Why Do New Homes Have So Many Defects?

Nov. 18, 2006 – Reduced number of warranty inspections
Owing to the increase in the number of homes built each year and the increased workload due to building control inspections, the warranty providers now normally only inspect a new home at six ‘key stages’ of construction. They no longer carry out random spot checks and are contacted by the site manager (unless he forgets) when an inspection is required. This can mean that the warranty inspector only checks the stage he has been asked to look at and he may not visit the site for a number of weeks between stages. The decrease in the number of independent inspections can only contribute to lower standards and increased incidents of defects.

Lack of skills
The construction industry has known for some time that there would be a time in the future, when there would be a shortage of skilled tradesmen to build the number of new homes required. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) was formed as long ago as 1964 to promote and improve the standard of training within the industry. However the issue of the lack of skilled tradesmen has still yet to be addressed. A point was reached a few years ago when there were insufficient plumbers and plasterers to meet the workload. As a result of the shortage many sub contractors are left with no option but to employ operatives with limited knowledge and skill, or pay over-the-odds for skilled people. There is therefore a distinct likelihood that your new home will have been built at some stage, by semi-skilled workers who are learning their skills whilst building your new home.

Insufficient time to build – unrealistic build programmes
Over recent years, the time taken to build the average house has decreased. This has been achieved in part due to advances in technology, materials, construction methods and off site manufacturing. However, even with all the current efficiencies being adopted, the time given to build your new home continues to decrease.

Planning delays
There is growing incidence of the planning process delaying the start of new developments. When planning permission is eventually given, there can be a rush to start work on site in an effort to make up the time lost. This can have even more relevance if the site has a contribution to make to the company’s end of year figures. However, planning delay often causes a knock on effect with both architectural and structural information being required within an unrealistic time frame, often resulting in mistakes on the working drawings, many drawing revisions and problems on site.

Non standardised designs being built
Most of the larger house builders have a set of standard house designs that are built throughout the country. However, due to planning delays, many of the larger builders, having inherited an approved design with the land acquisition, are choosing to build non-standard designs to avoid potential delays in a return from their capital investment. New unfamiliar and unproven house designs invariably have ‘teething problems’.

Changes to the Building Regulations and NHBC standards
In recent years this has been a continual process. No sooner has the industry accepted new standards, produced designs, specifications and developed new materials enabling the new standards to be met than they are changed again. (Part E Part L Part M) This causes problems at site level with certain trades, possibly working with out of date drawings, unaware that the specifications for their work have now been changed.

Increased importance placed on safety procedures
Nearly all construction and house building companies have invested heavily in implementing new health and safety strategies to comply with new legislation and limit their exposure to prosecution in the event of an accident or fatality. However, compliance has a price and it can take up a large proportion of the site manager’s working day. Not only has he to carry out various and necessary safety inspections but now everything must be recorded in writing, even a visit from the HSE. Such is the onus placed on the site manager preparing and implementing risk assessments, method statements, COSHH assessments, inductions, tool-box talks (training) lift plans etc, that he is spending less and less time out on the site inspecting the standard of your new home as it is built.

Poor site managers
The growing incidence of employing site managers with a trade background also contributes to the lower quality of newly built homes. These site managers tend to have a very limited knowledge outside their own particular trade, with poor management and communication skills and a lack of enthusiasm, confidence and knowledge of the latest techniques and building regulations. It is not uncommon for forklift truck drivers to be acting as site managers on smaller sites.

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