Thursday, September 3, 2009

Inspection vs. Expectation

There's common advice that folks share when talking about building a house -- it's what you inspect, not what you expect. One can provide contractors with detailed explanations of homeowner expectations on design, quality, etc., but trusting that will be done just does not cut it in the construction industry -- there's only one thing that will, and that's inspection. It's disappointing that many subcontractors cut corners. Perhaps it's a lack of training, lack of skill, lack of supervision, or all of the above. But there are too many horror stories related to construction that only strong supervision by the owner(s) and inspection of worked performed will ensure quality construction meeting the design intent. We faced that issue twice this week. First with the new clerestory window installation and then with the deck post installation. Our construction manager, Aaron, was the subcontractor for each of these tasks and his crew just failed to get it right the first time. The end result is they're doing the work over, which is taking more time, costing Aaron more money, and adding unnecessary stress and frustration (for us, for Aaron, and for his crew that's doing the work over again). So the clerestory window saga continues. One of the selling points for using Quality Window & Door was that they would send a technical rep to oversee all window and door installations if you bought windows through them. That's included in the price. This is another area where they failed. When the original windows and doors were installed, the tech was there for only part of the day. This time, they couldn't find a rep who was available, so the sales guy who royally screwed up our clerestory window order came instead. He doesn't seem to know anything about window installation either. The fact is the five windows that were installed on Tuesday were put in wrong, under his and Aaron's supervision. The workers did not follow the WeatherShield installation instructions, nor the EarthCraft House program's technical guidelines. Andreas caught the error. Had he not inspected their work, all of the windows would have been installed incorrectly. There were a whole host of problems, and now the windows will have to be removed. One primary concern was that there was no house wrap (e.g., Tyvek) used for the window installation and the caulking was wrong. Had this not been inspected, the problems would rear their ugly heads years down the road. Once again, Chris Conway, our EarthCraft Technical Advisor saved the day as he confirmed that what Andreas described was incorrect and he walked Andreas through the correct installation process. (This is probably the 40th or 50th time we've called him with technical questions related to green construction and he has been unbelievably helpful and patient with us each and every time. He's amazingly knowledgeable and helpful!) We spent Wednesday morning on-site so Andreas could supervise the window installation to ensure the crew understood the EarthCraft technical guidelines and I could supervise the cedar siding installation that had been scheduled. I was leaving early Thursday morning for a work trip to Aspen, CO so this was the only opportunity to meet with the siding crew. As it turned out, the siding crew was unable to do any siding installation since they had to help the window crew install the windows. By the end of Wednesday evening, about 15 of the windows were correctly installed, with 7 left to go (plus the work of removing the incorrectly-installed windows.) The second inspection came quite by accident. While we were on-site, we noticed that one of the deck posts on the North side of the house was leaning. Since Dominion Power's subcontractors were trenching there, we thought they might had bumped it with their Bobcat. It turns out they didn't, but the posts were not installed correctly. There are concrete deck piers. The 6"x6" pressure treated posts must sit directly on the deck piers. Apparently, Aaron's crew decided they would set one short piece of post on the concrete pier, and then set another short piece post on top of that - instead of one proper length deck post. Apparently someone leaned on the first deck post on the North side of the house, it shifted in the soft clay soil, and that's when we pulled it out to inspect what was causing it to lean. That was very disconcerting so we checked the next one -- it was also wrong, with two shorter pieces stacked on top of one another. We brought this to Aaron's attention, checked the third one, and that one was fine. Now, we need to pull out each and every deck post to find any more that might have been installed incorrectly, and Aaron will need to replace those. Again, more stress and frustration (and expense to Aaron) that would not be an issue had Aaron been on-site supervising his crew and/or his crew had been properly trained and/or skilled to perform this job right the first time. Yes, Aaron's accepting the responsibility for these mistakes and we hope these are isolated instances and no future situations like this will arise. If they do, we'll know, as we'll be inspecting all of the work that's done. Speaking of inspections, the City inspected our framing and mechanical systems yesterday afternoon and both passed. Southland Insulators will be on-site Friday morning to spray foam insulation in the roof/ceiling area and around the basement upper walls (in the joist areas at the outside perimeter of the house.) Then we can schedule a close-in inspection and start installing drywall!

The new clerestory windows that have been installed look really great (again, no photos of those, since it was dusk when we got to the lot after going to our offices to work during the afternoon and early evening.) You can get the idea, though, from the picture taken inside looking out in the "incorrect installation" series below. (The window with the cardboard is the one that was broken upon delivery from WeatherShield to Quality Window & Door.)

Incorrect Installation:

Corrected Installation:

Leaning Deck Post:

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