Downturns in building booms have always been great for my remodeling business. Because building frenzies leave in their wake a landscape littered with hastily built homes with major mistakes built into them. Mistakes that lead to drafty rooms, carpenter ant infestations, rotting structural elements, leaking roofs and lifting floor tiles.
Homeowner beware! Mistakes and problems occur even with good builders, but disaster is a certainty with a bad builder. The difference is that good builders stand behind their work, fix problems, and deliver a sound and functional home to their clients. Bad builders take the money and run. You are on your own to fix any disasters left behind.
Here's an example:
I worked on a project in the NH Lakes Region fixing some problems that the new owners of a large lakeside home were having. Icicles two-feet in diameter flowed to the ground in winter, the roof leaked everywhere, every door and window in the house leaked, poor insulation led to a burst pipe that flooded the finished basement. This was just the beginning.
We were working with an architect hired by the homeowner to consult and specify solutions to the home's problems. We re-built the roof around dormers to better shed ice and snow, stripped and installed new roofing. As the architect shared his ideas for solving the ice-damn problems I became curious and made my own inspection of the attic. There was a huge hole in the attic floor around a gas fireplace flue that was open all the way to the first floor! This was an eight-foot square area directly open to a heating appliance that just poured warm air into the attic and subsequently to the roof. This was a major source of the ice-damning problem.
The thing was, the architect never even inspected the attic or assessed the building's insulation before designing a very expensive solution to the problem. A solution that would not have worked because of the massive heat loss from the first floor. The architect was eventually fired.
The other very serious situation I discovered in the roof structure involved a flue chase---a structure framed around the metal fireplace flues to give the appearance of a stone chimney. This structure with it's stone veneer was very heavy. It was built on top of the roof surface with only the support of a single roof rafter to support it. The flue chase listed about 20 degrees out of plum and was saturated with water and beginning to rot because of poor flashing. It was only a matter of time before this thousand pound structure would come crashing through the roof and possibly into the home’s living space.
Before we were done the house was completely gutted. Every door and window was replaced. All the flooring, the kitchen cabinets, and all the trim. There were extensive plumbing repairs and electrical issues. The roof was replaced, framing was added in the attic to shore up the chimney structure and facilitate insulation to stop the heat loss. It cost several hundred thousand dollars.
This was a house less than five years old!
How does this happen?
The first thing to note is that NH contractors are not required to have a license. The contractor who built this home was a business man, not a professional builder. His guiding principle on this project was to do everything as cheaply as possible. He had obviously hired incompetent sub-contractors. This was evidenced by all the leaky windows, code violations and structural faults. The other factor to consider in NH is that local code departments do not staff experts in all areas of construction. And during building booms, their departments are under-staffed to keep up with the demand for inspections. Often these issues are difficult to spot during construction. Things like flashing details, so crucial to a building's integrity, are hidden beneath the surface of siding and roofing materials. The failure of these elements is disastrous for a homeowner, but the problem may not surface for years. When it does it can mean structural failure of supporting element of a building.