About 45% of residential home construction inspections result in a Code violation, according to a survey done by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). This was a fairly surprising figure to me. There are probably hundreds of home builders and contractors in Fairfield and Westchester County, and it’s likely that a fair amount of them are not qualified to build homes, particularly luxury homes. They simply don’t have the experience, or they do not employ the appropriate measures to undertake complex home construction projects.
Building a luxury home is an extremely complex undertaking that requires in-depth knowledge of a wide range of construction processes, regulations, and materials. The planning phase alone for a 12,000-square-foot home, like the ones we’ve built in Greenwich, Westchester, and Darien, requires months of working and reworking. And when you consider building on the waterfront, the complexity can be staggering to new builders.
The top violation, according to the study, was missing documentation such as the engineer’s foundation letter, structural plans, HVAC plans, etc. Most builders get into the business because they like working with their hands and being outside. This is understandable, but the reality is that luxury home construction projects require a lot of desk time and paperwork. As a result, residential contractors need to be extremely diligent and organized. They also need to have a propensity for strategic planning, assessment, and estimating. Most important, they need to know how the entire home gets built — including engineering requirements, site assessments, foundation, complex framing and load requirements, trade management, Code Requirements, etc.
Achieving this goal takes determination, commitment, and experience. Unfortunately, a lot of builders get into the trade with little or no experience, thinking they can do it all. I’ve seen this happen, and the results can lead to real problems.
Several of the violations involve structural elements, including improperly placed anchor bolts, braced wall errors, weakened joists and beams, and deck ledgers and braces. This is when we can all be thankful that we have thorough building code requirements. These types of errors gone unchecked can lead to major structural issues that have the potential to cost large sums of money down the line for the homeowner — or, worse, the next owner. And let’s not forget about the safety issue. Collapsing decks are too common, and can result in people getting seriously injured and worse.
The next set of violations is related even more directly to safety. They include stair rise/run errors, improper stair handrails and guardrail heights and sturdiness, and missing or inadequate fire blocking. Homeowners often take these safety measures for granted, but building a safe home is critical to the delivery of the end product. We are responsible not only for the comfort of our clients, but also for ensuring the home is safe for years to come.
The last two code violations, according to the study, were air-barrier gaps, and exposed kraft-faced insulation. These can also lead to safety issues. The bottom line is that when you hire a homebuilder, you need to be confident that they understand how to build a luxury home properly. The vetting process should go well beyond the review of their portfolio. Most of the time, the best builders have been in the business for years.
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