Rectifying construction and design defects can be a real uphill battle for new homeowners. When a new home is defective, it can cost thousands of dollars to properly repair, depreciate the value of the home tremendously, and even force the homeowner to abandon their new home entirely.

Legally, a construction defect is defined as any supervision, design, planning, construction, or inspection deficiency that takes place with a new structure whereby there's been a failure to build the structure with reasonable workmanship and/or the structure itself doesn't perform as was reasonably intended by the buyer.

Construction defects are complicated by the fact that all defects don't stick out like a sore thumb. Some of these less than obvious defects may even take years to become apparent. Another complication is that defects can vary greatly; while one defective house may have a relatively inexpensive issue, such as peeling paint, another home may have defects that would result in it being completely demolished.

The following are some of the most commonly seen construction defects:
  • Masonry, unstable foundations, concrete, carpentry, and other issues that affect the structural integrity of the home.

  • Defects in glass, windows, and doors.

  • Electrical defects in the home.

  • Mechanical defects in the home.

  • Expansive soils that contain high percentages of certain kinds of clay particles can absorb excessive water. When such clay becomes wet, the soil volume can expand more than 10% and could exert enough pressure on the foundation to cause it to crack.

  • Moisture and thermal defects in the home. These often occur when the materials that reduce the flow of moisture into the home and the flow of heat away from the home aren't installed correctly.

  • Water intrusion that can cause water damage and toxic mold.
For most people, a home will be one of their most expensive purchases. You've worked and saved too long to buy your new home to find yourself the victim of poor workmanship and the resulting defects. Here are six tips to help you be proactive and avoid dealing with the aftermath of poor workmanship:

  1. Never work with any builder that can't or won't supply you with a list of references. Ask for a list of several references, including homeowners that the builder has constructed a home for in the last three or more years.

  2. Know the laws applicable to your particular state. Laws will vary from state to state, but most will require the builder to pay for permanent repairs of defects.

  3. Thoroughly read your purchase contract. A standard purchase contract all too often provides little, if any, protection for the buyer. Read carefully and make sure you're protected! You'll also want to ensure that the contract allows you to recover attorney fees should you need to seek assistance from the legal system to get a defect corrected.

  4. Contact a licensed, independent home inspector to do a visual examination of your new home. This inspection is non-invasive, but can be instrumental in identifying common mechanical, structural, plumbing, or electrical defects or flaws.

  5. Keep in mind that most states will legally require you, the homeowner, to work with your developer before you can file a defect lawsuit. This is called an arbitration period and can last up to six months.

  6. Apprise yourself on any local issues that would affect the construction of your home. For example, Floridians are subject to hurricanes and might want to request that the builder install galvanized metal hurricane straps during construction. Meanwhile expansive soil would be a significant consideration for Californians, Texans, and Arizonans.
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