The wonderful world of residential construction can be very complex. A new home is a series of systems and components that rely on one another to perform properly. If the previous component is installed improperly all of the other systems that are built upon that component will not live up to their potential. I recently had the opportunity to inspect a beautiful new home here in West Salem, Oregon that was like a display home for just why you need a home inspection on a new home.
Cosmetically this home was very attractive. Vaulted ceilings, custom built-ins, crown molding and of course the ever present Brazilian cherry floors and granite counters. Under the fancy façade were a few very important details that the builder screwed up. One of those little things was a vapor retarder, big name for a very simple and relatively inexpensive component. It is basically a sheet of plastic stretched over the bare earth of the crawl space that prevents excess water vapor from leaving the soil (a normal and natural process) and being absorbed by the home’s wood structure (also a natural process but very harmful to the structure of the home).
With the vapor retarder missing, the moist soil provides all the moisture and humidity necessary for an extremely conducive environment for wood destroying organisms. Wood destroying organisms like molds, termites, and powder post beetles and other critters that can call your home food.
When I popped the lid to that crawlspace a wave of mustiness (mold spores) slapped me in the face. Upon closer inspection of the very wet, very muddy crawlspace it could be noted that although the air was full of spores from actively producing molds, no visible growing mold could be noted on the structure. However the scraps of wood, construction debris, that had been left scattered about were covered with very healthy fungal colonies.
All of that excess wood was another little screw-up. All of these little mistakes, although ultimately the builder’s responsibility, were also made by the contractors that were in charge of the vapor retarder, the contractors that left cellulose debris (plumbers, framers, and electricians), and the government official (building inspector) that is paid to ensure that these things don’t happen.
This poor home had other serious issues. Homes like these sometimes makes me wonder about some people’s integrity, however I guess it will always be job security for honest, independent building consultants.