Walk-through inspections – How to do it by the book

The residential building industry standard for workmanship is documented in a publication called the Residential Construction Performance Guidelines. It is the bible for judging a contractor’s workmanship for a homeowner or for a realtor at a walk-through inspection evaluating the completion of a project. Unfortunately, most contractors rarely refer to it. It can resolve many a dispute about what is reasonable to expect compared to what is actually delivered.

It has been a “go to” benchmark reference for reasonable expectations of performance in the goods and services provided by the residential construction industry. It was originally published more than 30 years ago by the National Association of Home Builders. It is in its fourth edition, copy write 2010, available for sale on-line at NAHB; earlier editions can be downloaded for free. I will provide a link to download the third addition for free; not that much different than the fourth edition at $45.

The current edition Guideline is subdivided into thirteen subject areas of construction work that roughly approximate the sequence of tasks that are followed from the start of a project concerning Site Work and excavation to the conclusion of a project, turning over the key. Within each subject area there are subtopics that pertain to particular work elements of a project, for example Concrete Slab under the subject area of Foundations. The format has not changed since the first edition where each subtopic area describes a problem Observation, followed by a Performance Guideline, followed by a Corrective Measure.

Among the thirteen subject areas that could come up in evaluating the final readiness of a project for occupancy I have divided them into two approximate categories here: (1) primarily Code Inspection Items, and (2) everything else that that a homeowner would like to look good and work dependably. A city code inspector will have had to investigate and approve important aspects of the nine  Performance Guideline subject areas for being in compliance with local building codes, including:

  • Site Work
  • Foundation
  • Interior Floor Construction (framing)
  • Walls (flashing, insulation, windows and doors)
  • Exterior Finishes (flashing and waterproofing)
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Interior Climate Control
  • Landscaping (final grading and drainage)

If a final walk-through inspection of a project or house has a concern about one of these nine subject areas of workmanship the homeowner or the realtor can call the city to investigate the issue for an authoritative evaluation. It is the four remaining performance areas that are somewhat more subjective, though no less a matter of great concern before accepting the workmanship as satisfactory. These areas are listed, including:

  • Roofs
  • Interior Finish
  • Flooring
  • Miscellaneous (fireplaces, stoops, decks, garages, driveways, and sidewalks)

Just taking one of these areas as an example the reader will get an idea of the value of referring to the Residential Construction Performance Guidelines for resolving a dispute. Under the subject area of Roofs one of the subtopic (6-4-9) reads:
Observation: Asphalt shingles have developed surface buckling.
Performance Guideline: Asphalt shingle surfaces need not be perfectly flat. However, buckling higher than ¼ inch is considered excessive.
Corrective Measure: The contractor shall repair all areas as necessary to meet the performance guideline.

This example illustrates how the Residential Construction Performance Guideline works. There are dozens of other examples of building standards that could come under discussion, even in the area that we have categorized as Code Inspection Items. A contractor is not under obligation by any law or regulatory license authority to abide by the Guideline. However, it can be a useful tool in resolving construction readiness issues at a walk-through inspection. We have discovered a free on-line download of the third edition of this publication (linked here).

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