Narrow your search for a new home: do your own basic home inspection

New Construction Corner

Tom Corbett

If you’re shopping for new construction, chances are you’ve been to countless sales centers and open houses, trying to narrow your search. As long as the building is more or less complete, you can perform a rough do-it-yourself home inspection that will give you a sense of whether it’s even worth signing the development’s guestbook or registering on a Web site.

This isn’t a matter of making sure the building meets code. That’s something a professional home inspector will help you with later in the process. I’m talking about how you can independently get a rudimentary sense of whether the builder did a better-than-average job. Since you’re probably sinking your life savings into this home, better-than-average is the least you deserve.

New construction of inferior quality is rampant – take it from a home inspector. You might have been pre-qualified for a mortgage when you began shopping. Well, following the checklist below will help you “pre-qualify” a new home. If it doesn’t meet these standards, I’d suggest you steer clear.

Masonry

  • A masonry wall is going to let in some water – there’s no way around it. Good builders make sure there are ways to let the water escape before it causes damage or mold. When you’re outside the building, check out a window. Right above or below the opening, you should see small gaps in the brick, commonly called “weep holes” (sometimes with ropes sticking out). Feel around for a sheet of plastic or stainless steel, called “flashing,” directly above or below the window frame (be careful, though, since the edges can be sharp). Weep holes let water out, and flashing keeps it from seeping in.
  • Joints – the mortar-filled spaces between the bricks – should be smooth and slightly concave. This helps water run down the side of the building and prevents damage.
  • None of the bricks should stick out more than 1.5 inches from the foundation. If they do, the building has structural problems.

Electric

  • On the outside of the building, look for wires that feed into the electric meter. If you can reach any of them from the sidewalk, a porch or a balcony, it’s an electrocution hazard.
  • New-construction homes should have 200 amps of electric service, otherwise you’ll probably have to pay to upgrade. Look for a piece of pipe right above the electric meter that’s almost 2.5 inches wide (width measures amps). Or go into the basement and look at the main breaker; it should say 200 amps.

Drainage

  • The long sidewalks at the sides of the building should have drains to keep ice away and water out of the basement.
  • Entry doors should be about six inches above the ground, to keep water out.
  • Window sills should be pitched to shed water. Bring a small level to check.
  • Make sure the back yard doesn’t slope downward toward the basement, or water might drain into it.
  • To prevent flooding, the basement should have a sump pump, which looks like a big black hole in the ground with white pipes protruding. Look for a black box nearby with wires going into the pit. That’s the sump pump battery, a good thing to have in case the power goes out.

Heating and cooling:

  • It’s vital that exhaust isn’t getting trapped near the building. Turn on the hot water in the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink and the shower. This will cause the water heater to turn on. At the thermostat, turn the heating system to auto, then to heat, and crank it to 85 degrees.

Next, go outside, and stand where the furnace and water heater chuff out exhaust (the vent should be on the same side of the building as the furnace and water heater). If your home is releasing hot gas three feet from a window or six feet from a neighbor’s home, or into a walkway less than seven feet wide, you’re looking at a serious health hazard.

Tom Corbett is president of Tomacor, Inc., www.Tomacor.com, a professional property consulting company specializing in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work. E-mail your construction questions to Tom at Inspection@Tomacor.com.

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