Adam, I am not worried about litigation, I notified my client in writing and they decided not to fix the problem. If and when the foundation develops cracks will depend on what they backfill the foundation with and how wet the soil gets. My main purpose of submitting this issue was to help others see why some foundations problems may develop and a potential issue when doing phase inspections in areas without building codes. In 35 years working with contractors both in residential and heavy highway I have learned the Golden Rule about what motivates a contractor; The option to make money or the threat of losing money. You can write letters until you run out of ink, but if you can’t control the money you can’t control them.
Unfortunately by the time someone calls me to do a phase inspection their fate is already sealed. They failed to purchase an architect stamped set of plans and they signed the builder’s contract without modification.
Builder’s contracts are typically written to ensure they get paid, see Golden Rule above. Reference to code compliance and quality of workmanship is nowhere to be found in their contracts. Some of the larger residential contractors may stipulate who can be on the job site during working hours. If you want a phase inspection be sure to include language the phase inspector (home inspector or engineer) has full access at any time. My phase inspection agreement states the following:
RIGHT OF ENTRY. Client warrants that Company’s representative will have access to enter and inspect the property at any time to review the ongoing construction activities. No area or component of the construction will be restricted or unavailable.
Be aware unless the architect is local most house plans have a generic statement that reads something like this:
Basement wall construction shall be reinforced masonry or reinforced concrete, as required by local codes.
So if there is no local code enforcement the contractor is free to do whatever he wants, like in my case.
Another overlooked issue is manufactured trusses. The truss company is responsible for the truss design only, including all the connections between trusses. But the homeowner or his representative is responsible for, all anchorage designs required to resist truss uplift, gravity and lateral loads, including all permanent stability bracing. This means someone on the job site must be able to read truss plans. Standard H3 hurricane clips may not be enough on some trusses, especially on girder trusses.
The quality of workmanship mentioned above is another overlooked detail homeowners forget and contractors don’t include. These are typically called Job Special Provisions in commercial projects or just specifications in residential contracts. Some of of these are already in the IRC such as grading requirements next to the foundation, if your not covered by building codes then specifications are critical as this specification below for backfill.
Excavation and Fill - Backfill material to be used from the excavations shall be of such nature that after it has been placed and properly compacted, it will make a dense, stable fill. It shall not contain vegetation, masses of roots, stones over 3-inches in diameter, or porous matter and shall not be saturated. Organic matter shall not exceed minor quantities and shall be well distributed.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) produces a document called Residential Construction Performance Guidelines you could incorporate in the contract by reference. Here is a typical guideline for uneven concrete slab:
Observation: The concrete floor or slab is uneven.
Performance Guideline: Except where the floor or portion of the floor has been designed for specific drainage purposes, concrete floors in living areas will not have pits, depressions, or areas of unevenness exceeding 3/8 inch in 32 inches.
Corrective Measure: The contractor will correct or repair the floor to meet the performance guideline.
Discussion: A repair can be accomplished by leveling the surface with a material designed to repair uneven concrete.
This concrete specification may need to be modified for tile floors like the following:
For tiles with all edges shorter than 15 in., the maximum allowable variation is no more than ¼ in. in 10 ft. and no more than 1/16 in. in 1 ft. from the required plane, when measured from the high points in the surface.
I could write a book, but you get the point. The devil is in the details so if you don’t have what you want in the contract you can’t expect to get what you want.