Kenneth Kasdan and Scott Thomson
Kasdan Simonds Weber & Vaughan LLP
For many, the American dream is owning a home. Comfortable, safe, a place to raise a family.But for some homeowners, their dream can become a nightmare if the home is not properly built, which unfortunately can be the case in fast growing areas such as the Inland Empire where some builders certainly not all are trying to take advantage of current housing demand by cutting corners to build and sell homes as fast as they can.
Whether a new home or an existing one, the potential for construction defects may be there, lurking unseen behind walls, in attics, under carpeting, even under the home itself. It may take years for a defect to show up, or it may happen quickly, such as water intrusion through poorly installed doors and windows during heavy rain. The purpose of this article is to discuss some of the more common defects found in homes, defects that can compromise a home's structural integrity, esthetics, comfort, and ultimately, its value. In some cases, defects such as water intrusion can even create an unsafe environment in a home by promoting the growth of mold.
LEAKS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN
Regardless of how heavy or persistent the rain, leaks should not happen, not in new homes and not in existing ones. That is, if the home is properly constructed. The Uniform Building Code, which is the bible for homebuilding nationwide, has been the model code here in Riverside County, and in California, for decades. The code states that a home's building envelope should be leak free, and the walls and interior coverings of the home or any building -- must be protected from water intrusion.
What to look for? The drywall that forms the interior walls of a home or ceiling may show signs of water intrusion that begins with slight staining, and grows larger with each passing rain. Unfortunately, like the proverbial iceberg, much of the real damage is hidden from view. Gypsum board, the typical drywall installed in homes to create the interior envelope, will readily absorb water that it comes in contact with. If the leak persists, water traveling to the drywall may also soak the wood framing studs and fiberglass insulation inside the ceiling and wall cavities.
Water intrusion can cause severe damage to drywall, wood, and flooring components, requiring costly repairs to remove and replace the damaged areas and fix the cause of the leak. If not tended to, mold may also grow because it thrives in damp environments, and literally feeds on building components.
The nature and extent of the mold infestation will determine for each home or business owner whether simple bleach will suffice, or if professional mold removal will be needed to adequately remove the mold and repair the damage. Not only does water intrusion create an environment for mold and mildew, it also can destroy the structural integrity and usefulness of the building materials. By the time a wallboard shows signs of leaks, the entire wall and/or ceiling system can be saturated, possibly beyond basic repair.
Two of the most common problem areas allowing water intrusion are defective doorway entries and deck thresholds, which are frequently the result of a builder's failure to properly install sheet metal or other waterproofing membranes. Over time, moisture intrusion can destroy flooring, whether it's carpet, wood, or even stone; moisture can cause tile or stone flooring to separate from the slab or other substrate. When this occurs, a substantial repair bill to fix not only the damage, but the cause, will most likely result.
BUILDING IS A COMPLEX PROCESS
Building a solid home that is free from defects takes construction teamwork and the builder's commitment to quality and control. During construction, the coordinated effort of several contractors is required to ensure a home is well-built and safe from water intrusion. It's a complex process with many places the roof, doors, windows, walls where defects can occur. Take for example a single window.
Typically, the framing contractor constructs the frame for the window as part of the wall framing. Then, the sheet metal contractor installs the metal, or, as it's called in the building industry, the flashing, to prevent direct intrusion of moisture from around the window and the frame. The window is installed by the window manufacturer, a window installer, the framer, or even perhaps the stucco subcontractor.These are just some of the people who must perform the work correctly to protect against unwanted water intrusion.
All of these trades must be supervised by the general contractor and/or the builder. Someone in authority and with the proper knowledge must be watching to ensure, as in the above example, that the windows are installed and flashed properly. Trades at the job site are often in a hurry to get to the work completed so they can move on to the next job. And it's neither the city nor county inspector's job to see that the windows are flashed; it's the contractor's job.
If a construction problem arises, no one wants to assume the blame. Frequently, when investigating a neighborhood of houses with leaking windows or doors, we hear what we call the Dude Reference, which is, some other dude's fault, not mine. And in most cases, the homeowner is left holding the bag.
Water intrusion may be seem like a small problem, but the Grand Canyon was carved by one small river that ran its course unabated over time. Because of the complexity of construction and the involvement by so many different subcontractors, how leaks occur and who is responsible for them must be ascertained by an expert in the field.
In conclusion, for many people, their home is not only the place to raise a family and enjoy their lives, it's their primary investment. If your home suffers from water intrusion or other significant defects, you should consider consulting someone knowledgeable to determine what the problems are, what repairs are needed, and if necessary, what are your legal rights to protect your home, your family, and your investment.
(The law firm of Kasdan Simonds Weber & Vaughan LLP specializes in construction defect litigation, representing homeowners, homeowner associations, and owners of commercial property against contractors, developers and others responsible for the design, construction or sale of defectively built homes or other structures. The firm has offices in Northern and Southern California, and in Phoenix, AZ, and its web site is www.kasdansimonds.com)