What is A Quality-Built Home? and How Do You Know if Yours Is One?
Once new homes are completed and are open for showing, it may be too late to know for sure if they are quality-built homes. Yes, you will be able to see the finishes of the home and you will be able to see differences from home to home in details like enhanced materials, and luxury touches like granite countertops, designer ceilings, and showcase light fixtures. But the measure of real quality is what’s behind the walls.
Here’s what you should ask about.
The Foundation Stage
The foundation is the most critical part of your home because any mistakes made at this point will only get worse as construction progresses. Adding more rebar to the slab may be worth the extra cost because if the foundation fails, it will be costly to repair. Make sure that the proper time was given to let the cement cure and that it wasn’t cut short to accelerate the production schedule. It would be good to ask if a qualified engineer certified the cement mixture and foundation pouring as well as provided soil testing before the work was started.
The Framing Stage
This stage is when you begin to see the shell or the skeleton of the home, including walls and roof. There are some areas of the home that require treated wood according to code. Pressure-treated wood should be used all the way around the exterior walls where wood rests on the foundation. The reason is that cement absorbs water, and, over time, if not treated, the wood will absorb that water, creating mold and other water damage issues. Some builders ignore using treated wood where it rests on the foundation in interior walls to save money even though the same principle of water moisture applies.
If plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) sheeting is applied to the exterior walls of the home, look to see if the boards rest on the foundation where water can accumulate after a rain. They shouldn’t because they will soak up water like a sponge. If your home is a stucco home, it is especially important that a product called “weep screed” be installed at the bottom edges of the boards all around the home. This will allow water that penetrates the home’s exterior finish to drain out, allowing the OSB to dry properly. What about the roof decking? Did your builder use radiant barrier decking—OSB board which reduces attic temperatures by about 30%? Radiant barrier decking has a shiny material coating on one side of the OSB that acts as a thermal shield against solar energy. While it and costs more per sheet, it is the single lowest investment that will make your home more comfortable and reduce your energy bills—paying for itself in a very short period of time.
Rough Plumbing And Electrical
After the framing and roofing are complete, plumbers and electricians come in to put in pipes and wires. Many holes will be drilled into the studs. In a home that will be completely insulated with spray foam, filling those holes with a can of spray foam is not that important here because the interior frame will be in conditioned space, but if your builder is using batt or other fiberglass insulating material, it is critical that those holes be covered up. The same goes for receptacles for outlets, light fixtures, and switches. All those small holes and cracks add up to huge costs in energy bills and add to the discomfort of your home
if not filled.
Heating & Cooling Systems And Ductwork
Your air conditioning system should be sized correctly for the size of your home. It should be customized for the square footage, the number of rooms, the number of windows, and so on. This is a mathematical solution that requires figuring out what the load calculations are and then deciding what unit is the right size for your home. Why is this important? Well, an oversized unit will turn on, cool the spaces too quickly, and turn off before it has removed all of the humidity in the home. The result will be an uncomfortable interior with high humidity, and the moisture that accumulates over time may lead to serious mold issues and unhealthy indoor air. The ductwork should also be properly sealed, designed, and tested to make sure it supplies the right pressures to ensure room-to-room comfort throughout the home. Sounds logical, right? You would be surprised how many contractors oversize the AC unit by using the “bigger is better” concept.
The type of insulation used in your new home is not as important as whether or not it was installed properly. The most expensive insulation is spray foam, but it is one of the best along with Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF). Spray foam is also more forgiving in its installation since it covers even the smallest holes. Batt and other fiberglass insulation are less expensive but they require more work—like splitting the insulation to put part of it on the back side of the electrical wires along a wall and the other half in front, or cutting it to fit around electrical receptacles or plumbing. That way, the insulation retains its shape—and its R-value. It’s sad, but not everyone installs insulation that way because it takes too long to do it right. A requirement of the BUILT TO SAVE® program is a thermal inspection performed by an energy rater before the drywall is installed to make sure the insulation was installed properly for maximum performance.
So How Do You Know If Your Home Was Quality Built?
Finally, if you were not present when the above phases of construction were performed to see for yourself, you have two choices: (1) take the builder’s word for it, or (2) look for the BUILT TO SAVE® certification. A home with a BUILT TO SAVE® certification has been inspected (during construction) and tested (after completion) by a third-party home energy rater licensed by the Residential Energy Services Network. See page 4 for a list of qualified raters in the area. Having a BUILT TO SAVE® certification, you can be sure that your home was constructed to superior standards, and will outperform a similar home built to minimum code standards by providing more energy efficiency, more comfort, better durability, tighter construction, cleaner indoor air, and a better resale value. Best of all, you will enjoy the peace of mind that your home was quality built, and you will be given a BUILT TO SAVE® certificate to prove it.