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Building Inspection and Site/Field Review

Before we get into the specifics of the various types of construction, lets talk a little bit about the process of what many people refer to as “building inspections”. When failures occur, many people ask “Why wasn’t that inspected ?” or “How did that pass inspection ?” The reality to those questions are…

… often in single family residential construction much of the construction is never inspected.

I am going to stop and clarify something first. Within the construction industry we do not state that we ‘inspect’ the work. We state that we provide periodic ‘site review’ or ‘field review’. It is a liability issue identified by our insurance companies. The insurance companies have decided that to ‘inspect’ the work, we have taken apart the components and inspected all aspects of the work and basically ‘certify’ that it is as per specification. Our insurance companies have decided that we do not ‘certify’ the work, so we do not inspect it. We only provide periodic ‘site review’ or ‘field review’ of the work to ensure the work is following the specifications. Legally the two are different. OK… with that out of the way lets move on.

… never inspected ? What ? 

Believe it or not, this is true. Your Municipal Building Inspector does not review all of the construction of your home or building. Due to the cost of field reviews, required expertise, man power and liability issues, the majority of municipal building departments have reduced their field reviews to generally life safety items. Most building departments only provide field reviews at the following construction stages;

  • Excavation and Footing Layout – to ensure the building is being built on good soil, footing are correct and are located within the correct property boundaries.
  • Foundation Completed and Backfill – to ensure the foundation walls, foundation drainage systems (weeping tile), damp-proofing and required site services are complete.
  • Completion of Framing – to ensure that the building is framed adequately, and is structurally sound.
  • Completion of Mechanical and Electrical Rough-ins – to ensure the mechanical and electrical contractors did not cut up the framing and damage the structural integrity of the building, and to ensure that the mechanical and electrical systems are roughed in correctly.
  • Completion of Insulation and Vapour Barrier – believe it or not, some municipalities do not provide field review at this stage. So sometimes… there is no insulation or vapour barrier review.
  • Final/Completion – generally they check handrails, guardrails, house address, plumbing fixture hook-ups, smoke and co2 detectors, and ensure the house/building has all the proper gas and electrical tickets identified, and other general life safety items.

That is pretty much it. Field review may vary a little from municipality to municipality, but they generally do not provide field review for much more that that. So, what don’t they inspect ? The Municipal Building Inspectors do not inspect:

  • Siding and Flashings
  • Stucco
  • Roofing
  • Eaves Trough and Gutters
  • Windows or their installation
  • Insulation and Vapour Barrier (in some municipalities)
  • Millwork / Cabinetry
  • Interior Finishes

Basically, the entire building envelope (or building shell) is not reviewed by your Municipal Building Inspector. Who then is reviewing those components ? In most cases, it is the General Contractor (or Home builder) that reviews the work of the sub-trades. Or in some cases, the insurance company that is providing your new home warranty policy may have their own warranty inspectors provide site/field review. Some home warranty providers are better than others. Some contractors see their home warranty inspectors regularly. While other contractors rarely see their home warranty inspectors on site. In either case, the new home warranty inspectors are generally not on site at all stages to review all stages of the work. Therefore, there is often no third party site/field review of many portions of the work. The General Contractor is often the only one providing a review of his own work. In most instances, the General Contractors are very knowledgeable. Unfortunately, some are not as knowledgeable as they should be. For those General Contractors that are not as knowledgeable as they think they are, this is where all the trouble starts for the new home owner.

So, now you know… not all of the construction of your home/building is being reviewed by a 3rd party.

The next questions are always…

Who is liable for this ?

Someone must be liable for this ?

Who is going to pay for this repair ?

Who do we pursue for compensation for this failure via litigation ?

In residential construction, the Contractor will provide a one or two year workmanship warranty. New homes in Alberta and British Columbia must have home warranty, and home warranty generally provides a warranty for:

  • One Year on Workmanship (Some Builders offer a Two (2) Year Workmanship Warranty.) This is a general warranty for interior items like flooring, baseboards, trims, millwork, interior doors, etc. And, for the exterior: Painting, caulking, flashings, the installation of items ensuring there are still anchored solidly, downspouts, eaves trough, etc.
  • Two Years on Delivery and Distribution Systems for plumbing, heating and electrical items.
  • Five Years on the Building Envelope Warranty for roofs, walls, and prevention of ingress water. With an option for the homeowner to buy an additional two years of building envelope coverage. Many people don’t know this.
  • 10 Years on Structural Warranty for major structural components of the building like foundations and framing.

When Consultant are involved, they assume liability for the design and construction overview for up to 15 years, and is often more complicated than it sounds, and is only ever resolved by legal proceedings.

It has been our experience that ingress water issues do not generally start to show up until after the six (6) years date extending out around 15 years. If there are problems, they seem they start to appear in the 6 – 15 years range after completion of construction. Very poor construction often fails within the warranty period. Sometimes it is caught, other times it is not noticed until after the 6th year date.

BCS recommends that building owners have 3rd party Pre-Building Warranty Expiry Reviews completed just prior to the expiry of each warranty expiry date of the builder’s warranty or home owner’s warranty. BCS provides Pre-Building Warranty Expiry Reviews. BCS makes this recommendation to avoid missing warranty dates and to catch any failures as of that date.

So, who is liable for the repair costs after the warranty expires in 1, 2 or 6 years:

– For residential construction up to 4 dwelling units, there generally is no consultant involved for the project, and the owners are often on their own for the cost of the repairs.

– For larger multi-family complexes, any liability is complicated to resolve liability and can take years of legal proceeding to resolve.

– For smaller commercial and industrial projects less than 470m2, there likely was no consultant involved on the project, so the owner is often on their own for the cost of the repairs.

– For larger commercial and industrial projects, the original Consultant might have specified a 1, 2, 3, or 5 year warranty, but typically warranty is only a 1 or 2 years workmanship warranty. After warranty has expired, any liability is complicated to resolve and can take years of legal proceeding to resolve.

BCS has assisted many Clients through the process of failure analysis, reporting, and designing repairs for repair, and for owner litigation pursuing the original Contractors and original Consultants for compensation. But it’s a long painful costly process for owners, original Contractors and original Consultants.

So, why not build a better building to start with, and avoid all that.

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