Q. Our custom home was built about 10 years ago, and we recently discovered a major construction defect. The architecture is unusual, with the second story being cantilevered past the outer walls of the first story. In the second-floor rooms where the floors extend beyond the lower story, the floors are not insulated, and these rooms become very cold during winter. The lack of insulation was discovered when we had leaks from frozen pipes in the floor. When we told the builder about the missing insulation, he said: "Just turn your heat up and wear socks."
How could the builder have gotten away without installing floor insulation? How could the city inspector have missed it, and do I have recourse against the builder after 10 years?
A. Had the insulation been missed in a few places, this might be regarded as a mistake. That it was omitted at the entire perimeter of the building indicates questionable intent or incompetence. The fact that it was overlooked by the municipal building inspector reveals professional negligence on the part of the inspector. As for liability, 10 years is usually the cutoff point for statutes of limitations, but this varies from state to state. You should consult an attorney who specializes in construction defect law to see what remedies, if any, are available to you under the law.
You can also file a complaint with the state agency that licenses contractors. And while you're at it, have your home professionally inspected to determine a complete list of defects. In all likelihood, there are additional issues that you have not yet discovered.
By the way, the contractor's response that you should turn up the heat and wear socks demonstrates that he is not concerned about the quality of his work. Hopefully, you can hold him responsible for the cost of repairs.
Q. The home I am buying has fixtures that were installed by the sellers themselves, without permits. These include the 8-year-old heating and air conditioning system and the 10-year-old water heater. Should I accept these fixtures as they are or should I insist that they be permitted?
A. If the HVAC system and water heater were installed without permits, and particularly if they were installed by nonprofessionals, it is almost certain they are not installed to code, and this could involve significant safety violations. The fixtures should be evaluated by a licensed plumbing and HVAC contractor, as well as by your home inspector, to verify the safety and integrity of these systems. If problems are found, you should request that the sellers make all necessary repairs.
The 10-year-old water heater is already past its expected useful life and will probably need replacement soon. Therefore, obtaining a permit at this late date is not a critical issue. The 8-year-old HVAC system, on the other hand, should still have years of remaining useful life. Therefore, it is recommended that an as-built permit be obtained for this system to enable the building department to inspect and approve the installation.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.