Ask the Architect

The contractor keeps smooth-talking me

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Q. I’m in the middle of adding on to my home, and I’m not happy with the way things are going. The contractor has people doing things that are terrible and have had to be redone, like plumbing, carpentry framing and insulation. I read about the 100 homes in New Orleans that actor Brad Pitt sponsored, and how he’s in a $20 million lawsuit for shoddy construction, and I wanted to avoid this, but now it’s happening to me. Who’s responsible? The contractor keeps smooth-talking me, which is only getting more frustrating, and the building inspector is also complaining about the work. How do I manage and fix this?

A.Because of the way the whole process, from design to permits to construction, is set up, in general, the system put in place to protect you doesn’t really work, forcing you to take action by yourself. Even though you got a permit and inspections, the building inspector can only advise about the work, and either reject or stop it when warranted by code or safety issues. You need a construction manager who works on your behalf, not the contractor. That person must be a pain in the neck, looking for each detail as materials go together, and must have the authority to control payment.

When I first started out nearly 40 years ago, the architect was that person, and it was made known in the contract that the architect would be inspecting and, more important, approving payment. Today you rarely find an architect on the site during construction, or so it seems, and it’s even more rare to have the architect co-signing from a designated checking account, along with the owner, to release progress payments. Because many owners want an architect to recommend a contractor, and because many homeowners are blindly trusting of everything the contractor tells them, they put themselves in the position you find yourself in.

What happened to Brad Pitt was that he meant well, but trusted his architect and contractor to be proficient, and what he got was poorly detailed plans and construction that was assembled without redundant waterproofing and the right materials. The homes in New Orleans you’re referring to have roofs pitched toward walls to collect rainwater in low-point gutters that weren’t properly constructed to direct the water while keeping it from penetrating the walls and ceilings. Without treating the roofs and walls with drainage fabrics and membranes to keep the water moving and the walls and roofs dry, the system failed.

I believe Pitt meant well and is the victim in this case because, even though he wanted to become an architect before being discovered as an actor, he put blind faith in a group of professionals and they let him down. Products that were all natural and “green” weren’t checked well to live up to the advertising, and innovation without verification can be your undoing.

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.