What You Can’t See Can Hurt You is about how systems and components used to build a house that are not easily visible can result in rot, structural failure, energy loss, sickness and other unpleasantness.
Many people have said that they don’t need the services of an Architect because they have “seen” the work of a “builder” they like and feel that things will be just fine, glossing over the details of how their house will be designed and built. They don’t want to know the details and don’t really care, because they have “seen” new houses built by the builder they intend to use and because the end result “looks okay” the minute the house is done, they believe everything will continue to be okay for as long as they live, and certainly for as long as they own that house.
First of all, for all those good and great Licensed General Contractors (some of whom are also Licensed Architects) whose work is usually above reproach, that use quality materials in the construction of their Clients’ houses, we salute you and praise you. However, this firm has heard directly from other types of “builders” whom have said:
“I don’t want an Architect involved with the projects I build. Why? Because I don’t want anyone looking over my shoulder, telling me that I have to use more durable materials and systems. I want to use whatever I can get away with that barely meet Code so that I can make more money, even though the Owner of the project thinks he’s getting the very best of everything. He can think whatever he wants. I’m going to give him what I typically use for the lowest price. I don’t give a damn about specifications and details; that’s just “stuff” I don’t have time to deal with when I’m building. I’m a busy guy and I don’t want to take the time to provide anything out of what I call “ordinary” to make peoples’ houses better. If I can get away with it and sneak it past the Building Inspector, I think that’s okay.”
Okay. Care to read that again? It’s almost a verbatim quote from a local builder who objected to having a quality Licensed Architect providing thorough plans and specs for a homeowner who wanted a new project built by him. Essentially, he tried to “throw the Architect under the bus,” making up slanderous statements that the quality documents of the Architect were “unnecessary and obstructive.” Well: unnecessary from what perspective? And “obstructing” what? From the Builder who wants to get away with murder, or how about from the homeowner’s perspective who wanted a durable, energy-efficient and healthy house designed and built?
And exactly what sort of materials and systems are we talking about here and what can happen? Let’s list them:
STRUCTURAL MATERIALS & SYSTEMS
Even though building codes and wise practices require exterior structural wood to be “P.T.” Pressure Treated), some project are constructed with non-pressure-treated wood.
What Can Happen: the worst thing: structural failure, caused by rotting of the wood members and/or insect infestation, like carpenter ants, powder post beetles and termites.
Exterior ferrous metals, like steel, used outside and in moisture prone locations are supposed to be galvanized (zinc coated). Unfortunately, very few Building Inspectors notice details like this. And we see many houses that have been built with raw steel nails, screws and bolts exposed to the weather, which immediately begin rusting, putting peoples property and lives at risk when the structural members they are supporting collapse (like porch decks, which are one of the worst and most frequent failures in the USA observed by Licensed Home Inspectors and on the “hit list” of nearly every State in the USA for Home Inspectors to cite during inspections.
And that’s just 2 examples!
Every conscientious Licensed Architect will call for pressure-treated wood and galvanized steel fasteners to be used on the exterior for structural elements on their projects. Builders who don’t like this can quite frankly lump it. To not do this violates Code and places the owners in physical and property jeopardy and might even void their property insurance, because their house was not built using prudent legal materials to construct it. This can be a very big deal and can be the subject of serious lawsuits.
ROOFING & UNDERLAYMENT
Most builders will use a 30# asphaltic roofing felt (or double 15#) under the roof shingles. Look at construction projects during a windy day. What happens: the nailed flimsy felt tears off in even a medium breeze. What do the builders do? The have their personnel simply nail those torn sheets right back into place, tears and all. In other words, this cheap practice (figuratively and literally) greatly increases the likelihood of your getting a leak in your roof due to this.
Quality oriented Architect these days often specify a much thicker (like 60 mil) uncured polybutylene sheet that is both nailed and adhered to the roof deck. It seals around all of the fasteners through it! Amazing. Just about guarantees that you should never have a roof leak, if properly installed. Added cost? On a normal sized house, perhaps another $2,500. That’s a good value for never having a roof leak, don’t you think?
One of the worst energy leaks is literally that: air leaks into and out of your house. The latest energy code (2015 IECC (International Energy Conservation Code)) calls for an Air Barrier that holds in conditioned (heated or cooled) air and keeps out exterior air, unless specifically admitted through controlled fresh air intake points planned into the system. However, even though in the latest energy code and even though good Architects plan for a comprehensive Air Barrier, most builders are not aware of this or simply don’t care and certainly most do not provide it. Hopefully this will change over time and mandatory testing (blower door testing) require this. The point is: without the Architect’s carefully thought-out Air Barrier systems (often involving nothing more than economical “drywall” and various types of construction tape to hold together materials that are typically going to be there anyway, your expensively heated and cooled air will escape to the outside and unwanted freezing winter air and super-heated humid air in summer will enter your home, all over the body of your house, especially where you can’t see it (through your walls, floors and around your doors and windows). And this isn’t the only issue relative to energy efficiency: just one. And how having an Architect detail and specify the locations and types of Air Barriers can make your house an energy miser instead of an energy hog. Think your local County or Municipal Building Department will force your Builder to do the “right thing?” Think again. They miss dozens of things in every project. They are are not there as your quality control department. Some of them are political appointees with no experience in engineering or construction.
We have seen Clients who have had builders construct their houses with torn, separated or missing vapor barriers over the earth in their crawlspaces, and also cheap “waterproofing” around their houses’ basements and crawlspaces. The result: water penetration into the basement walls and crawlspaces, spawning green and black mold throughout that area, including inside the walls. This results in Legionnaire’s Disease, mold growth and COPD. Anyone can be allergic to mold and mildew, if there’s enough of it. And this level of exposure can also infect HVAC ductwork, spreading the mold and other creepy-crawlies throughout the house. Bugs, rodents and other pests love this sort of thing: lots of moisture for them. And they get sick, too, adding fuel to the fire of dead, dying and diseased infections in your house. Does the builder who installed the cheap “damp-proofing” or torn vapor barriers exposing the dirt in your crawlspace and basement care? Ask them. If they will return your calls. Call your local Building Department. Speak to the manager. Ask them if moisture penetration into basements and crawlspaces are a problem in their county. We’re betting they’re going to answer “YES!” Because: it is just about anywhere houses are being built (because most are built without an Architect’s plans and specs).
Now then: any quality Licensed Architect will have details and specifications calling for proper waterproofing and vapor barriers around your foundation walls and in your crawlspaces, making moisture a non-issue, if the Contractor installs it per plans and specs. Another good reason for an Architect to be involved with every construction project, especially houses. Your health and that of your loved ones.
Contact a licensed Architect to design and specify your house. Don’t get stuck having to fix what others made happen.