Social Media is flooded with beautiful photographs of magazine worthy homes. It makes sense as they are the final product, and that’s what people are drawn to – the grand entrance with vaulted ceilings – the elegant ensuite with gold fixtures and freestanding tub – the oversize kitchen island with ample storage – the list goes on an on. You get the idea, I’m sure you have seen photos like these before, and maybe even added some to your Pinterest Boards.

Gorgeous photos can be fun to look at, but if you are serious about building a home you need to look at some homes under construction BEOFRE you commit to a builder. Doing so, can tell what a builder looks like under the surface and what goes on behind the scenes. So go ahead, take a deeper look at these homes, and find out how different builders operate.

Start by short listing your top few and contact them requesting to go onsite to one of their current homes under construction. Pay close attention to how they respond to your question. If they are willing to schedule a site visit, this is typically a good sign implying that they have nothing to hide. Builders that refuse to accommodate or make excuses as to why you can’t schedule a site visit are definite red flags.

Going onsite reveals a lot about a builder, including what type of trades they employ and the quality/craftmanship of their homes. Let’s start with some general things to look for during ANY stage of construction

Tidy Job Site

This tells a lot about how a builder operates. Remember this is a work site, so there’s bound to be people working in the space. But overall things need to be in an orderly fashion and not scattered across the house in a messy way. Here’s 3 things to note:

  1. Tools – Organization is key! Is it neat and tidy? Or are there extension cords laying around causing tripping hazards, or tools strewn across the floor?
  2. Sawdust/Dirt – Can you see excessive build-up, especially in corners? Or is it tidy?
  3. Garbage – Or is it in a bag/bin? Or is it a mess? This includes drywall scraps, lumber cut-offs, packaging etc.

Maintaining a clean worksite indicates the builder cares about their trades and their project. It shows they are on site regularly checking progress and ensuring it’s safe and clean.

Access to Documentation

A good job site should have quick access to documentation for anyone coming on the job. Most documentation is found online, but every builder needs the basics in hard copy form. Safety documents, emergency contact numbers, and full set of blueprints/plans are all great to have on site. Often, builders have a box or sleeve with appropriate papers. Noting if a builder has a specific place for these documents is a good indication of their level of organization.

Level & Straight

This applies to anything and everything. If something looks cooked, twisted, or uneven, this is not a good sign. Do you notice something that seems wrong – it probably is. If you’re not sure, ask the builder directly. It never hurts to ask a questions – So if you see something that looks “off” just ask – You may even learn something new!

NEXT we’ll dive into some things to look for at SPECIFIC stages of construction. We are going to focus this list on items anyone should be able to look for – whether they have background knowledge in construction knowledge or not.

Foundation

Check to see if the concrete walls are straight. Standing on one end of the wall look down the wall to the other end of the house. Is it straight? Are Sil Plates (lumber tied into concrete wall) flush with the edge of the concrete, or are they bowing/crooked? The foundation is literally what your house is built upon. You need a strong, sturdy foundation, free from and waves and/or bowing.

Framing

Lumber is never to have twists or warps. If something looks obviously crooked, this is a bad sign. A good thing to look for at framing stage is safety rails installed around stairways, as this demonstrates the effort to make a job site safe for trades.

Notice how the framer has every stud perfectly vertical, and all the base plates and top plates leveled horizontally. He even neatly organized his cut-off ends of lumber to use as blocking later on. This is a great example of keeping a tidy workspace.

Exterior

Check for properly installed House Wrap. It should all be pulled tight, should be flat and not flapping in the wind. Should not be wrinkly or have tears/rips in it. Any overlap should have the piece above overlapping on the outside of the piece below, as this wicks moisture and water away from the house instead of into it.

Electrical & Plumbing

Look at the electrical panel, are the wires coming out in a big messy clump or are they neatly organized? Look at the lumber (studs, headers, and floor joists) Are there a bunch of unnecessary holes drilled in the studs or framing? This could indicate sloppy workmanship and careless planning, as excess holes were drilled holes for electrical and plumbing in the incorrect locations.

Insulation

Insulation should never be installed before the roof is shingled and the house is fully wrapped in house wrap. If you see insulation going in a house and can still see OSB on the Exterior, this is a huge red flag! Installing insulation before the house is closed-in presents the chance of moisture and weather elements getting inside the insulation – leading to mold and water damage down the road. 

Drywall

You should never see big gaps between boards. The most you should ever see is a 1/8” gap. The drywall should be tight everywhere. It should not buckle or seem wavy, especially on ceilings. Check what type of board is being used have behind the bathtubs/showers. It should be noticeably different to withstand water saturation.

Notice how precisely the drywall is placed? It’s cut perfectly to fit, with minimal gaps between boards. All seams are on a finished edge, and not a cut edge. Screws are evenly spaced and secured. All of these things help ensure once it’s painted you won’t have drywall seams or inconsistencies showing through.

Finishing

Are the subfloors fully cleaned after the drywall and painting? Have the subfloors been sanded down in preparation for the flooring? Uneven subfloors can cause your finished floor to have bumps and ridges, causing it to look uneven. Noting if subfloors are sanded down shows that the builder cares enough to make sure it’s done right. Look at the baseboards and trims. Are the mitered corners tight? There should be no gaps between the walls and trims – check around the door frames and walls.

The first photo shows a floor after the drywalling and painting. You can see it’s quite cloudy and has lots of particles embedded in the floor. The second photo shows during the sanding process, showing just how much dust/debris was on the floors. The third photo shows the finished sanded floor. It’s completely smooth, ready for flooring to be installed. You can also see around the joints are sanded more than the middle – This is to ensure you won’t see any edges visible once your flooring is installed on top.

Painting

Look for full coverage – If you have good lighting (such as the middle of the day) look to see if the paint is too thin, where you may see primer coming through. Another tell tale – if you can see brush marks or wavy lines, this is not a good sign. Straight cut lines between the ceiling and walls is a good thing to look for.

The left photo is a clear example of seeing the primer through the paint – Typically if paint is applied too thin, it won’t be quite so obvious, but this shows you what to look for.

Tile & Grout

Corners of tiles should line up and should be exact. The grout should be even throughout all the cracks, and the height of the grout should be the same. Watch out if you see inconsistent spacing between tiles, corners that don’t line up, and tiles placed at different depths – These are key indicators of poor tile setting.

Notice the tools this tile setter is using – He has a level on hand to ensure his tile job is precise and all the tiles are placed the same depth. He’s also using spacers between tiles, making certain his grout lines are evenly spaced. On the finished picture, notice how every corner of this intricate design is perfectly aligned.

Flooring

Check if the floors been covered after installation. Are the floors protected with paper or corrugated cardboard? Doing this keeps the dust, grit, and fine grains of dirt off the direct floor while trades are still working in the house. This preserves the floor for when homeowners move in.

Lot Grade

The grade of the lot should slope away from the house in all directions, including the slope of the driveway and sidewalk. You should be able to see a gradual, yet noticeable drainage slope away from the house. If you see sloping towards the house, this is a bad sign, as water should always be swept away. Also, look down the edge of the driveway – there should be no obvious wiggles or waves in the concrete.

Notice the arrows pointing in directions away from these homes. The grading of a lot should always be sloping away from a home.

So, before you commit to a builder, make sure you take a look on site during construction. Remember to look for these things, as they will give you a good idea about the builder and how they operate. It will show you what type of trades they employ and the quality/craftmanship of their homes. You’re bound to learn something new!

Leave a Reply