New home construction keeps on getting worse by the day. This fact is made crystal clear by the 2019 Common Code Noncompliance Report issued by the National Association of Homebuilders in conjunction with the International Code Council. The survey is based on information gathered from respondents, primarily municipal building officials tasked with enforcing building codes in their jurisdictions.
In this publication, it states, in part, “All types of new homes with code violations have significantly increased compared to the last survey. A considerably higher number of respondents found all types of new construction to have code violations (over 60%).
This is an upward trend of over 17% from the highest respondent code violation of 2012 (44%) to the lowest respondent rating of code violation in 2018 (61%). New construction of high-end (expensive) homes was also significantly higher (88%) than in the 2012 survey (35%).
In my experience, the number of violations has increased drastically since this report was published using 2018 data. I will use some of the information from the report and augment it with what I actually see in my day-to-day inspections.
Those of us who are cognizant of our surroundings, can take sustenance, and stand upright, realize that plans are essential in building houses. Texas builders, with almost no exceptions, refuse to leave copies of the building plans onsite. The International Residential Code clearly states that these must be kept onsite throughout the build process.
The code is adamant for a good reason. Without the recipe and with so many cooks in the kitchen, the pudding will be a disaster. Communication between the trades cannot happen without a unified plan of action. Everything falls between the cracks.
The builders here cry “copyright” when asked to see the plans. Any attorney will advise you that copyright is not breached by simply holding, reading, and referring to a set of building plans. If this were the case, books of every kind would cease to be available for reading. Referring to a set of plans falls under the doctrine of fair use.
If the DFW building officials would simply issue stop orders on all of the properties under construction that did not have the plans onsite, things would rapidly change.
If you are building a new house, one of the first things you should do is contact the municipality and request a full set of plans for your house under the open records act or the Texas Freedom of Information Act. They will then have ten business days to provide these to you, usually at no cost.
Grading and Drainage
DFW lies in the land of expansive clay soils. These undulating soils contain minerals that expand and contract significantly due to moisture content. It follows that a shallow slab-on-ground foundation will be affected by the movements of the soils upon which it is built. Maintaining even soil moisture in a 10-foot wide swath around the perimeter of any building’s foundation will help to stop differential movement and damage.
This can only be achieved by having positive drainage around the foundation perimeter. This is achieved by grading the soil to slope downward at a rate of 6 inches in the first 10 feet out from the slab edges. Very simple to do, just not for Texas builders.
Improperly Placed Anchor Bolts
The walls of the first floor of a house are connected to the foundation by embedding bolts in the concrete when it is poured and then attaching the bottom plates of the walls to these bolts with nuts and washers. The code requires certain sizing, spacing, location, and galvanization of these bolts.
Texas builders can be depended upon to pay absolutely no attention to such mundane details. Like making sure the walls stay attached to the foundation in periods of high winds, you know.
Braced Wall Errors
Wall bracing keeps the walls of the house from racking during wind events. The code provides many methods to achieve this. Texas builders must have missed that class. Oh, wait, Texas builders are not required to attend any classes of any kind. WTF was I thinking?
Improperly Sized and Installed Joists and Beams
Joists and beams are horizontal structural elements of a house that ceilings, wall openings, and floors consist of. If undersized or improperly installed, they will not perform their intended function. This results in drywall cracks in the ceilings and floors that squeak. Your builder won’t be living in your house, so what does he care about insignificant cracks and squeaks anyway?
Deck Ledgers and Braces
After 47 years, I have yet to see a home builder or contractor build a deck that is code compliant.
Stair Rise/Run Errors
Stairs are poorly constructed on almost every house. Subconsciously, one anticipates the rise (height between steps) of stairs to be uniform. When they are not, people slip and fall.
Stair Handrails and Guardrails
Handrails are there to give one something to stop their fall should they lose their footing on the stairs, like when the risers are wrong. These rails must be installed in a manner to make them useful in an emergency. Many are not.
Missing or Inadequate Fire Blocking
Fireblocking provisions slow the spread of fire should a house be subjected to one. Usually, these details are wrong or missing altogether.
Keeping houses from leaking air is both a desirable goal and a code requirement. Air sealing is a hit-or-miss sort of game for Texas builders.
Exposed Kraft-Faced Insulation
Despite the labeling on kraft-faced insulation batts, Texas builders install them backward with the kraft face away from the drywall. This is a fire hazard that your Texas “builder” could not care less about.
Specify a quality gutter system. An inch of rain on a 2,000 square-foot roof produces 1,200 gallons of water. The gutter is the best line of defense against this wall of water.
The Bad News
The bad news is that this is a very abbreviated list of items I find daily. The actual list, not the one tweaked by the National Association of Home Builders to improve the optics, would be at least 10 times this long.