Storing household goods on garage and attic trusses – Garage and attic trusses are designed to support the weight of the roof and ceiling and not the weight of anything else. Unfortunately, many homeowners view the space in the attic and above the garage ceiling as a great place for additional storage. Storing household goods in these areas can result in sagging and even a possible collapse of the roof structure. If a homeowner wishes to use this space for storage, a structural engineer should be consulted to determine if additional reinforcement is necessary.
Altering finished grades – Most single family residences are delivered with a driveway but without the walkways, patios, landscaping and drainage systems. Building codes usually require that that the surrounding bare lot slope away from the home so rainwater flows away from the home. Unfortunately, the homeowner or an aftermarket contractor will often pour the sidewalks and patios directly on top of the finished grade which allows water to flow between the walkway and the home. Swimming pool contractors have been known to set their decks and coping too high, causing water to flow back toward the home. Water that flows and seeps under the foundation can cause the foundation to shift. If the soils are high in clay content the water may not drain readily and the soil can then swell (expand) to up to 30 percent of its dry volume and the foundation can move upward causing extensive interior and exterior damage.
The bottom line: Alteration of finished grades results in some of the most costly claims made in the construction defect disputes.
Improperly attaching a deck trellis, sunscreen, or lanai structure to the home – There are many proper ways to create a watertight connection between the home and a deck trellis or lanai structure. Unfortunately, these “add-on structures” are often just nailed or bolted directly to the outside wall of the home. Inevitably, rainwater finds its way into the penetrations and the dry rot process begins. It’s critical that the deck ledger (the board that’s placed up against the side of the home) be flashed with metal flashing in an industry-approved manner. If bolts are used to attach the ledger board to the home, the bolt holes should be filled with caulk. Local government agencies often require a building permit to construct a trellis or lanai attached to a home because they are considered a structure that could fall and cause injury. Decks that are attached to the home, are larger than 200 square feet or are over 30 inches above the adjacent grade within three feet, often require a building permit. Patio covers may also require a building permit. Check with the local building department before starting work.
Allowing irrigation sprinkler heads to spray against the home – Irrigation sprinkler heads that spray against the panel or lap siding, masonry, or stucco walls of a home can lead to rotted walls and leaching of color from the siding, masonry or stucco and even movement of the foundation. It’s important that all irrigation spray be directed away from the home rather than toward the home. Spray heads should be checked regularly during the irrigation season to make sure that they have not turned and point toward the home. Posts supporting overhead decks that have shrubbery growing closely around them are particularly vulnerable to irrigation spray.
Disconnecting or not using bathroom and laundry vent fans – Bathrooms and laundries are areas of high humidity. Bathroom and laundry fans should never be disconnected (even though the noise may bother the occupant). The fan should always be turned on during use of the room. Failure to use the vent fans can result in water vapor getting into the drywall, electrical outlets and even the framing members. Over time, mold, mildew and fungi may grow in these areas. Water vapor that condenses on walls and windows can eventually find its way into the walls of the home and weaken the structure through dry rot. Rooms where humidifiers are used should also be well ventilated.
Walking on the roof – Walking on the roof is dangerous. Slips and falls can cause serious injuries. Untrained persons are likely to break or scuff the roof covering and cause roof leaks. Cleaning gutters should be done from a ladder and not by standing on the roof. If an object is thrown on the roof, such as a child’s toy, it should be retrieved using a ladder and a telescoping pole rather than by walking on the roof. Most residential warranties exclude damage resulting from unauthorized persons walking on roofs.
Overloading upper cabinets – While lower cabinets rest on the floor, upper cabinets are hung from a wall using screws or nails. By stacking heavy dishes and glassware in an upper cabinet, a homeowner can load the cabinet beyond its capacity. This can result in sagging shelves, or worse yet, detachment of the cabinet from the wall. Heavy china and cookware should always be placed in the lower cabinets. Do not overload cabinet drawers with heavy items and take care to not pull drawers out too far. This action results in the plastic guide being snapped off at the back of the cabinet drawer.
Tinting dual-pane windows – Many new homes are constructed with dual-pane windows (also known as double-glazed windows or insulating windows). The two panes of glass are separated by a spacer up to 5/8 inch in thickness. The air space between the dual panes is “dead air.” This area is so tightly sealed that air can neither enter nor leave the space. By placing a tinting film on the inside of the window, the sun’s rays are reflected back into the dead air space. The temperature in this space can become so hot that it may cause the elastic seal to rupture, causing the insulating value of the window to be lost. Windows with broken or ruptured seals are easy to identify: they have moisture between the panes of glass. Homeowners should never tint a dual-pane window on the inside unless it is specifically approved by the window manufacturer.
Incorrectly installing a security alarm / Penetration of windows and walls – If an aftermarket alarm is installed by the homeowner or by a contractor who has not been hired by the builder, great care should be taken to seal all penetrations through windows and walls to avoid future dry rot. Never drill into the bottom track of a window or door to install an alarm contact.
[box]Walnut Creek, California Hall of Fame homebuilder David MacLellan, along with Architect/Developer George Wolfson AIA, and building code and inspection expert Douglas Hansen created The Home Book – A Complete Guide to Homeowner and Homebuilder Responsibilities.[/box]
image 1: ɹɐǝɟ ǝɥʇ (Creative Commons BY-ND); image 2 & 3: The Home Book