Common issues in the first year.
What Is Happening to My New House?
For Serious issues that the builder refuses to repair, your first step is to have a professional, your home inspector document the issues. They will help you determine the seriousness of the defects. Pacific Crest has inspected hundred of new homes and provide with a thoroughly documented report on the defects. Your next step is to consult with a legal professionally. They will want to sit down with you, your original contract and the inspection report. They can advise on the next step to take. A good book that describes this process is Construction Defect Litigation Another good resources is Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings
Here are more common issues we see during 1 year inspections:
One of the reasons the builder gives a one-year warranty with the house is so that these cracks caused by the lumber shrinkage can be repaired after the heating season. In some cases, the center girder will have to be raised slightly and re-shimmed on the tops of the piers to make the door openings in the cross partitions square again and to close the cracks. This lumber shrinkage is not the builder’s fault, and there is nothing he can do about it except make the repairs at the end of the heating season. Likewise, it is useless to make the repairs as the cracks appear, since the lumber may not be through shrinking yet.
In most cases, this truss rise happens only once, the first winter. However, in about one case in five, it happens each year. It depends upon where in the log the bottom truss member was cut. If the problem happens just once, repair of the drywall tape at the joint between the wall and the ceiling is all that is required. If the problem reappears, the only practical solution is to use a molding to cover the joint. The molding is fastened only to the ceiling and moves up and down on the wall, covering the crack. The problem is not structural, and indicates the presence of extra-heavy insulation in the ceiling. This problem is likewise beyond the control of the builder, but he should be responsible for repair of the joint after the first heating season and for installing the molding if that is necessary.
It may be difficult to open a window in cold weather when you have paid a premium for a well-insulated, tight house, but it is necessary. The building materials are drying, and the moisture has to go somewhere. The lumber is losing about 10% of its total weight in water. There is excess moisture in the concrete work, and in the interior finish materials, particularly plaster and drywall taping compounds. The building materials may release as much as a ton of water during that first heating season, and additional ventilation may be needed to dissipate the moisture. It may be necessary to open a window a crack and/or run a kitchen or bathroom exhaust fan most of the first winter to remove the excess humidity. A moisture problem during the first winter may well be a temporary one, do not take drastic measures to ventilate the house, such as installing an air-to-air heat exchanger, unless the moisture problem reappears the second winter.
A second possible cause of moisture problems is a wet basement or crawl space. A crawl space MUST have a plastic ground cover installed over the soil surface to control moisture evaporation. Standing water in the crawl space, whether above or below the plastic, is a matter for serious concern. Settling of the backfill around the foundation during or after construction may have directed water from the yard or roof against the foundation, causing flooding of the basement or crawl space. Liquid water should be pumped out, and the necessary regrading done. If there is a continuing problem with water in the crawl space, it may be necessary to install a perimeter tile leading to a sump and pump to drain it. The plastic should extend over the tile and sump.
If the house is not equipped with gutters and downspouts, the force of the water dripping from the roof edge onto the ground will dig a shallow ditch at the drip line. This ditch will keep the water near the house, where it can soak down and through the foundation. If the house cannot be equipped with gutters, it is essential that the ground slope away from the house on all sides, and that the surface of the soil be protected from erosion by some form of landscaping. Landscaping rock works well for the purpose, as long as the homeowner remembers that as far as drainage is concerned, the gravel is not there. The drainage slope must be maintained beneath the gravel. Gravel in a trench around the house merely forms a moat, with the roof water to fill it.
Installing gutters is only the first step in roof water control. The discharge from the downspouts must be directed away from the foundation, preferably at least five feet away. While downspout extensions are a nuisance when mowing the lawn, they are essential to keeping the basement or crawl space dry. On many older houses, the downspouts extended into underground tiles that discharged into either cisterns or to a storm sewer. Most of these drain lines were made of clay tile, and many have broken underground, usually at the elbow just below the downspout. A break here directs all of the water from the downspout against the foundation under the ground. This is responsible for many of the leaks in the corners of basements.
Maintenance of gutters is necessary, too. A sagging or blocked gutter is worse than none at all, because it overflows in one place rather than all along the roof edge, and at a point that is not prepared for the overflow. In areas with many mature trees, where gutter blockage by leaves is common, perhaps it is best to leave the gutters off and allow the roof runoff to drip into a plastic-lined gravel bed a foot or so deep, with a perforated drain tile in the bottom to carry the water away.
A second requirement is that there should be a slope of about four inches away from the house in the first six feet. When this slope is present and the grading level is as specified above, water and moisture problems are rare.
The owner of a new house should be aware that even if the builder does the grading properly, some settlement will occur during the first and second years of occupancy. It may well be necessary to add another truckload of dirt around the house to compensate for the settlement of the backfill around the foundation. This is often ignored, because the proud owner has installed landscaping that will have to be revised or replanted when the soil is added to maintain the original slope. Many homes more than 50 years old still have a “moat” around them because the settlement of the backfill was never refilled. That is probably the second most prevalent cause of wet basements in older houses.
Step 1. All dampers, both in the duct system and at register and grille faces, should be opened. If you do not know the location of dampers in the duct system, ask. There may not be any, but there usually are.
Step 2. Adjust the room thermostat to a comfortable temperature.
Step 3. Leave six or more desk-type thermometers at table height in various rooms. They need not be expensive or accurate, as long as they all read the same when they are in the same location. Observe them once or twice a day during typical winter weather.
Step 4. Partially close the dampers, preferably in the duct system, supplying those rooms which tend to be too warm. Usually these will be small rooms and rooms near the furnace. If there are rooms which still do not get warm enough, partially close the dampers to all the other rooms until the cool rooms reach the desired temperature.
Step 5. When the system is balanced to the temperatures you like (not necessarily all rooms at the same temperature), the damper settings should be marked.
The procedure will need to be repeated during the cooling season, with the dampers being partially closed to rooms which overcool until the warmest room cools to the desired temperature. The damper settings will be considerably different than for the heating season. When the desired distribution is reached, mark the summer setting.
After the correct winter and summer settings are marked, the dampers can be reset easily as the seasons change.
If there are rooms which cannot be heated or cooled satisfactorily, it may be necessary to add another duct and outlet (or a duct booster fan), but that is rare.