Residential construction defects: When should I take action?

After years of kitchen envy, sketching rooflines on paper napkins and seemingly endless meetings with your financial advisor, you’ve finally hired a contractor to build your dream home.

Or maybe you’ve just moved into the buzzing new neighborhood located in the ideal school zone.

So what comes next?

Read on to see how here-and-there fixes can turn into a new homeowner’s nightmare.


Growing Pains: When is it time to question your Contractor regarding residential construction defects?

To really put the quality of a home to the test, you need to experience living through at least one year’s worth of seasons in it.

This winter you may notice a lingering draft signaling weak areas in the insulation. Springtime’s showers are an excellent indicator of window installation quality. Then, with summer, the threat of termites rises.

Aside from the common issues that come with homeownership, how do you know if there is a serious problem?

The first red flag is needing the same repairs over and over. Next would be to find out if certain defects have a way of following your contractor from home to home.

If you are in a neighborhood where several houses were built by the same contractor, simply ask if they are experiencing the same issues. If the answer is “yes” then you might need to prepare yourself to take residential construction defects legal action.


The Most Serious Mistake Home Builders Make

For home builders in Alabama, a rare but very serious mistake is improper load bearing, which means your home will have a structural defect. This can be caused by inadequate soil compaction, improper design, or poor workmanship.

Soil compaction means soil particles are compressed into smaller volumes, resulting in less space for air and water to easily move through the soil particles. Improperly compacted soil can shift or move in a way that causes significant damage to any built structures on the soil, even if the structure is properly designed and constructed. When this type of shifting occurs, the loads on your home change and damage results.

In some neighborhoods, particularly those where a large hill has been leveled or underground structures such as an old sewer trunk line have been removed, a series of compaction tests should be performed before a home is built. These tests are designed to catch unstable or improperly compacted soil before a contractor breaks ground. If these tests are not done correctly, you could be in for years of worsening structural damage and even trouble re-selling the property.

If the soil was properly compacted but a built home has a structural defect, the problem is either design or workmanship. The only way to know for sure is to involve experts to investigate the issues. At Riley & Jackson, we have access to a network of architects, structural engineers, and home builders who can provide this service.

Here are just a few ways to tell if you are experiencing issues from improper load bearing:

  • Vertical cracks in sheetrock or cracks around door frames
  • Troublesome doors
  • Separation of baseboards from the floor or wall
  • Previously level floors becoming uneven
  • Windows that begin sticking
  • A high number of nail pops in the sheetrock
  • Stair-step cracks through mortar joints in the exterior brick
  • Front stairs or front porch pulling away from the home
  • Chimney lean or cracking

Other residential construction defects that could cost you:

Skipping out on termite prevention during construction

Taking proactive steps to prevent termite infestation is vital before, during, and after construction. Here are a few important steps your contractor should take to protecting your new home:

  • Treating the soil with a termiticide prior to pouring a footing or basement walls
  • Installing barriers or termite shields around the foundation and utility openings, or in some instances treating the structures themselves with a termiticide
  • Using pressure treated wood
  • Utilizing a concrete base to reduce wood-to-soil contact
  • Sloping soil away from the structure for better drainage

Susceptibility to Mold

Another challenge for contractors in Alabama is the constant threat of harmful mold. Homes in regions with high humidity are the most susceptible to having recurring mold issues. Prolonged exposure to mold can lead to serious, chronic health problems including hospitalizations and even death.

Here are some issues that can lead to harmful mold growth if left untreated:

  • Damp attics, basements and crawl spaces where moisture tends to accumulate, causing the perfect environment for harmful mold to thrive. These areas do not grow mold when they are properly ventilated
  • Leaking roofs should be fixed immediately to prevent water from seeping into walls and other inaccessible areas
  • Leaking pipes. If you notice a damp spot on the wall, you should call your contractor immediately to come out and inspect.

Take control BEFORE construction begins

If you are reading this pre-construction and you’re wondering if this is the right choice for you, fear not – there are several precautionary steps you can take to ensure the quality of your new home.

  • Have an architect or design professional oversee construction – this could cut down the potential for residential construction defects.
  • Conduct regular site visits yourself
  • Photograph everything during construction
  • Don’t rely on municipalities’ inspections to protect you. Those inspectors are only looking for safety and health issues
  • Ask for a reference list from your builder–people who have lived in homes built by this contractor for more than 10 years

You’ve realized that your home is botched, what now?

Aside from the disappointment you feel after realizing you have residential construction defects, you may be feeling a great deal of anxiety. You’ve just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on what you thought was going to be the greatest purchase of your life, and it turns into one of the worst mistakes you could have made.

Here’s what you should do next to arm yourself to prevent or prepare yourself from a potential legal battle:

  • You should always call the builder and give him or her the chance to remedy residential construction defects.
  • Hire a certified home inspector. You can find one through The American Society of Home Inspectors’ search engine service (
  • Ask your contractor for copies of permits
  • Gather accounts from other homeowners that used the same contractor and are experiencing similar issues.
  • Reach out to the legal experts at Riley Jackson to get advice and potentially get representation from a construction defect attorney who is very knowledgeable in this space.

At Riley Jackson, we realize hiring a lawyer is an important, difficult, and emotional decision. Our attorneys will never rush you to make a decision. We offer a free initial consultation so that you have a chance to meet us and we have an opportunity to meet you and learn more about your case.  For more information about our Birmingham Alabama law firm or to schedule an initial consultation with our attorneys, call 205-879-5000 or send us an e-mail via our website. We serve clients throughout the country.

< back