Do New Homes Need a Home Inspection?
A common question I get from clients is “do new homes even need to be inspected?” While the North Shore and Cape Ann have less than some areas of new homes being built, there are plenty of people who purchase newer homes. Some clients don’t even consider having a newer home inspected and many don’t even consider what issues could be identified during an inspection on a newer home. When purchasing a new home there are numerous issues that you would see on most older homes you don’t have to worry about. In addition to this many builders offer a 1-year warranty (or something similar) which does offer some level of protection. While there should be significantly less issues in a new home, we inspect new homes regularly and find all sorts of problems.
Most of the issues we find on new construction are somewhat routine. We see items that are yet to be completed, items that are optional, minor/cosmetic issues, or items that have been neglected to be considered. While there is some benefit to organizing and recording all these items this is not the primary reason for doing a new construction inspection. We typically create a punch list type list of all the issues that come up and many clients find this very helpful to have a punch list of anything they need to confirm gets completed or discuss with their builder. I see this type of information as an added benefit to having a home inspected but not the core reason.
Reason One: Structural Issues
The first reason I recommend a new construction inspection is for structural problems. While a home inspector is not an engineer they will go through a new home and look for obvious issues. Some examples of things that have come up during my own inspections are missing columns, cut/altered framing as contractors are roughing plumbing, heating and electrical, failed/defective framing, foundation issues and other problems. Take the example of the missing column, It was identified due to large gaps opening above kitchen cabinetry and investigating the potential cause. In some cases, it takes someone viewing the building holistically to identify these issues.
Reason Two: Moisture Issues
New homes are not immune to moisture problems, and I would argue that if a moisture issue does occur a tight home is much less resilient to dealing with these types of issues. I have identified numerous moisture issues in new homes and in addition to active moisture issues, water damage prevention should also be considered. Checking for pans, shutoffs and float switches under heating systems, water heaters, laundry units and other areas can help to avoid a big disaster. If this is not done when the home is constructed it is often never considered. Additionally, I have seen brand new roof, chimneys and other components fail to keep out water. Water penetration can occur when the exterior envelope is not properly constructed. In some cases, water piping or waste piping can leak when not properly installed or something gets missed. I have done inspections with brand new homes where massive water issues have already occurred and resulted in significant issues and damage. While rare, it does happen and has even stopped some clients from moving forward with their transaction.
Reason Three: Safety Issues
One benefit to an older home is people have lived in it over time and that gives the opportunity to identify problems. A new home has not been lived in and there is the potential for significant safety concerns to be present. I have inspected heating systems that are brand new, and the exhaust was never installed even thought it was in use. I have seen new electrical systems with components that were very poorly installed or partially installed leaving exposed shock hazards. I have seen new gas piping leak and even missing components allowing gas to flow openly into buildings. The best part of these safety issues is most of them are simple oversight. They are easy to fix in many cases and merely take someone to identify them to improve the safety of the home.
Reason Four: Poor Design
Some new homes are poorly designed. There could be a poorly designed section of the roof where water is being pitched toward the building, heating systems that will not keep the home evenly comfortable, missing or poorly designed drainage systems, plumbing components that will not perform as intended, flashings that may not work and numerous other similar issues. Fact is, regardless of if a home is old or new, many issues we see are simply things that were not designed or installed properly. As home inspectors we have the advantage of seeing how things are done in newer homes and inspecting similar components 10-20 or more years later and seeing how they held up over time. A contractor may do things consistently wrong and without a complaint from a client or municipal inspector, not even really know its an issue. A home inspection can help identify these issues prior to them causing damage.
In Conclusion: There are advantages to inspecting a new home.
While we discussed some of the things we find, I assure you there are many more. While I have an obvious bias on the subject, I think clients are frequently surprised how much comes up on a new construction inspection. They go in expecting to find virtually nothing and there is always a list of things. An inspection offers you protection, safety, and an understanding of your new home. If you get an inspection prior to purchase, it gives you more leverage in making sure you can deal with any issues that come up and could even prevent you from purchasing a home with significant problems. If you get an inspection just before your 12-month warranty runs out, you can identify issues that took some time to arise while you still have the opportunity to ask the builder to resolve them. I recommend doing both to my clients, but as always, something is better than nothing.
The picture is a new construction home with an Air Conditioning Air Handler leaking. There was no failsafe for leakage and moisture resulted in significant damage including the buckling of the floors from the utility closet to the bedroom.