Home Construction Defects

  • Buying a house is an exciting experience

    After a long and diligent search, you found the house that you knew would become your home. You pictured your life in that home, raising children and the memories that you would make over the years that transform a house into a home.

Construction Defects

Defective or Cracked Brick Veneer

An epidemic of brick veneer defects has swept over North Alabama and the rest of the Southeast United States in the last decade.  Did you know the brick exterior on your house is not the slightest bit waterproof?  Bricks and especially the mortar holding them together are porous like sponges; they are actually designed to allow rain and water to penetrate behind the walls. A properly constructed brick wall also collects the water and directs it harmlessly away from the house through weep holes above doors, windows and at the bottom of walls.  

Over the last decade or more, the use of unskilled labor and pressure to build brick houses as fast as possible has resulted in virtually every house having at least 1 and sometimes up to 5 building code violations.  Such exterior defects cause the walls of your home to absorb water, which rots the wood inside the wall cavity.  Ultimately, the result is the growth of harmful or even toxic mold.  By the time any signs of a defective brick exterior make themselves known, the rot and mold inside the walls are usually very extensive and incredibly expensive to repair. Unfortunately, the devastation of the issue is compounded when homeowners discover that their insurance will not cover this kind of damage.  It is more important than ever to have your brick inspected now.

Cracked bricks around the exterior of your home are a major indicator of home defects. Cracked bricks are indicative of foundation movement resulting from improper foundation design.
Additionally, most builders, masons and inspectors fail to recognize bricks’ thermal expansion qualities. The brick in your home will grow in size when heated by sun exposure. During construction, your builder may have improperly installed thermal expansion joints, failed to select the correct connectors, or failed to account for significant sun exposure on a westward-facing wall.  Failing to account for thermal expansion can cause significant breaks and gaps in your bricks.  These issues make your home may be susceptible to water intrusion, cracked windows, and various other siding breaks.  

Signs & Symptoms of Cracked Bricks:  

  • Stair stepping cracks around windows, doors and fascia
  • Gaps around doors and windows, or windows that are out of square
  • Drafty doors or windows throughout the home
  • Fallen bricks on your property
  • Crumbling grout

Foundation Defects

Your home’s foundation is one of its most essential structural components.  To begin new home construction a builder is required to dig down to original soil or compacted soil before pouring a concrete footing.  The foundation is then built on top of the footing before the rest of the house is framed with lumber on top of the foundation. While it is true all houses settle to some degree, the building codes require footings and foundations to be strong enough to “uniformly” support a house.  In other words, as the weight of a house and its furnishings are applied on top of a foundation it can’t help but settle into the soil to some degree, but it must do so uniformly, or in one piece.  If cracks have developed in the brick exterior of your home or in the interior sheetrock, the most likely cause is that the foundation is suffering from “differential” settlement. Differential settlement occurs when the footing has cracked and the pieces are settling farther or further apart.  These cracks tend to be progressive in nature and get worse as clay soil expands and contracts as the seasons change.  A cracked or failing foundation is a serious structural defect which threatens your home’s stability and possibly your family’s safety. Foundation defects also significantly devalue your home; virtually every homebuyer will take a serious pause before considering buying any house with any visible evidence of a foundation problem.

Signs & Symptoms of Foundation Failure: 

  • Leaning walls
  • Cracked brick veneer
  • Interior sheetrock cracks
  • Sunken or uneven floor
  • Stair-stepping cracks, especially near doors, windows and fascia
  • Windows and doors that stick or are difficult to open or close
  • Windows and doors that are out of square alignment
  • Gaps in window and door trim, or gaps in crown molding
  • Cracks in your foundation or your basement walls and floors
  • Chimney pulling away from the house

Water Intrusion

Water intrusion negatively affects any aspect of a home; from a leaking roof, to improperly installed flashing, to lack of vapor barriers to prevent water entering the home. Water leaks also significantly contribute to increased moisture and humidity, which encourages the growth of dangerous mold.  Water leaks can cause extensive damage to your property and will result in expensive repair and replacement costs.  

Signs & Symptoms of Water Leakage

  • Ponding, or excess standing water in basements, crawlspaces, decks, roof or around the perimeter of your home.
  • Soft or rotted wood near entryways and window frames
  • Water-stained ceilings, walls or doors


Flashing is a component of the “building envelope.” Flashing is a strip that helps transition from one material to another within a home, such as from an exterior door frame to the walls of your home or around shower stalls. The correct method for installing flashing requires a builder to embed one layer in the brick and counter-flash it with another piece of material so the transition area remains dry and maintenance free for many years.  

Unfortunately, the vast majority of builders, even in very expensive homes, choose the cheaper and less reliable “screw & glue” flashing depicted here (photo). This type of flashing is dependent upon caulk and will only prevent leaks until the caulk dries or is damaged.  “Screw & glue” flashing is an example of very poor workmanship that is a common cause of extensive water damage in homes.  These issues are not covered by homeowners insurance.    Improper installation of flashing can lead to a variety of problems in your home ranging from significant water leakage to mold contamination and beyond.

Signs & Symptoms of Improper Flashing:

  • Rotted wood or framing near doors or windows
  • Leaking roof
  • Water stains on ceilings or doors
  • Water intrusion or leakage throughout the home

Crawlspace Defects

When your home is built upon a crawl space of any height, it is susceptible to the same defects as a traditional foundation (structural shifts, cracks and gaps) as a result of poor design or poor planning in the backfilling of soil. Crawlspace defects allow groundwater to surround or even enter your crawlspace, and improper ventilation retains dangerous amounts of that moisture within your home. Your defective crawlspace becomes a breeding ground for toxic mold.  Improperly ventilated crawlspaces are also a hospitable environment for insects and pests, particularly termites.  In short, crawlspace construction defects significantly affect both your home’s structure and your family’s health and well-being.  

Signs & Symptoms of Crawlspace defects:  

  • Standing water
  • Water stains on crawlspace walls
  • Damp, musty odors emanating from your crawlspace
  • Aggravated allergies
  • Smelly, damp carpets
  • Buckling hardwood floors
  • Windows and doors that stick or are difficult to open or close
  • Insects & pests in the home

Termites/Pest Control

North Alabama is home to multiple pests that pose a threat to your home’s structure and your family’s health.  Despite their tiny size, termites are some of the most destructive insects on the planet and cause significant damage to your home and will result in expensive repairs.  Fire ants and other insects can swarm near your home, and their presence poses a serious health risk to your family.   Pest Control issues are either Inspection Cases or Treatment Cases, and both can be financially devastating to homeowners.  Pest Cases cause thousands of dollars in damage and drastically affect the resale value of a home.  

Inspection Cases
Most transactions for the purchase of new home require a “termite letter” that requires a licensed pest control company to perform an inspection and report their visual finding regarding the presence of termites.  Although they were provided a “clean” termite letter at closing, unfortunately many homeowners discover infestation or damage. If they had known about the infestation or damage, they either would not have purchased the home, or they would not have paid as much in order to account for the repair of these damages.

Treatment Cases
Many homeowners contract with a pest control company to place a termite bond on their home, which includes an initial treatment and annual fee to have the home inspected and to protect it against termite infestation.  Homeowners expect that their Pest Control company will apply pesticides at regular intervals throughout the year.  Improper mixing and application of these chemicals can pose serious risks to anyone within your home. Failure to apply these chemicals according to specifications can cause a structure to be uninhabitable.  Many times the Pest Control company fails to provide adequate treatment at all.  

Signs of Termites & Pests:
Termite mud tunnels in your basement, crawlspace or around the exterior perimeter of your home.  These tubes lead termites from the ground into cracks in bricks, foundation or siding.
Wood damage, tiny holes or sawdust
Live Termites, stray wings near entrances to your home
Paint that bubbles up on wood surfaces

Health Symptoms of Improper Pesticide Application:
Harsh chemical odors throughout the home
Difficulty breathing or constricted airways
Blurred Vision

Mold Contamination

Mold is present everywhere, but tends to grow in dangerous quantities where consistent moisture is present. Moisture in the form of uncontrolled humidity or water leaking allows mold spores to breed on wood, insulation and carpeting. A relative humidity (RH) of 55% or higher promote the dangerous growth of mold. Mold poses a serious threat to both your home’s structure and value as well as to your family’s health and safety.

Signs of Mold Contamination:
Consistent musty or unpleasant odors
Common areas include window sills, roof eaves, basement & crawlspace walls
Condensation or rusting or pipes or metal

Health Symptoms of Mold Contamination
Allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis); either immediate or delayed
Aggravated asthma, and/or irritation to the throat and lungs
Listlessness, decreased attention span, trouble concentrating, dizziness

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Copyright © 2015 Thomas S. McGrath, P.C.