Q&A / 

Poor Workmanship in Construction

Quick Column Summary:

  • Problems with new house construction
  • Correcting an off-center window
  • Wood-burning stove exhaust stack not properly installed
  • Checking to see if the contractor is on the run

DEAR TIM: I'm having a house built and I've got some problems. It's still in the rough stage with just the rough framing pretty much complete and the roof on. I'm noticing all sorts of mistakes like a window that's not centered above my front door and my round wood stove metal chimney looks like it's been put in by a six-year-old child. The roof adjacent to the chimney is a mess. Can these defects be fixed easily? What's involved? Work has stopped on my house and my builder is unresponsive. What would you do with winter closing in? Please help me. - Becky P., Holderness, NH

DEAR BECKY: Your problems sound much like a house under construction in my own town! I drive by it going to the post office and grocery and grimace each time I see the window in one gable that's at least a foot off center. The good news is the problems you describe are easy to fix at this point.

Let's tackle the off-center window issue first. Believe it or not, if I was there and had my tools with me it would take about an hour to correct this. It's much harder to do if there's wires, outside siding, fiberglass insulation and drywall to contend with, but as you point out, none of that is in the way.

The off-center window above the door and the chimney disaster at the roofline may be part of a severe systemic problem with the builder. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

The off-center window above the door and the chimney disaster at the roof-line may be part of a severe systemic problem with the builder. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

All that the builder, or carpenter, needs to do to fix the issue is a few wall studs and possibly a scrap of exterior wall sheathing. If he can get up on a ladder and pull out the nails holding the sheathing to the wall studs, he'll not even wear out a metal-cutting sawzall blade.

One way to fix this error is to simply leave the entire window framing in place as one unit and just cut it free from the top and bottom plates. I've done this on several occasions and it's quite simple to do.

The key is to have all the nails pulled from the exterior sheathing that are nailed into the vertical and horizontal framing members that surround the window opening. Once these are pulled, the carpenter takes a reciprocating saw with a long metal-cutting blade and saws between the tops and bottoms of the vertical framing members and the top and bottom wall plates.

When all nails are cut, the entire frame will be free and it can be tapped in place with a four-pound hammer so it's centered. Once you verify it's in the correct place, you install new nails connecting the framing to the top and bottom wall plates and then install new nails through the exterior sheathing into the wall studs.

There will be a hole in the sheathing you'll have to patch and you'll have to cut some of the sheathing out that's now overhanging the window opening in the framing. This is a very simple task for a carpenter.

The chimney issue is a bit more complex. I would take good photos of the roof where the chimney is located. Take other photos of where the metal chimney is next to the house too. Take these to one or two local wood stove shops and talk with the owner or general manager. Ask them if they can tell from the photos if the chimney has been installed correctly. They may have to visit the job site, but it's worth it if you have to pay them.

When round metal chimneys go up alongside a house, they can often be equipped with angled pieces that allow the chimney to angle past a roof overhang. I'd explore this option as it virtually eliminates any future roof leaks.

The wood stove shop owner or general manager will know of installers that can fix what's there now. You may have to go this route if your builder has decided to pull off the job.

With winter bearing down on you, it's important to ensure the house is weathertight. Get the roof fixed and try to get a weather barrier on the exterior walls if possible. If you can get the exterior completely buttoned up with the siding, windows, doors, etc. complete, that would be ideal.

You can't really think of finishing the inside until you're sure no weather can get wall insulation or any of your wall, ceiling or floor finishes wet from rain or blowing snow that penetrates a wall. You need to turn up the heat on your builder to find out what the plan is.

If he won't return your calls, see about contacting the places where he purchases materials. See if he's gone dark with the suppliers too. If you discover he's on the run, it's time to talk with a contract attorney to find out what rights you have to take over the job and keep it moving.

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