Save Money and Headaches by Getting Your Own Home Inspection
Building your own home is an exciting part of life. You get to live in a “clean slate” where no one has before and enjoy the benefits of a floor plan laid out specifically to your liking.
But if you're like the thousands of people who think that just building or buying a new-construction home is enough for you to have worry-free home ownership, think again. There are lots of things that can go wrong in a new build that you may not be aware of and that may not be caught by an inspector dispatched by the local building department to look for code violations.
“I never thought I’d have to hire a professional to inspect my brand-new home,” you may say. But in fact, a house inspection isn't just for homes that are pre-owned or a few years, old. It's actually a good idea to get a new-construction home inspected by a professional home inspector whom you go out and hire yourself. Here's why.
There are many aspects of a newly built home – like this farmhouse with 3 bedrooms and 3 baths – that may not be up to snuff due to builder negligence or just unfortunate circumstances. Among other things, the flashing between the siding and stone wainscot needs to be right to avoid decay inside the wall (top); the runoff from the roof needs to be properly directed and the garage door weather-sealed and operating properly (center); the stonework in the rear needs to be level and well sealed with no cracks (bottom), and the chimney checked for proper operation and flashing at top and sides (Plan #117-1124).
New Construction Home Inspection
Although we'd like to believe that new-build homes have no issues with them because they're new, the reality is they often do. While the issues may not be as apparent as a leaking roof or failing furnace, buyers of new-construction homes – and customers of contractors who build the house for them – would do well to hire their own professional inspector.
Required Municipal Building Inspector
Some people naively think that because the house has been built to code, there are no defects in it. While it may be up to code, that doesn't necessarily mean that everything is good to go.
Builders must have the home inspected by a municipal building inspector. That’s true. But that building inspector's job is merely to make sure everything as it stands is OK for someone to safely move in. While there may be quality-of-build aspects of the new home that could cause potential damage or problems for the buyer down the road, it is not the municipal inspector’s job to look for or notify the buyer of those issues.
A home like this 5-bedroom, 4.5-bath Traditional style house will be checked and signed off on by a municipal inspector during construction, but he or she won't check that all of the different siding materials – brick, stone, wood siding – are applied correctly and treated properly at their interfaces to prevent problems years from now. You'll need your own professional inspector for that (Plan #198-1076).
The Benefits of New-Construction Home Inspection
While a home inspection does cost a few hundred dollars, it's money worth spending. Here are some of the benefits to getting a new-construction home inspection.
Repair Defects on Builder's Dime
One of the best reasons to have your home professionally inspected before you pay your builder and occupy the house is to catch issues before you are responsible for the repairs. Things like wiring and plumbing issues are especially common with new construction and can cause difficulties when you go to plug in your appliances or add a new light or fan.
Here’s an example of what could happen: Robert and Susie moved into their new construction home a little over a year ago. They were in on the plans and were quite pleased to have the closet space and kitchen they had always dreamed of. They decided to forego the inspection process because they knew the builder had scheduled a municipal inspector to check the house before they were free to move in.
When they moved in last summer, it had been a cooler year. But the summer of this year was much hotter, so Robert and Susie got a fan to circulate the air throughout the house. One day, Susie turned on her hair dryer to fix her hair while the fan was going and pop! The breaker tripped, making all of the electricity in the back half of the house go out.
Since it had been over a year, the house was no longer under the warranty period. That means they had to pay for an electrician to come out and fix the wiring so they could run their fan and other appliances without worrying about half of the power in their house going out. The repair bill was well into the thousands. If they had only spent the few hundred dollars for an inspection before they had moved in, they would have caught the issue and not had to pay for its repair.
Catch Unseen Issues
More often than you think, municipal inspectors are unable to inspect certain parts of the house, such as the attic or parts of the crawl space. If the builder has been otherwise compliant and there are no apparent signs of deficiency or immediate complications, the inspector may just check it off as being OK.
This 2470-sq.-ft. Country style home with covered rear porch has multiple foundation options, among them a crawl space, daylight basement, and slab foundation. Although each of them – depending on which you choose – should be inspected by an inspector you hire, it may be most important for a daylight basement, as more can go wrong with it than with ground-level foundations (Plan #153-1781).
When you move in later, you may notice a room in the house doesn't retain heat as well as others and discover there is no insulation in the attic above your bedroom.
Your own inspector has ways of catching this, however. Many use infrared thermometers to check inside the walls for electrical and insulation issues. With this technology, they can find places where the wiring is getting too hot (a fire hazard) or the insulation is too thin or missing altogether.
There are many areas of the house where municipal inspectors don’t check at all – it’s not their job. Some examples include
• Gutters that are not properly connected
• Missing or improperly installed flashing
• Settling cracks in the foundation
• Piping and/or wiring penetrations not properly sealed
• Insufficient foundation drainage and/or waterproofing
These are all recipes for future disasters that can be prevented with the help of your own inspector.
Tips For Buyers of New Construction Homes
There are a few things that you as a buyer of a new construction home can do to make sure your purchase is a good one.
Use a Professional Inspector More Than Once
While scheduling an inspection before you move in is a good idea, it's not the only time you should have your professional inspector poke around.
1. The first time you'll want to have an inspection is right after the foundation is poured. The inspector will be able to check for any cracks, settling, or issues with the concrete that are better addressed before a house gets built on top. The foundation is also best inspected when it's completely exposed, meaning before it is backfilled and any of the walls go up.
2. The second time you'll want an inspector in is once all the framing is up and the plumbing is run through. Your inspector will be able to check for any potential issues with the framing and plumbing before the walls are closed up and the project becomes 10x more difficult to fix. They should be able to take a look at the electrical.
Homes like this 1698-sq.-ft. Cottage style plan with main level master have the potential for water damage if the rock facing is not sealed correctly. A professional building inspector that you contract for your new-build home will be able to check that and set your mind at ease (Plan #117-1105).
3. The third time you'll want your inspector in is right before you move in. This is when an inspector can look for draining and sealing issues on the interior and exterior of the house.
On the exterior, he or she will make sure
• That the roof flashing, including kick-out flashing, is there and installed correctly.
• That the windows and doors are all sealed.
• That there are no issues with water draining from the roof.
• That if you have any rock facing, it is watertight and secure.
• That all the railings around porches and or decks are secure and properly installed.
• That the HVAC system, piping, and ductwork – inside and out.
Among the important aspects of a house that a professional home inspector will check for you is the integrity and quality of build of railings for decks and porches. This is espeiclally important for a house like this 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath Coastal style home, with its second-story balcony off one of the bedrooms (Plan #120-2573).
On the interior, the inspector will check for many things. Among them:
• That all the plumbing lines run and drain well with no leaks.
• That gas pipes are sealed correctly and there is no leakage.
• That no construction debris has clogged the furnace ductwork and that it is venting correctly.
• That all outlets are wired for proper polarity and grounding.
• That water pressure is satisfactory.
4. The final check should occur right before your warranty is up on your house. You want to make sure that nothing breaks or needs repairs right after your warranty expires and you have to cover it out of your own wallet.
A checklist like this (the first of four pages of a complete checklist for a home) will help you keep track of the status of important parts of your new home based on the inspection of the professional home inspector you hire to work for you (courtesy of Vertex 42).
Take Painter's Tape Through the Walk-Through
As you take the final walk through before moving into the house, mark (using painter’s tape) any sections on the wall that need repainting or filling, as well as any flaws you see throughout the house. Catch these things before you actually take possession of the house, and remove the hassle of having to schedule a time for the builder to come make repairs while you're moving in.
Hiring a professional inspector to evaluate your newly built home may seem counterintuitive, but as we hope you've seen, it can make sense economically and for your peace of mind in the long run because nothing is ever perfect – even your new dream home – and code inspections, though serving their purpose, just don't cut it!