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Monday, September 1, 2014

Are builders cutting corners?

Q. I’ve been watching homes go up in my neighborhood, and notice a lot of differences in the way they’re being built. Some use flake board siding and others use plywood. Some are using a kind of wooden I-beam floor and others are using regular lumber, much smaller. Also, some foundations are very thick and have metal wire rods in them, and some are much thinner, with no metal. Why is this, and is it dangerous? I’m concerned that the homes will fall apart if we get bad storms again. I’m waiting to get started, but I’m watching with interest to see what I’ll need.

A. You’re very observant! There are many different construction techniques, some that aren’t advisable because of low resistance to high winds, heavy snow or water intrusion. I refer to these as fair-weather homes — ones that are only meant for good weather or a quick build to dump on the unsuspecting buyer. Covering inferior materials is like putting lipstick on a pig, but you see it everywhere. Confident builders of lower-quality construction see the business sales end of construction as having more emphasis than the longer-lasting benefits of better-quality materials. The receiver of their services — the buyer — has to be aware of the choices by being an educated consumer.

Is it a dangerous practice? Maybe. It depends on the application. For example, cracked foundation walls will still support a building; they’re just aggravating if you have shifting and cracking in the rigid materials above, such as gypsum board (sheetrock) walls, floor tiling, countertops, etc. In such cases, there’s no low-cost remedy for the low-cost construction and the defects created. I regularly get calls from bidding contractors asking if they can use lower-quality materials, such as oriented strand board, or OSB, the flake board you referred to. I see the material when renovations are being done and the walls are reopened, years later. It doesn’t hold up well to moisture, and has nowhere near the wind resistance of plywood, but it saves money upfront. Prolonged exposure causes the little chips of wood-and-glue mixture to break apart.

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