a shift in the weather, take a look at the grading and drainage outside your house, and investigate your basement, crawl space, and attic for any signs of moisture intrusion.
12. Water stains around windows and doors
Water stains around the windows and doors can be caused by mold, or air or water leaks. Such stains are often caused by insulation, flashing, or caulking (or a combination). When moisture is able to get into these areas through the cracks, it can also intrude into the walls and cause discoloration.
13. Condensation between window panes
Condensation on interior windows is generally due to excessive moisture inside the house. Condensation happens when the water is a lower temperature than the dew point. When the seal between the window panes is broken, or the desiccant inside the windows is saturated, condensation between your window panes can accumulate.
14. Water under sinks
Water under the sink might be due to a few different reasons:
- The rim around the sink is leaking
- Water waste is leaking from the drains
- Water supply pipes are leaking
With all the problems dripping water can cause, it’s best to get this one fixed quickly, too!
15. Cheap appliances
You might think that you’re getting a high-end version of a name-brand appliance, but there could be a chance that the builder installed the lowest-end one instead. Refer to any paperwork that outlines the appliance details, talk to your agent, and consider your options. Your new construction home might come with state-of-the-art appliances — or it might come with no appliances.
If your new house comes with cheap appliances, take a look at the construction contract and speak with your builder. You might have the option to pay to upgrade your appliances. But remember: If your new house comes with cheap appliances and for whatever reason you can’t upgrade under your contract, you can always upgrade your appliances later — maybe once you’ve begun to pay off a chunk of your mortgage.
16. Not enough wiring
When it comes to wiring the home, some builders put in the bare minimum. Unfortunately, if you are not proactively looking for this issue, you won’t realize you have to have the house rewired until you try to add another light fixture.
That’s why you should be sure to take stock of the electrical appliances that you use as well as in which rooms you use them. (You need an electrical system that is strong enough to power all of your appliances.) Consult with your builder and electrician prior to installation to ensure that enough wiring is included for everything you want to power in your house.
17. No garage insulation
This isn’t standard everywhere, but it can make a big difference in your home’s basic comfort. If you expected your garage to be insulated and it isn’t, that’s definitely something you’ll need to address before closing.
There’s a problem — what do I do?
Running into a construction problem with your new home can feel like a nightmare. The good news is that your one-year warranty probably covers most of these issues — if you have one.
Most builders will issue a limited warranty as part of the purchase agreement or on its own. The terms are generally one year for labor and materials, two years for defects to systems, and 10 years for structural defects. Be sure to purchase a warranty if it’s not included!
‘Inspect what you expect’
Even though a warranty can help you protect yourself from unforeseen expenses, seasoned DeSoto County, Tennessee, real estate agent Chris Peaks emphasizes the importance of getting a home inspection and always recommends that his clients do so. If you notice settlement issues or cracks, “you may want to have a structural engineer take a look at it — or a foundation repair company if the crown molding is not meeting in several places, just general things like that.” The average cost of a home inspection is approximately $315.
Peaks says they typically allow buyers time to negotiate around any issues that the inspection results uncover. “If it doesn’t pass their home inspection, we just back out and move on,” he explains.
While real estate agents are not the same as home inspectors, they will often share concerns about any issues that they happen to see. If you do find any construction issues, it’s a good idea to hire a general contractor to take a look for other issues and to direct you as to how you should proceed.
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