Even when a homeowner doesn’t have the advantage of watching the progress of construction from the beginning, it’s still possible to judge the final result. Professional inspectors do it all the time, and they have extensive lists of what needs to be checked.
The site needs to be graded properly, in order to provide adequate run-off after rains or even from simple lawn watering. The house doesn’t need to be at the peak of a high hill, but the ground nearby should be at worst flat, preferably with at least a slight slope away from the foundation.
That helps prevent standing water from forming around the base, which inevitably finds its way under the floor or into tiny cracks in the foundation. A tiny amount of moisture isn’t disastrous, but over time several harmful effects can occur from even small amounts.
Mold can build up, sometimes making its way into noses and lungs. Continual moisture against walls can wet drywall, leading to weakening and eventual peeling. Plywood floors can be warped, producing bulges in flooring and carpets.
In more serious cases, homeowners can find themselves faced with basements that have an inch or more of standing water. Sump pumps can deal with the problem, but unless the area also holds a dehumidifier or air-conditioner, mold and mildew will form.
It’s no accident that foundations are flat and horizontal and walls are vertical and at right angles to the foundation. True, there are architecturally distinct homes that form exceptions. But in the overwhelming number of cases, the simple facts of gravity, human biology and sun movement dictate how a house needs to be built.
Walls not at right angles don’t merely look wrong, they’re weaker. Trusses that provide support for roofs and cross-members that make walls rigid are all placed to maximize strength, to resist wind, rain and/or earthquakes. Pieces need to be at the correct angle and fit well to minimize leaks and maximize support.
Those simple engineering facts provide even those who lack detailed construction knowledge with a basis to judge the soundness of the job.
Few homes will have joints that fit perfectly, or floors that are perfectly level, or walls that are perfectly vertical. But these elements should be within a very narrow tolerance range in order to properly perform their functions.
Do what inspectors do. Get up above the ceiling and take a look. Even homes without formal attics will almost always have a crawl space of some kind. Be careful to step only on beams, not in between. Unless the house does have a real attic, the ‘floor’ isn’t intended to be walked on.
Check the trusses. There are several standard styles, ‘M’, ‘W’, ‘Scissors’ and others. But they all have to have angled ends that meet well with other members of the roof and walls. Most will have metal on both sides of the member to join pieces. Check for any long cracks in the beam where these metal pieces attach.
A well-constructed home will be on solid, level or sloping-away ground with good drainage and have a strong, well-joined skeleton. Without those two basics, even when all else is done well, homeowners will be faced with expensive problems.
A little inspection goes a long way. Don’t rely solely on a professional inspectors report. Even though they’re qualified experts, get that added confidence that comes from seeing for yourself.