Tech Alert: Top 10 Defects Observed in 2016

December 21, 2016 in Tech Alert


Top 10 Defects Observed in 2016

We hope that you have not only enjoyed but also learned a great deal from our Tech Alert newsletter releases throughout 2016! We now bring to you a compilation of the top 10 defects that we observed out of the nearly two million (2,000,000) checkpoints we observed throughout the course of the year. Do note that the following defects are listed in order of construction sequence and not in any particular order of frequency of failure.  Cheers to a new year of quality building and success!

1. Foundation - Grading issues (Drainage onto adjacent property, back toward the unit, etc.)

One of the major issues that we observed during our inspections in 2016, was the inadequate drainage of a lot moving away from the foundations and into a drainage system. Slab and foundation performance depend greatly on how well the surface run-off drains from the site. The ground surface should be graded so that water flows rapidly away from the structure on top of the slope without ponding. The surface gradient needed to achieve such purpose may depend on the prevailing landscape. Areas adjacent to structures and slabs should slope away at a gradient of 2% or greater in order to provide positive surface drainage away from the buildings, structures, and pavements. For example, if roof drains are used, the drainage should be channeled by pipe to storm drains, or be discharged at least 10 feet away from the building. Irrigation should be limited to the minimum amount needed to sustain landscaping. Throughout 2016, we often reported excessive irrigation and insufficient surface water drainage and collection, as the principal causes for perched groundwater to develop within the foundation or slab underlying soils.

Particular attention should be focused on residential developments with structures incorporating “zero lot lines”. Such a design makes it difficult to achieve drainage requirements, particularly if the homeowners decide to landscape their side yards. In addition, if rain gutters are not used, roof run-off from two homes, discharging in a small side yard can lead to ponding and water infiltration below the edge beam, foundations, and slabs.

The risk associated with improper drainage includes; potential foundation movement causing structural damage and/or moisture intrusion through the foundation.  The most common situation in construction defect litigation cases involving geotechnical-related distress (expansive soils or settlement impacting structures, slope failures, etc.), is that the alleged defective drainage is claimed to be a significant contributor to the distress.  We often hear the statement… “If so much water didn’t percolate into the soil, then we would not have this level of soil related damage”.  While irrigation installed by homeowners may actually play a greater role in exacerbating these deeper soils issues than poor surface drainage, the cost to prove this is substantial. It is preferable and more cost effective to have documentation that the lot was properly graded at the time of turn over.

Want to learn more? Click Here to read our Tech Alert entitled "Optimizing Sub-Slab Design and Construction: Water as Both an Asset and Liability".

2. Framing - Window openings (size and recessed issues, including backing)

An abundance of anomalies related to framing were noted throughout the course of 2016. The ones that stood out the most included the following:

  • Window openings (size and recessed issues, including backing)
  • Lack of backing for WRB/cladding
  • Lack of support at bearing locations
  • Floating truss to non-bearing wall rigid connections (drywall cracking, load transfer, and nuisance noise)

Of these four, the most prominent defect derived from window openings (size and recessed issues, including backing). Following our inspections and analysis performed throughout the year, we found that anomalies related to incorrect window openings create the greatest risk for defect litigation over any other case in the industry. This is because with improper window openings come voids of warranties and the heightened risk of water intrusion in buildings.

Windows have very specific installation requirements based on each manufacturer’s specifications. One very important specification is taking into account the dimensions of rough framed openings.  When a rough framed window opening exceeds the manufacturer’s requirements, they are known to have an increased occurrence of immediate and latent window leaks and/or product failures. This condition will likely void the manufacturer’s warranty. Water intrusion can also occur from the inability to properly flash or seal the product due to the lack of framing support.

Additionally, over-framed window openings also create the risk of window product structural failure.  Such a failure is evident when the following symptoms are seen; cracking of the window frame or glazing, binding of the window, or even the window being blown out of the opening. Several of these mishaps will result in water intrusion and cause damage to the building materials and/or the occupant’s possessions.

Want to learn more? Click Here to read our Tech Alert entitled "The Size of the Window Opening Determines the Size of the Risk".

3. MEP: HVAC - Duct crimping (Causing loss of airflow)

There have been changes in the way HVAC system ducts are laid out as well as their relationship with other systems. At several projects across the country we have noticed duct work being crushed by the cathedralized attic insulation.  In other locations, the ducts have been crimped by the chords of a truss as they are run to the destination.

The crushing or crimping of ducts reduces the ability for air to flow through the duct to reach its intended destination.  The result is the risk that the indoor air quality becomes uncomfortable for the occupant, or worse, results in a claim as it could lead to the occupants experiencing health problems. Such a risk increases as home construction becomes tighter with less natural air changes per hour.

4. MEP: Plumbing - Drain, waste and vent (DWV) slope (Underground and interior)

Throughout 2016, we observed anomalies related to plumbing both at the underground utility trenches and above ground particularly on longer horizontal runs.  In some cases, the conditions observed were caused by a failure to account for a transitional fixture. At other times, improper planning resulted in insufficient room in the depth of the floor joist to create the drop required for the run.

The risk associated with an improper slope is that a sewage backup will occur causing customer complaints and call backs. This backup can cause damage to the occupant’s possessions and building materials. Additionally, if the backup happens to go uncorrected and leaks into the structure…mold can form, thus leading to health issues.  Even if the issue is corrected quickly, occupants may still allege illness due to the exposure of raw sewage. Additionally, the long-term effect may be premature failure of the pipe due to the corrosion from the standing effluent.

5. Windows - Installation deficiencies (Storing, sealing, fastening, flashing)

Although a trade may be a highly skilled window installer, there are a number of factors that are capable of hindering their ability to properly install a window. These include the conditions in which the window was stored, as well as the conditions and practices used to seal, fasten and flash the windows.

It is important to make a point of storing windows in a safe and secure environment prior to installation, as improper treatment will result in bent or broken window fins and/or jambs, frame distortion, damaged glass, screen damage, and locking mechanism damage.

Sealing issues that were noted throughout 2016 included incompatible sealant products, gaps in applied sealant, improper location of sealant, and inaccurate opening sizes that blocked the sealant from making contact with the necessary surface.

Fastening issues that we observed included improper fastening types, fasteners located too close to window corners, over and under-driven fasteners, improper fastener spacing, and fasteners driven through fins and jambs in locations not recommended by the window manufacturer.

Additionally, incompatible flashing materials, improper sequencing or lapping of flashings, flashing material that is installed with folds or wrinkles, and gaps especially in the lower corners of the window flashing system were common flashing issues that we witnessed throughout the year.

One of the largest causes of construction defect litigation are leaks through windows or building walls when these installations do not perform as expected. Homeowners expect the windows in their home to last throughout the lifespan of the building and expect them to be properly installed and fully-functional. The proper window installation, at a minimum, must start with an undamaged window that then has the correct sealant, fastening, and flashing installed per the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Want to learn more? Take a look at the following Tech Alerts that expand on these issues:

  • Click Here for The Ever-Evolving Building Envelope
  • Click Here for The Size of the Window Opening Determines the Size of the Risk

6. Wall Weatherization: Exteriors - Penetrations

A critical element of the building envelope that we often found anomalies with during our inspections throughout 2016, was the flashing around smaller penetrations through exterior walls...such as hose bibbs, gas piping, electrical boxes, vents, conduits, A/C sets, and low voltage wiring.  An average home will have 10 to 20 of these exterior penetrations. When installing such penetrations, it is not uncommon for many small holes caused by improper fastener penetrations, including shiners and overdriven fasteners to be left behind.

When such impressions are left, it is crucial that they be properly sealed to avoid the possibility of water intrusion.  As mentioned previously, water intrusion is the largest generator of construction defect claims.  Water intrusion into a home can result in significant issues for the builder and the homeowner, including damage to building materials and the occupant’s possessions as well as potential health concerns.  Additionally, failure to properly treat and seal holes and penetrations can result in excess air infiltration which can also result in construction defect claims that can cost the builder thousands of dollars.  As the codes for energy efficiency begin to go into full effect, the risk for air infiltration claims are sure to increase tremendously.

Want to learn more? Take a look at the following Tech Alerts that expand on these issues:

  • Click Here for The Ever-Evolving Building Envelope
  • Click Here for Flashing Panels for Exterior Wall Penetrations

7. Wall Weatherization: Interior waterproofing

Similar to exterior penetrations, system failures relating to interior mechanics have the ability to cause water intrusion.  Examples that we saw this year included; failure of tub and shower enclosures, washing machine leakage, water heater leakage, and leakage in the plumbing system piping.  Of all of these anomalies that we witnessed, the one that occurred the most often was related to issues stemming from shower pan to wall intersections.

Water proofing details for tub and shower installations should be included on the construction drawings and such installations should be carefully reviewed during construction.Leakage at the shower pan to enclosure may start off with only a small amount of leakage and go undetected for an extended period of time, causing significant damage to structural components.  Unlike windows and walls which see water intrusion only when it rains (unless irrigation is spraying onto the walls), a shower may see water intrusion several times a day. Water damage to a home caused by shower leakage can result in significant issues for the builder and the homeowner.  Damage to a home can include degradation of building components, visible water, mold and staining of building components, damage to the occupant's possessions and health related claims.

Want to learn more? Click Here to read our Tech Alert entitled "The Transition Between Tile-Backer Boards and Tub/Shower Units".

8. Roofing - Lack of underlayment dry-in being separated from asphalt shingle installation

The requirements for roof flashings, roof felt and other roof assemblies all require installations to be done in a “weather-board fashion” and are vital contributors to roof performance. It was not uncommon for us to find discrepancies in the installation of roofing materials throughout our inspections in 2016. The anomalies observed included improper laps of materials not meeting the code or manufacturer’s requirements, as well as reverse laps particularly at penetration flashings that were improperly installed without a bibb.

Some of the conditions noted include:

  • Roof mastic used in place of correctly installed metal flashings.
  • Roof eave drip edge installed overtop the felt paper instead of under it.
  • Roof jacks not correctly bibbed (woven) into the roof underlayment in a weather-board fashion - again, relying on mastic as a final seal.  This is common in asphalt shingle installations in some regions where the sequencing has the flashings being installed after the shingles are installed instead of at the same time.
  • Holes and rips in roof underlayment, repaired with mastic instead of a bibb of felt from the next highest seam.
  • Closed Rake Kick-Outs either not installed at all or were installed incorrectly.

Although mastic is a great product and can be useful instances such as for joints that may experience movement (i.e. the pipe to jack flashing intersection), its service life is minimal in comparison to properly installed flashings, roofing felts, and roof claddings. Additionally, mastic requires regular inspection and maintenance, which many owners fail to perform.  The risk associated with the anomalies listed above is water intrusion that is capable of causing damage to the roof and also the occupant’s possessions.  Since roof leaks are typically more obvious and inconvenient than a window leak, the possibility of customer complaints and the increased risk of defect litigation is much greater.

9. Exterior Cladding - Stucco (mix, lath, etc.)

In many regions of the country, exterior cement plaster (aka stucco) is a common exterior cladding.  In all of these regions we have seen a variety of defects related to the mixing, lathing, and application of stucco.

The risk seen in 2016 ranged from minor cracks to large scale efflorescence, and from soft stucco to major or significant cracking.  Improper lath installation can result in cracking, especially when the stucco mix is improper and/or there is insufficient hydration of the fresh stucco.  Improper mix ratios and hydration can result in large scale efflorescence and/or soft stucco.  While some of these issues may be more cosmetic in nature, they often cause owner complaints and help to fuel construction defect claim cases.

Want to learn more? Click Here to read our brochure entitled "Fending Off Florida's Billion Dollar Stucco Issue".

10. Project Documentation - Failure to follow and/or incomplete plans, SOW, product specifications

After performing thousands of third-party inspections, Technical Plan Reviews (TPR), and Geotechnical Design Reviews (GDR), we have noticed that settling for just a QA inspection is not always enough to cover the bases of potential risk on a job site. While performing third-party inspections throughout 2016, we noted an abundance of technical issues on plans, as well as incomplete plans that we would have typically brought up during a TPR or GDR.

On the other hand, while out on the field we have noted a vast number of times when we have seen issues related to a failure to follow the plans, project specifications, or manufacturer’s requirements. As part of our Geotechnical Review we often report an apparent disconnect between the Geotechnical Engineer of Record, other professionals, the client, and the builder...which leads to incorrect recommendations reported on construction plans

Failure to follow the plans, specifications, or manufacturer’s recommendations, generates risk.  Installing systems incorrectly will lead to voided warranties and the difficulty of obtaining insurance coverage on repairs. Incomplete plans and plans with incorrect information can result in incorrect construction, and eventually failures. This risk can be limited and/or reduced if a TPR and GDR are performed and plans are reviewed prior to finalization.  Failure of the trades to follow their scope of work (SOW), the plans, and/or the specifications can result in incorrectly installed products or systems creating risk that varies from a cosmetic issue to potential structural failure. Some errors will result in a simple nuisance while others create the potential for personal injury or death. To reduce these risks an active QA/QC program is necessary to catch and correct issues as they arise all throughout the construction process.


Quality Built inspects for items beyond the code. We become familiar with individual manufacturer product installation requirements. Having products installed per manufacturer specifications is essential for them to perform as intended.

In order to spot and catch the issues discussed throughout this article, builders have found it necessary to employ third party inspectors to provide an additional level of on-site supervision to the ever-changing installation practices beyond what their own field managers and local city inspectors are providing. This is not to say the local inspectors aren’t doing their job, it’s better said, today’s construction practices demand a higher frequency of inspections with a greater depth of scrutiny well beyond just inspecting for broader code compliance.

To bring a higher level of inspection, education, and observation right to the job-site, skilled inspectors are needed to focus on the most common areas of installation errors.  Since Quality Built maintains a vast wealth of data from the 1000’s of inspections we have taken part in, we know what to look for and have the ability to find the issues that continue to plague builders.

An effective QA program starts at the plan stage well before construction begins with a detailed review of the plans. It is important to recognize that obvious details in plans are not always obvious to everyone involved. That is why we strongly suggest that plan details include clear diagrams and written directions in order to minimize error and communication blocks. Once construction begins, inspections led by independent third party inspectors help to verify that the trades are following the plans, codes, manufacturer’s requirements, and industry best practices.

Let’s ring in the new year together with a drive to form a cohesive collaborative team that works towards the same goal. It is time to focus on the importance to communicate, document, and mitigate risk to ensure safety, quality, and ultimately…success!

Contributing Authors: 
Frank Yellico - Field Consultant, Level 4
Jeff Hoch - Architect & Field Consultant
Mario DiNicola - Principal Engineer
Monty Wentzel - Technical Services Specialist

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