Residential and small-commercial construction

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Residential and small-commercial construction

Design and construction errors are not uncommon. In particular, building materials and practices have come under closer scrutiny as the building boom, now into its 5th year, is beginning to show that buildings, constructed only a few years ago, have major construction deficiencies and problems. The exercise of due diligence during the planning, design, and construction phases of a project is proactive, and will help reduce the likelihood, extent, and cost of errors.

Developers and large industrial corporations with extensive facilities have recognized the need for reliable methods to check inconsistencies before they are carried to expensive and time-consuming extremes, and so should you. All aspects of a project should be assessed, with special emphasis on the following: Seismic resistance system, structural system, electrical and mechanical systems, and construction material and practices.

Before construction materials are made available, they are first run through a highly complex, and extensive engineering, testing, and review process. This review process is usually conducted by a number of independent testing laboratories, and the results are reviewed by professional societies such as the American Society for Testing and Materials, (ASTM) and the International Conference of Building Officials, (ICBO). Reports of the testing results and the Professional Societies’ findings are published and updated regularly. These reports, often referred to as ASTM Standards, ICBO Reports, and Uniform Building Code Standards, and state the minimum recommended standards for the use of the materials.

Architects and engineers refer to these Standards, and specify them in their plans and specifications. Once these specifications are made part of the construction documents for a building project, it is incumbent upon the general contractor, all of the specialty contractors, and all of the materials suppliers to comply with the specifications.

But they don’t always do this.

In order to say a few bucks, some small contractors may not compact the soil properly when they build a house or a driveway, may use lesser-gauge reinforcement bar in the concrete, may use a poorer grade concrete or, more commonly, lay a slab that is thinner than required. They may use lower grade piping material, a lower grade solder and flux, or lumber that is still green and subject to warping and shrinking after it is installed and dries. All of these have happened in homes that were built in the recent boom.

Due diligence on well-designed and specified building need not be a large- scale project, and will avoid unexpected capital outlays in the future. The result is a safer, more functional, building. In home construction, due diligence is an easy process, but one that you, the customer, must initiate: While you may have code inspectors to make sure you meet legal minimums, you need a materials-and-methods inspector to oversee all phase of construction, from the moment the dirt is touched to the moment the keys are handed to you. The investment is minimal, usually no more than $1.00 per square foot, and from our point of view $1,500 is a small price to pay to be sure that a home or office of 1,500 square feet, that may sell from 150,000 to 500,000 dollars, is properly constructed.

But keep in the back of your mind that contractors can be held liable for patent defects (defined as defects that are plainly visible, or that can be discovered by an inspection made with ordinary care and prudence) for up to four years after project completion. For latent defects (A latent defect is one an owner does not know about, and would not be expected to discover through the exercise of reasonable care), the statute of limitations is in many states now ten years from completion. Completion is usually timed from either the issuance of the certificate of occupancy or the last day a contractor’s worker was on the premise doing work.

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