Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We had a large custom home built by a contractor about three years ago. Since then, we’ve had three on-going problems. First, the bullnose wall corners throughout the house continue to separate from the drywall, even around the windows. The drywall subcontractor has been here repeatedly. But he only fixes the places where separation has become visible, and the places he fixes look obviously patched. Second, the stucco finish on the outside of the house keeps chipping and crumbling off. We pointed this out to the contractor when the house was new. He said this was typical for new stucco. But the stucco finish has continued to crack, crumble, and separate ever since. And third, there is a terrible smell coming from the septic tank since we moved in. When we first complained, the subcontractor repaired a broken underground pipe, but this has not eliminated the awful smell. The builder said it would go away but it has continued for three years. With each of these issues, the builder just makes excuses. He says that his liability expired after one year, and he never admits that these are serious problems. I am totally frustrated and hope that you can give me some direction. Please help. Ginny

Dear Ginny: The defects you describe are totally unacceptable and are not normal for a properly constructed home; especially a custom home. A contractor who excuses defects of this kind is unworthy of trust or respect.

If the bullnose wall corners are separating from the drywall, then they were not adequately nailed when the home was built. Proper repair means renailing every bullnose corner in the house, followed by patching and retexturing by a qualified craftsman. If done by a competent drywall finisher, the repairs should not be visibly discernible.

If the stucco had been properly applied, delamination of the finish coat would not be occurring. The cracking and crumbling you describe indicate substandard workmanship, and the builder is responsible for that defect. What’s more, his liability did not end after one year because the defects were reported to him while the one year warranty was still in effect.

The sewer gas smell from your septic system indicates a significant health safety violation that needs to be addressed fully and immediately. It is not a matter to be dismissed with lame excuses. Some aspect of the septic system is defective and needs to be corrected.

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Hire an experienced home inspector to thoroughly evaluate the property. In addition to the three issues you have listed, a qualified inspector will disclose construction defects you have not yet discovered. A detailed home inspection report will document all apparent construction defects in a way that will provide leverage in dealing with the builder.
  2. Hire individual specialty contractors to evaluate the problems you have listed: a drywall contractor to assess the bullnose problem; a stucco contractor to evaluate the stucco problem; and a septic contractor to inspect and evaluate the problem with sewer gases. All of these contractors should provide written assessments of these issues and bids for proposed repairs.
  3. Get some legal advice from an attorney who specializes in construction defect law.

In the final analysis, you don’t want the builder to repair the construction defects because you can no longer invest confidence in the integrity of his work. Instead, you want him to pay the contractors you hire to make proper repairs.