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The Truth About Construction Defects

Construction defects are a common problem with the potential to impact a community’s budget and safety. The best way to address construction defects is for governing boards to be aware of how common they are and know the proactive steps to take if they occur.

A construction defect is a deficiency in the design or construction of a building structure and envelope. Construction defects can take many forms and occur in new buildings, renovations, or smaller construction projects. Most defects are minor and inconsequential. Defects of finish work may be the most visible, but defects related to the building envelope are invisible and present the biggest threat to the structural integrity of the building.

People often ask “How can defects happen? Don’t the building inspections catch problems while work is in progress?” The answer is no. Inspections do not identify all issues and here is why. Depending upon the type of defect, they may not be apparent during inspection and may not show visible signs until long after construction is complete. Types of Construction defects include design, materials, and workmanship.

Most inspectors are generalists with general knowledge about all aspects of construction and are not required to specialize in the structural component of construction, or the building waterproofing. Those are the areas most impacted by construction defects that will have the biggest impact to budget and safety.

Specialized knowledge

Specialized knowledge is required to avoid or address construction defects. For example:

  • A contractor with the right experience knows the type of flashing detail and sealants to provide the security and longevity required to offer full water proofing.
  • Qualified contractors will not compromise on the quality of materials to reduce the cost.
  • Only highly skilled installers will ensure the pieces and parts of every aspect of the envelope are installed properly.
  • Waterproofing general contractors will oversee both the material and the application of the restoration to assure the longevity of the work.

 

Water intrusion is the leading cause of construction defect litigation cases. According to the Journal of American Institute of Architects 70% of construction defect cases are caused by water. Source: The Journal of American Institute of Architects.

General experience will not suffice when addressing water intrusion issues. Specialized knowledge and certifications are required to accurately identify and correct the construction envelope and water intrusion problems. Construction defects often appear as one issue, but their origin lies in the many layers of the building envelope.

You may have defects if you are seeing some of the following:

  • Water seepage through the roofs
  • Windows and sliding doors with water intrusion
  • Bulging or cracked stucco
  • Balconies and decks with ponding water
  • Excessive mold growth on walls (green or black)

 

The ‘envelope’ is the outside of a building that stops water intrusion. It is made up of several layers of material. The outer layer does not stop water intrusion, it is only one part of the water management. The most important part of the sealing of a structure is what lies below.

Critical parts of sealing the structure include the roofing underlayment and the flashing that stop any water from penetrating the building system. On the walls, it is the vapor barrier and flashing details below the cladding (siding, stucco, or other material) that stop water intrusion.

If your contractor only addresses what’s on the surface, problems will come back.

Replacing a roof or fixing the siding will take skill, knowledge, and quality material that will stand the test of time. Having someone who specializes is paramount to fixing it right the first time. When issues are identified, it is best to act quickly to fully assess the root cause and take action to correct problems.

 

Solutions

Careful vendor selection is the #1 way for associations and boards to avoid or mitigate the impact of construction defects.

Finding a contractor with the knowledge, certifications, and equipment to identify the source of a problem is critical. Most contractors do not have moisture control experience. This also requires integrity to propose the best long-term fix that is more likely to cause their bid to be higher in a competitive bid situation.

What to look for when choosing a contractor to correct construction defects.

  • Specialized knowledge, equipment, and staff to undertake your entire project from inspection, roofing installation, stucco, or siding repairs, to drywall and painting.
  • A contractor who proactively identifies the root cause of problems and provides evidence of their findings.
  • Certified to address water intrusion and the building envelope.
  • The lifetime value and warranty of the work should be considered. Look for Vendors who offer a written warranty that guarantees the longevity of the solution.

The right contractor will recommend a specialized inspection and services that are designed to support doing the work right the first time to extend the life of the work and structure. They will make recommendations knowing it may cause their bid to be higher than others, but in the end, will cost less because the job was done properly, and eliminates the risk of future repairs or premature replacement.

A contractor who specializes in water intrusion utilizes specialized tools, like infrared drone cameras to see inside the building structure for the presence of water, to generate unique evidence based on different types of inspections:

  • Construction Defect Inspection
  • Hurricane and Storm Preparedness Inspection
  • Roof Evaluation Inspection
  • Building Envelope Inspection

 

Case study

The Notting Hill community is a 20-year-old community with 42 buildings. This community understands the best course of action for a community board when faced with sub-par roofing work that presented a risk to homeowners, the long-term stability of the building structure and the HOA reserve funds as this community was going on its third tile roof in 23 years.

The Notting Hill board had selected a vendor after an exhaustive evaluation process. They quickly realized the work being done was not up to the standards presented in the vendor’s proposal. The board worked quickly to replace the contractor before the work was completed on the first roof and had the opportunity to become a construction defect.

While many defects are not identified until months or years after the work, the method for correcting the issues remains the same. Hiring the right contractor is the #1 way to avoid quality and workmanship issues that become defects that can lead to costly structural repair problems.

“The board did their due diligence and made a bad choice of contractors who didn’t deliver the work as their proposal outlined. We were fortunate and acted quickly to stop the work from becoming a much larger issue to resident safety and reserves.”

David Hutchins, board president, Notting Hill

 

Summary

Construction defects are common. It is best for Associations to avoid them or have a clear and fast path to resolution. Your vendor evaluation process is the place to act against construction defects and not repeat or exasperate the problem

Specialized knowledge of the building envelope and the longevity of the proposed solution are the most important criteria to evaluate options. It is best to look beyond the cost alone to ensure contractors offer longer-life solutions are not overlooked. In addition, the board should carefully review warranty details to understand if workmanship and materials are covered, for how long, and does not fall under prorated status.

Associations and boards should build in plans for inspections and ongoing maintenance specifically for the building envelope both to proactively identify construction defects and to stay ahead of potential structural problems that can significantly impact safety and budgets.

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