For our September feature on construction defects, I searched the Internet for photos of faulty installations of windows, roofs, cladding, and decks in homes that were 10 years old or younger. What I found is scary—for both builders and buyers: hundreds of gruesome photos on dozens of websites that bash a number of large production builders for poorly constructed homes (entry level to upscale).
The sites contain close-up, gritty images taken by angry homeowners showcasing cracked stucco; mildew-stained exterior and interior walls; rotting 2x4s; wet, moldy black insulation (fiberglass and foam); sagging balconies, and much more. Some of these houses require tens of thousands of dollars in repairs, and many owners are involved in individual and class-action lawsuits against the builders and their subs.
But these owners aren’t just pissed about the defects; some say the houses are making them sick. And if there are children who are suffering, parents will be relentless in their quest to make builders pay—in both dollars and in reputation.
Water intrusion isn’t the only result of poor installation. When I moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 1991, my husband and I rented a townhouse in Laurel, Md. There were hundreds of late ’80s townhouses built with standard tan vinyl siding, brown three-tab shingle roofs, builder-grade white vinyl windows, and budget faucets.
We soon learned that every time fierce winds blew, pieces of siding flew off some of the units. Meanwhile, the floors squeezed and the walls were so paper thin that you could hear most everything the neighbors said. Nails popped up from roof shingles and kitchen faucets leaked.
Would anyone get sick from living in those places? Of course not. But many owners, mostly first-time home buyers, spent thousands of dollars to replace or nail down the siding, pull up the carpeting to fix the squeezes, and fix or replace the leaky fixtures. I’m sure many of those owners won’t buy a home from that builder again—and if the Internet had been around, photos of shoddy construction would have gone viral.
Do It Right the First Time One builder profiled in our feature story, Houston-based production builder David Weekley Homes, has relatively few defect complaints, and the company attributes its success to its quality assurance program that includes extensive training, quality teams, and third-party inspections. That training entails classroom and online instruction for every team member—warranty reps, project managers, division presidents, and regional presidents. It runs over 120 days, followed by a 45-day “signoff” period and several more months during which members are evaluated.
Weekley’s training extends to teaching its managers how to recognize product flaws that can lead to construction defects. Besides training, David Weekley Homes asks building scientist Joe Lstiburek to evaluate new products and components, “and their unintended consequences.”
Weekley also gets feedback about product quality from the Leading Builders of America and the Home Innovation Research Labs. David Weekley Homes’ tenaciousness is paying off—it told BUILDER it has the lowest warranty cost per home and the highest customer satisfaction ratings in its history.
A silver lining of the housing recession is that construction is as good as it gets, but some builders still think some defects are just a cost of doing business. As the market recovers, faulty construction practices and product installations may rise because of a shortage of qualified skilled and unskilled labor and other factors. Many large builders have reserves for defects and insurance to cover some of the damages.
But construction defects go viral with ugly photos and screaming parents. Those hurt your bottom line more than the defects—and building it right the first time.