A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Phase Inspections

If you are building a house, you may want to consider having a real estate inspector perform a phase or phase one inspection. Phase and phase one are just two ways of referring to the same thing. These inspections can take place at different stages of the process of putting up your home, or it could be a single inspection at a significant point of construction. The reason to have such an inspection performed is to ensure that you will not have problems with your home in the future due to a hidden mistakes or damage. After a home has been built, I will not be able to see the framing or elements of the foundation, so I cannot say for certain if you should be worried.

Let us take a tour of how homes are built today, so you can see why checking up on the construction is a good thing. Many builders create a step-by-step book detailing how a home should be built. These are large binders which explain everything to the project manager. The project manager is hired by the builder for his management skills, not necessarily for his construction knowledge. The project manager then hires contractors who hire their own crews. Quite a few of these contractors started off on a crew, and then developed into being the head of their own crew. The contractor’s employees may not have had previous building experience. A project manager may have several homes going up at once, so he will need to watch that the steps are being completed per the binder for all of these homes. Do you see a problem here? No one building your home could be an expert in its construction. To be fair, builders will have quality control measures in place to ensure that everything is done properly. I do not do phase inspections, but I have been at enough job sites that I leave scratching my head in the wonderment of it all. You can have several homes that are built well by the same crew, and then there will be that one home that you would never want to live in built by that very crew. There are ways for them to deal with the issues that arise, but many do not know what the next step should be, since it is not outlined in the binder.

There are too many things that could go wrong for me to present them here, so I will give you some general things to look for if you are going to the site of your new home. A clean job site is one. Clean is relative here; mud abounds at these sites. If trash is piled around the building, then the work may be sloppy, so this is a good indicator of the quality of work. The building materials should not looked weathered. Materials can arrive early on the job, and the project manager should see to their being secured and that they are out of the elements. Minor cracks occur in cement; it is the nature of the product, but these cracks do not effect its performance. When you see cracks running all through the slab of your foundation, then you should be questioning the builder. These cracks may have started due to the weight of the framing. What would happen if the weight of the roof and sheetrock were to be added? Plumbing seems to be an area were I have seen contractors become creative. If you have an upstairs, look at where your bathrooms will be, and then go down below to see how the waste will leave your house. Remember that all of this is done by gravity, so pipes cannot be horizontal, and the waste drain has to be relatively close by to the plumbing in the bathroom.

If you are not hiring an inspector, I would first go to the builder or his immediate supervisor with my concerns. If you come away from this talk feeling like they have not answered you satisfactorily, ask them to provide a report by a structural engineer on the quality of the foundation or framing materials, or hire your own plumber to look at his system. Demanding that they hire an engineer is reasonable, but the plumber that they bring in could be one of their own guys. If you have true worries, they have to address these before you move in, or you should not move into the home. A builder who is not helpfully now will not change once your house is coming apart. Most builders will not be so callous, but I have met a few who are.

From what I have seen on construction sites, I would highly recommend at least one phase inspection before the bones of the building are covered. If you cannot afford such an inspection, take some ideas from this post, and drive over to where your new home is being built. Check it out. Maybe meet with the project manager to have him explain to you what you are seeing. View the site with an open mind, since your home may very well be fine, but be sure to take the look.

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