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The Importance of Inspecting New Houses

Some people mistakenly assume a new house does not need a home inspection. After all, the builder commonly does offer a warranty. Based on my experience as a home inspector, I know better.

Punch Lists: Most newly constructed houses are far from completely finished. Typically, many details, some little and some not so little, need attention by the builder. The enumeration of these details is referred to as a Punch List. The home inspector can provide a Punch List to be given to the builder by the buyer.

Very common examples of Punch List items include lack of weather stripping at doors and windows, interior finish or exterior siding imperfections, poorly sealed wall penetrations where electrical, plumbing or other utility services enter or exit the building, missing electric junction box and outlet covers, un-labeled breakers at electrical service panels, missing downspout extensions, etc. 

One of the very last things the builder does is to install the exterior venting for the clothes dryer.  By then, the builder’s attention is quite often focused elsewhere as in the next house he or she is building.  I don’t know how many times I have called attention to the lack of exterior venting for the clothes dryer in the new house. It’s a real bummer for a buyer to discover this over-sight the hard way as in when the clothes dryer arrives for installation.

Water Control Problems: New houses are particularly vulnerable to below grade water penetration. Just because the basement or crawlspace looks dry now does not mean it will stay that way very long. That’s because the granular backfill next to the foundation has yet to settle. Over the first three years, it will settle a lot and the low-lying areas adjacent to the foundation will cause water seepage into the building. A good home inspector knows how to prescribe the solutions early on.

Sub-Contractor Problems: Things fall between the cracks when the tradesmen do not coordinate their work. An example is the plumbing vent stack that terminates in the attic instead of being led through the roof.  The result is a build-up of moist, stinky sewer gases in the attic. This happens quite often in new houses.

I heard of one chimney sub-contractor who got tired of being stiffed by general contractors who failed to pay him. His novel solution was to install a pane of clear glass inside the chimney flue. If one looked up the chimney from the fireplace everything would appear normal but the chimney would, of course, not draft.  Upon being paid, the chimney guy would drop a brick down the flue thereby restoring proper operation. No payment, no brick. I’m not sure I would have found this problem during my visual inspection but you get the point about potential sub-contractor problems. 

Installation Errors and Omissions: Once, I counted three brand-new air conditioning compressors installed at a new house. The trouble was that there were four air handlers inside the house. Yep, one air conditioning zone was entirely non-functional.

I have encountered brand new boilers with back-flow preventers installed backwards. I forget how many cold-water faucets produced hot water. How many dishwashing machines still had the original packing materials inside (meaning no one had ever tested or run the thing)? I have also lost track of how many plumbing drain lines were simply never connected to the main drain line.  Decks attached to houses without bolts; missing roof flashings; foundation bolts lacking nuts: the list goes on and on.

Environmental Issues:  In my experience, most builders do not conduct much environmental testing attendant to offering a new house for sale. Local mandates might have them doing some well water testing but I can’t recall any that perform radon-in- air or radon-in-water screening. Your home inspector can offer these services as well as a range of other environmental testing. 

In sum, newness does not equate to peace of mind.