Let Me See Those Plans
Projects as complicated and pricey as building a new house require professional planning. An architect must lay down the bones of the house, i.e., the floor plan and elevations. Afterward, an engineer is needed to design the framework of the structure so that the materials used will satisfy the load requirements for the design and location. Either of these professionals or the two working in tandem choose the exterior and interior cladding materials, electrical wiring and fixtures, plumbing and fixtures, mechanical design and equipment, etc.
Once all of the requisite decisions are made, the design of the house is committed to technical drawings and written specifications. These two elements comprise the plans (formerly referred to as blueprints). Several copies of these plans are then submitted to the local building inspection department, where a certified plans examiner ensures that the design complies with all building, electrical, plumbing, and energy codes adopted by the municipality.
Once the building inspection department approves, a permit is issued to the house builder, and work on the project can commence. The builder then distributes copies of the approved plans to all of the subcontractors involved in the construction of the house.
Throughout the process described above, the original designer’s copyright has not been infringed, assuming that the builder either has an in-house design department or purchased the plans from a third-party designer. The other folks, such as the builder’s staff, his subcontractors, and the municipal building inspection department, are using the plans under the fair use doctrine that applies to copyright laws.
With very few exceptions, Texas production builders will not provide you with plans for the house you hire them to build for you. Why do you suppose that is? They will hand them out freely to every questionably-legal immigrant worker but not to you – the purchaser. One answer is that they are too cheap to print them for you – it eats into their almighty profit. More importantly, they do not want you to know how far they stray from the plans during construction.
This presents a real problem in that, without the plans, you will not know if you are getting what you paid for. Additionally, if you hire a third-party inspector (and you should if you have two synapses to rub together), that inspector will need those plans to ensure that your house is being constructed in strict compliance with the plans and the applicable industry standards.
What’s a mother to do? In Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code, we find that anyone can request copies of documents determined to be “public information.” This means written, produced, collected, assembled, or maintained information under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by a governmental body, such as your municipality. Once requested, the municipality has ten business days to provide you access to the documents requested.
When requesting the plans for your house, the request should read something like this:
“All documents and drawings associated with the permitting, constructing, and inspecting the single-family residence located at 123 Yee-hah Street, Redneck, Texas 75XXX“.
If the municipality resists, explain that you will both file a formal complaint with the Texas Office of the Attorney General and contact your attorney. Problem solved.
Almost. All of the above information applies only if your house is within the limits of a municipality or within its extraterritorial boundaries. If your house is situated in an unincorporated area of a county, you will need to have your attorney write into your contract with your builder that you will receive a complete set of plans before the commencement of construction.
One of my biggest concerns with any inspection is lot grading and drainage. Because most folks assume that they understand it – after all, we all can grasp that water runs downhill – but practically all have no idea of the significance. This statement includes home builders, municipal inspectors, and home buyers.
North Central Texas has some of the most expansive clay soils in the nation. Add to that the fact that, for the most part, foundations here are woefully under-engineered. Let’s include one last pertinent fact: Texas builders and contractors are totally unregulated. It should then come as no surprise that Texas has the most significant number of foundation failures and repair companies in the USA.
The problem begins with a near-total lack of understanding (or concern, or both) of the aforementioned facts on the parts of the builders and municipal inspectors. These are unreachable by merely appealing to reason by presenting arguments based on facts. That just leaves you – the home buyers. Hopefully, I can make some headway with you.
Texas builders are only interested in profit. The Texas Legislature is only interested in one thing – getting reelected. The more profit their constituents (the builders) make, the more they have to spend on getting their favorite congressman back into the office to support builder-friendly legislation. Grading and drainage is not their concern.
The number of lies I’ve heard told by builders regarding lot drainage is staggering. They range from “looks like it drains to me” to “if it drains within 48 hours, it’s OK” to “our surveyor says it is just fine.” While these may, at first blush, sound like plausible explanations, they consist of nothing more than lightly-veiled bullshit.
I go to a lot of trouble to illustrate in my reports the problems with lot drainage on each inspection. I use a ZipLevel Pro 2000 leveling instrument that is accurate to ±1/8″ over 100 linear feet and costs about $800. Often, builders will supplant the facts in my reports with their typical BS, and the home buyers fail to insist that the grading be improved. Just as often, the builder will claim to have made improvements when none were made. How can one verify this without paying me to return to the site?
Simple. Measuring Yard Slope- Ludwig. Do your due diligence.
Check your electrical panel to see if it is one of these:
IMPORTANT UPDATE – 1/23/23
I have encountered 40 new homes under construction with these panels since publication in June of last year. Of those, 30 of those builders claimed no responsibility for replacing the panels. Typical corporate builders in redneck Texas.
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.
May is Deck Safety Month. Check out this NADRA_DSM_Checklist from the North American Deck and Rail Association. Aaron is the only Certified Deck Inspector in the State of Texas.
The DFW area population is increasing at a phenomenal rate. The 2010 Census counted 6.3 million residents. The 2020 count indicates we had 7.6 million. The math reveals that is equivalent to adding 328 people per day, consisting of 205 net move-ins, and 123 via births minus deaths. The Census effective date was April 1, 2020. If the rate has remained relatively consistent, we can safely add at least another 230,000 counting to the date of this writing. So, 7.8 million and rising. For comparison, this figure was 960,000 when I was born here. Ouch!
Since the end of 2020, the housing market has become less and less predictable. In the DFW area, resale prices have soared to a median price of $401K, while the inventory of homes for sale has dropped 42.39% in just two years.
Anyone in the market for a house is faced with no good choices. With resale homes in short supply, buying one has become tantamount to being in an auction where the one with the most discretionary income wins. New home prices have also skyrocketed. Builders are essentially auctioning the right to wait in line for a contract. Further, they write open-ended contracts regarding price and insert cancel for convenience clauses that will set your hair ablaze.
Many of us have decided to hunker down in our old digs since we cannot possibly afford to both sell and buy in the DFW area. And with the home values rising, fixing up the old place may make more sense than moving anywhere else.
The Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) recently released statistics regarding the remodeling activity anticipated for the DFW area in the coming year. Research indicates that remodeling projects will increase in our area 10%-15% this year alone. You may have already seen the uptick in activity in your own neighborhood. I certainly have in mine.
Those of you who have ever been involved in a remodeling project are already aware of the stressors involved. Deciding on the project scope, finding a designer, vetting a general contractor, planning, moving things to storage, eating out or ordering in, dealing with insolent contractors and workers, noise, dust, more noise, and dust . . . argh!
Home renovation activity brings with it gut-wrenching, teeth-gnashing, hair-shredding, blood-pressurizing stress. It wreaks havoc on one’s daily routine.
Those who have been there wonder why anyone would ever do this, let alone do it again. It’s a bit like getting a very pricy tattoo.
All that said, if you find yourself inching up to the edge of this particular abyss, there are ways to mitigate some of the terrors. Let’s take a look at what can be done to keep you somewhat sane throughout the process.
1. First, hire an attorney. Remodelers, like builders, are not regulated in the State of Texas. The contracts they use for their projects are, for the most part, promulgated by attorneys for the homebuilding industry. These are not written with even a whiff of consumer protection in mind. Sign one of these unwittingly, and you may live to regret it. An attorney can help you get your head around the legal issues involved, most of which you are totally unaware of.
There are many pitfalls that you will not recognize before you find yourself falling into them. Contract clauses regarding force majeure, price escalation, et al. You will also need to be aware of the importance of focusing on a clear and defined scope of work, limitations of liability, indemnities, payment terms, the certainty of terms, warranties, change order mechanisms, termination for convenience, dispute resolution, etc. It is a long list.
So then, consult with an attorney. But not just any attorney. The law, like medicine, is a field awash with specialization. The attorney you use for your family needs, or even the one who handles your business activities, is more than likely not the one you want for your abyss project. You need one that is board-certified in construction law. This is a rapidly growing niche due to the lax Texas laws regarding builders and remodelers and the near-total lack of skilled tradespeople.
2. Hire a professional inspector for expert oversight of the project. Contractors are most familiar with the concepts involved in making a profit. They consider safety issues like the building and electrical codes to be little more than minor irritations. The municipal inspectors tasked with oversight are undermanned, overworked, underpaid, and often uneducated in building codes. You cannot rely on them to ensure the quality of your project.
Once again, we understand that you must hire a competent inspector. But, just as with the attorney, not just any inspector will do. Home inspectors licensed by the Texas Real Estate Commission are not qualified to do this work by design. They are not required to know the building codes. They are not required to have any significant construction background. Do not go there.
You can hire an engineer, but not just any engineer. It must be a civil engineer specializing in single-family detached buildings who is also certified in the building codes. I have yet to meet one of these, so good luck.
You need someone who is certified by the International Code Council (ICC), the agency that authors the building codes. That would be an ICC Residential Combination Inspector. These inspectors are certified specialists in residential building, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical inspections. Do not settle for less.
If your project is outdoors, such as landscaping, outdoor kitchens, decks, etc., consider a licensed landscape architect and/or a certified professional deck inspector.
3. Once you have the attorney and inspector in place, you’ll need to find a competent contractor. This is the most difficult of the tasks set forth for you. There is no tried-and-true way to vet these creatures. The best that one can do is follow this route as closely as possible.
Use a search engine such as one at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Do not use any of the plethora of Internet search options like Angi, Houzz, Home Advisor, Pro Referral by Home Depot, GildQuality, Thumbtack, BuildZoom, et al., unless you want to either end up hiring or be spammed by low-end handymen for the rest of your natural life.
Some sites may be helpful if you are discerning enough to separate shite from shoe polish, such as Yelp, Ripoffreport.com, Contractorsfromhell.com, Joetheplumber.net, Homeownersforbetterbuilding.com, and others. Other sites like the Better Business Bureau are just a scam.
Reviews on Google and the like are from homeowners who may not even know their remodelers ripped them off. This also applies to your friends, family, coworkers, etc. Laypersons are not the ones to ask about professional contractors. These sorts of reviews might be OK to mull over along with all of the other considerations but are not to be much relied upon.
Your attorney can do a deep dive into any contractors you are considering to ascertain if they have a long rap sheet of litigation, bankruptcies, company name changes, and other unsavory dealings.
Then there is the sweat equity. This is crucial. You will need to be completely immersed and focused on the project throughout. This means meticulously perusing all documents, plans, and materials lists. Take a million photos and videos of the site before, during, and after (assuming you survive until the end).
Ensure that all communications between you, the contractor, and his subcontractors, as well as any municipal inspectors involved, are in writing. Use a digital recorder to capture conversations that cannot be written. Consider placing video cameras on the site when feasible. Keep a detailed timeline of all that occurs. In short, cover your derriere.
Last, there are certain groups of general contractors to be aware of. One, I like to refer to as the Favorite Sons. An example would be a trust fund baby who graduates from SMU, lives in the Park Cities, Preston Hollow, or North Dallas area, utilizes daddy’s contacts, is otherwise unemployable and holds himself out to be a builder or contractor.
The other group consists of the Favorite Sons Wannabes. These will use company addresses located at mail drops in just the right zip codes. They may appear to be in Highland Park Village, Preston Center, etc., when they actually are working from an apartment in Oklahoma or a trailer house in the sticks of East Texas.
To recap: Hire an attorney, hire an inspector, vet your contractor, do your due diligence in that order. If you follow these simple steps, you will likely get through the minefield unscathed and live to enjoy your newly renovated hacienda. Best of luck to you!
And, did I mention, I do this sort of inspection work?
A Few Possibly Helpful Links:
Attorneys (Check these, but ask me for a reference)
https://remodelingdoneright.nari.org/Find-a-NARI-Professional-Remodeler/Find-a-Professional-Remodeler (for General Remodeling)
https://www.nadra.org/membership/directory/builders#!directory/map (for Decks and Outdoor Construction)
https://support.iccsafe.org/?ht_kb=how-can-i-look-up-certified-professionals (for General Remodeling)
https://www.nadra.org/membership/directory#!directory/map (For Decks)
If you are having a new home built and are considering retaining the services of a professional third-party inspector to oversee the construction of your home you need to read this.
Arguably, the most important part of any structure is the foundation. It supports everything else that you refer to as a house. Many new homebuyers forego having a third-party inspector inspect the building site prior to the placement of the concrete in their foundation for many reasons:
- They are unaware that this is important.
- Their builder convinces them that this is unimportant or maybe even not allowed.
- They are attempting to save money.
All of these are poor excuses. Let’s talk more about this in order to help provide you with a clear path for doing due diligence.
The Texas Engineering And Land Surveying Practice Acts And Rules Concerning Practice And Licensure, published by the Texas Board Of Professional Engineers And Land Surveyors constitutes Texas State law and is to be found in the Texas Administrative Code, Title 22. In this document you will in 137.55(a):
“(a) Engineers shall be entrusted to protect the health, safety, property, and welfare of the public in the practice of their profession. The public as used in this section and other rules is defined as any individual(s), client(s), business or public entities, or any member of the general population whose normal course of life might reasonably include an interaction of any sort with the engineering work of the license holder.”
All Texas residences must be constructed in strict accordance with the International Residential Code (IRC) in The Texas Administrative Code Title 16 in rule 70.100(d).
In IRC 101.3 it states:
“R101.3 Intent. The purpose of this code is to establish minimum requirements to safeguard the public safety, health and general welfare through affordability, structural strength, means of egress facilities, stability, sanitation, light and ventilation, energy conservation and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment, and to provide safety to fire fighters and emergency responders during emergency operations.
In IRC R401.2 we find:
“Requirements. Foundation construction shall be capable of accommodating all loads in accordance with Section R301 and of transmitting the resulting loads to the supporting soil. Fill soils that support footings and foundations shall be designed, installed and tested in accordance with accepted engineering practice.”
If you’re still with me after all that, you may realize that the laws of the State of Texas require that engineers design and builders build foundations that actually perform as intended even on the expansive soils in Texas. If we are in agreement, then let’s continue.
It is a verifiable fact that Texas has the third most foundation failures in the United States. See:
This was also recently reported by WFAA here:
Pardon all the reference material. It is necessary because most folks will not lend credence to the knowledge I’ve gained in the past 45 years as a builder and inspector. But, if it is on the Internet or on TV, it must be true . . .
So, why are these foundations failing if they are properly engineered and constructed? They are under-engineered and improperly constructed in almost every case. Can you now see why it might be at the top of one’s list to have a trained eye observe the formwork prior to placing the concrete in your new foundation? If not, stop here and go play with your Lincoln Logs or whatever it is you do to pass the time.
Now that you are aware, let’s talk about your builder. Builders know that the foundations are half-assed and do not want an experienced inspector looking at them. To prevent this they have several ruses they employ:
- Tell the homeowner he cannot have the foundation inspected.
- Tell the homeowner that only an engineer can inspect it.
- Tell the homeowner that he can have the foundation inspected but he will not make any repairs unless the municipal inspector says so.
- Tell the homeowner he can have the foundation inspected and then not tell him when he is pouring the concrete so that it cannot be inspected.
This is only a partial list. The complete list is v-e-r-y long, much like the IRS tax code or the list of feckless excuses produced by any teenager regarding whatever you expect them to have done. Adolescent, but in the case of most homebuyers, quite effective.
If you are having a house built in the DFW area it is guaranteed to cost you more than $250,000. In order to save a few hundred dollars on a proper inspection does it make sense to put your entire quarter million dollar investment at risk? I think not.
If you think your builder’s “warranty” will protect you – think again. All of them state that structural damages – foundation problems – are not covered unless the house is so badly damaged that it is no longer habitable. You know, like if Godzilla rose up from beneath it and ate the inhabitants.
Do not depend on your homeowners insurance policy to cover you either. None of them cover foundation problems. Why? Because they are fully aware that the foundations here are under-engineered and fail on a spectacular scale.
I often get requests for summary reports to be attached to my inspection reports.
The Texas Real Estate Commission and its broker and agent minions foist numerous counterproductive ideas upon the home-buying public every chance they get. One of these is the summary inspection report.
Summary reports benefit mostly only the real estate agents by allowing them to better control the sellers, buyers and inspectors in property re-sales. The benefits include, but are not limited to:
1. The natural tendency for most buyers is to avoid reading too much of the mountains of paperwork produced during a real estate transaction. Who can blame them? So then, when confronted with one of my 100-page home inspection reports, they proceed to wilt. Instead of performing their duty of due diligence by actually reading the report, they want someone to predigest it and feed it back to them as pabulum. With the report dumbed-down and truncated, the agent has an easier time of dealing with the profusion of property defects found on every house by all but the agents’ pet inspectors.
2. The summary report also lends itself to becoming a repair list for the agent to present to the seller during a resale transaction. Though they make the lion’s share of profit from the transaction – 1.5% to 6% of the sales price on a $300K house is $4500 – $18,000 – as opposed to the average inspection fee of around $600, they avoid doing anything that resembles actual work.
My errors and omissions insurance carrier strictly prohibits summary reports, as they should. It is often the case that the buyer will simply refer to the summary without reading the entire report, thus missing much of the nuance and most of the significance of the whole document. Additionally, listing defects in an attempt to prioritize their importance is impossible. This sort of non-thinking requires not only the ability to predict the future, but also the ability to predict the timing of future failure events. Care to definitively state when your next flat tire will occur? Which tire will it be? What will be the exact cause of the flat? Good luck with that.
Home builders are also fond of summary reports. With one of these in hand a builder can easily deflect any supposed defects found by simply arguing around the brevity of the summary statements. New home defects must be identified by specific building code citations that do not lend themselves to abbreviation or curtailment.
Further, if all of the issues are already contained within a written report, exactly what is the purpose of reiterating these in the very same document?
Finally, if you find yourself terminally ensconced in one of the generations needing helicopter-parenting after leaving home, do us all a favor and find an inspector who will write you a flowery, Reader’s Digest version of a real inspection report and hand you those rose-colored glasses to boot. You won’t find him here.
And, that’s not the worst of it. Neither do his supervisors or subcontractors. That’s saying a lot when one considers that the building code itself requires them to know the code. From the International Residential Code (IRC), which is the code in 49 states and some foreign countries:
“IRC 105.8 Responsibility. It shall be the duty of every person who performs work for the installation or repair of building, structure, electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing systems, for which this code is applicable, to comply with this code.”
How can one possibly comply with regulations one does not know? Not possible.
How does this work? Well, the builders (read: corporations) hire supervisors (read: lackeys) to oversee their building sites. The majority of these folks are not certified in the building codes, never held a hammer or actually built a house. Most of their time is devoted to ordering materials and scheduling subcontractors. They know only what their subcontractors and/or the municipal inspectors tell them. Basically, your “builder” amounts to little more than a construction expediter.
The subcontractors, who are also not code-literate, build everything according to what the municipal inspectors “allow”. Initially, they construct everything in the most expeditious fashion possible, as they are hired on the lowest bidder basis. Then they wait to see what the building official “allows” and make whatever changes the inspector requires.
The problem with all of this is that the municipal inspectors are often themselves not intimately familiar with the codes. Even if they are, they are not allowed the time necessary to thoroughly inspect the houses they are assigned. They look for the low-hanging fruit, and then move to the next house (this is what I refer to as selective code enforcement). Refer to my blog article on the 12.5-Minute Inspection, for a clearer picture.
The municipal inspectors “allow” many things that are blatant code violations because they do not completely comprehend the codes they are entrusted to enforce, or they simply do not have the time to do the job properly. Maybe this has a lot to do with the way they are paid – not much for the amount of work entailed.
Is it any wonder that the houses in Texas are poorly built? On the contrary, the miracle is that they stand for more than a couple of years. But, they do not actually perform their intended function on many levels. The foundations are under-engineered for the expansive soils that prevail here, the materials are often glorified cardboard or glued-together pieces of scrap wood. The windows, doors, appliances, lighting and plumbing fixtures are all “builder’s grade”, which is code for the cheapest available. The houses are basically cobbled together using whatever is on sale and then sold at a premium price (builder materials and systems markups are figured at 300%).
And all of this cobbling is being done by corporations and their employees who have zero verifiable knowledge of the regulations (laws) that govern their profession. The home buyers are then the recipients of the products of a revolting dog-and-pony show euphemistically referred to as Texas custom home building.
While all of this is occurring, Austin (read: Abbott and his dog Paxton) continue to deflect any attempts to actually regulate the Texas home builders. As has always been their motto: big business comes first. Hell yes, the free market will police itself. Such b-u-l-l-s-h-i-t. The same stuff that trickles down on us all from the corporate boys on high.
Reminds me of an old Firesign Theater skit where one guy asks another, “Bend over and roll up your arm. Do you want regular or premium?”
Welcome to Texas!
The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) licenses home inspectors and publishes their standards of practice. In this SOP it states clearly that the inspector is not required to know the building codes, manufacturer’s or any other regulatory requirements. See for yourself:
Chapter 535 General Provisions
Subchapter R. Real Estate Inspectors
§535.227-§535.233. Standards of Practice
(3) The inspector is not required to:
(I) insurability, warrantability, suitability, adequacy, compatibility, capacity, reliability, marketability, operating costs, recalls, counterfeit products, product lawsuits, life expectancy, age, energy efficiency, vapor barriers, thermostatic performance, compliance with any code, listing, testing or protocol authority, utility sources, or manufacturer or regulatory requirements except as specifically required by these standards;
Wow. So how is it then that these inspectors are allowed to inspect new houses under construction or even in their final stage? Politics. The Texas builders’ lobby d.b.a. the Texas Homebuilders Association. This group has fought and won the battle to exclude any sort of governmental oversight of home builders since 1944. When third-party inspections of their new houses began during the late 90’s, they arranged with the TREC to allow their inspectors to inspect new houses both during construction and at the final stages.
The idea was sound, from the builders’ prospective. Arrange for unqualified inspectors with no knowledge of the building codes to bless their houses and dupe the home buyers. It was and is disastrous for unsuspecting home buyers. They move forward with the purchase of their new homes with the false confidence instilled in them by an inspection report written by an inspector with no knowledge of the building process or the codes governing it.
How does this directly affect you? Well, other than just the fact that your house will not be built to the minimal standards set forth in the requisite building codes, you will also have a big surprise when you find the need to invoke your builder’s warranty. Almost without exception, the builder warranties exclude any issues that were not code compliant at the time of construction.
One might think that, if the inspector SOP were artfully crafted, this might not be an issue. It is not. The technical provisions of the SOP consist of about 17 pages of poorly-conceived, often anecdotal, delusional meanderings intended to do nothing more than protect the brokers, agents, and inspectors. They provide zero protection for purchasers of newly-constructed homes.
One might also assume that, though the SOP is found technically wanting, inspectors certainly would be required to gain additional knowledge not required by the TREC. Most do not. Many claim to. There is only one method of proving one’s knowledge of the codes and that is through code certification.
The International Code Council (ICC) authors all of the building codes in 49 states and a few foreign countries. This organization provides both training and rigorous examinations for those desiring to prove their knowledge of the codes regulating the construction of houses. Four separate exams lead to a Residential Combination Inspector certification or ICC R-5. If your inspector does not have these credentials he is not qualified to inspect your new home, or any other home for that matter.
Let’s do a straight up comparison of the volume of information needed to obtain a TREC license vs. an ICC R-5 certification. I already mentioned that the TREC SOP consists of 17 pages of mumbo jumbo. I’ll be generous and include two volumes that are often used during the training or TREC inspectors. The Principles of Home Inspection Systems and Standards 3rd Edition is a 1086-page tome used by many of the training schools. Add to that the National Home Inspector Examination Home Inspection Manual which weighs in at 659 pages. We now have a total of 1762 pages of required knowledge to obtain and maintain a TREC inspector license.
If your inspector is ICC-certified the volume of information required to have been mastered grows exponentially. One must peruse and fully understand the International Residential Code (IRC) at 2903 pages and the National Electrical Code (NEC) 1371 pages. What’s more, the IRC, in Chapter 44, lists an additional 26 pages of referenced standards that are, by reference, an integral part of this code. Likewise, the NEC lists pages of referenced standards that are to be treated as a part of that code. All of the pages of reference standards add roughly an additional 1500 pages of information.
Further, the IRC often defers to the International Building Code (IBC), for some items in the IRC such as slab-on-ground foundations in expansive soils, et al. The IBC adds yet another 2908 pages to the mix. Then there is the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC), the National Fire Protection Association’s various publications pertaining to natural gas, propane gas, fire safety, smoke alarms, et al.
OK, enough. Perhaps you get the picture. The basic TREC inspector might know about 1762 pages of information while the ICC-certified inspector must know at least 10,444 pages of info. That, of course is not all-inclusive. Materials and equipment manufacturers’ installation instructions, Consumer Products Safety Commission requirements, . . . etc. ad infinitum, must be in the inspector’s wheelhouse if he or she is to steer your new house safely to the point of occupancy. Contrast this with the current number of pages in the Internal Revenue Service rules at less than 3000 pages.
What if your inspector claims to be so certified? It is easy to verify by using this link: https://www.iccsafe.org/search-for-certified-professionals/ .
Yet another ploy you should be aware of is the multi-inspector firm whose principal may indeed be ICC-certified, but is not actively involved in the inspections performed by his company. He uses the certification to lure customers in and then sends out his uncertified lackeys to inspect your house. Cheesy, but common.
Another thing that might interest you is that HUD requires an ICC R-5 certified inspector to perform inspections on all FHA and VA loans for new construction.
So, if you are in the market to purchase a new home, hire only a qualified inspector who is ICC R-5 certified, or roll the dice on the other guy. It’s your money.