I’ve been a bit behind in the posts recently because this happened a few weeks ago…
And we’ve been kinda busy as a result. Having a kid is a lot of work! Who knew? But it is also awesome and I highly recommend it. But with my wife having the baby pretty much attached to her the last few weeks, that’s meant that I’ve been doing a lot of the housework/yardwork/cooking/etc., and don’t have a lot of free time. But that’s ok. She’s lying on my lap as I write this now.
So, I have been meaning to write this post for awhile. It’s funny when you build a house… or maybe, more likely, when you dream about building a house, you picture it in your mind with all of the features and design spot on, all of the floors clean and flawless, the taps sparkling, the windows clear, and everything just so. Unfortunately – it doesn’t turn out that way. Maybe if you were spending a couple million bucks it would, but for most of us there’s going to be some issues after the build is done. This is why there is a New Home Warranty. You need it. And yet, no one really talks about it though.
As I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with this blog I thought it would only be appropriate to write about some of the more major issues we’ve had since completing the build.
Problem 1. It’s hard to express the paranoia and anxiety that you feel in a new home when the house experiences it’s firsts. Such as the first major windstorm. Will that 90 km/hr wind tear any off the siding or maybe even the roof? Will that first snowfall rip down the gutters? Will the boiler still work when it’s -40°C/F outside? Will we roast ourselves when it’s +32°C (90°F)? Or will the first rainfall flood the house?
Our first experience with the reality of a new house came during the first winter and the first extreme cold. I woke up on one particularly crisp morning. I walked into the living room and though, “Jesus, it’s cold in here.” We had the boiler running and the in-floor heat should have been easily able to keep up with the cold weather. When I looked at the porch door though I was horrified to see 1-2″ of thick frost caked around the perimeter of the door.
I think it should probably go without saying that that is not good for an “energy efficient” home to have.
I called and left an angry message with the door installer. And when they didn’t call me back. I left another angry message. Then a series of emails. I had our contractor come and look at the problem and we found that the door was obviously bowed. Clearly a manufacturing problem. I’d hoped to have the door replaced, but apparently the logistics of removing the door would be too difficult and so instead about 6 weeks later a serviceman and the salesman drove 8 hours from Winnipeg to fix our door. While they were at it they added extra thick weatherstripping to the other doors to ensure a good seal.
(I am happy to say that the second winter this problem did not recur).
Problem 2. Way back when we dug the basement of the house (two years ago already!), there was a screw-up that would come to haunt us. The basement was dug too deep by about 2′. That caused a number of issues with the septic tank that I wrote about in that original post. But after the build was done it offered some unique… challenges. The big one came in the Spring of last year. Because of the excessive depth of the basement we had to be very cognizant of the grading properly around the house to ensure proper drainage. Had the basement not been so deep then we could have built the land up around the house to ensure that it all sloped away – which would have been easier. But having the extra depth made this more difficult.
After the first winter, a tremendous amount of the backfill settled around the perimeter of the house, requiring an exceptional amount of more backfill to be added in the Spring. When we added all of this backfill and sloped it appropriately away from the house we recognized, to our horror, that the HRV inlet and outlet vents, were actually below grade. If you don’t know, that’s bad. Because that backfill had not been built up sufficiently beforehand this was never recognized. Now these are two holes through the concrete basement walls. By code they are to be 18″ above grade. But what were we supposed to do now? After some thinking we decided the simplest solution would be to put a window well around them and fill the bottom with crushed rock. And, well… hope for the best?
So that’s what we did. But every time I’d look at them, I’d feel uneasy. What will we do in the winter if the snow gets packed in there? Or we get a heavy rainfall? Will it drain?
It wouldn’t take long for my question to be answered. It was a Saturday morning in May when the sky darkened and heavy intense rain came crashing down. The first major rainfall of the year. There was rapid and intense thunder and lightning. I looked out of the front corner window, “Good, it’s draining away.” I went to the other corner, it too was draining nicely. I went to the back door and looked out, great. Then I went to the side of the house… OH MY GOD! I looked out and both window wells were filling with water, fast! I was still in my pajamas, but I threw on my rain boots at the backdoor and grabbed a bucket we had had to wash the dog’s feet. I yelled to my wife, “COME QUICK!” For the next two hours, in the rain and lightning and thunder, we bailed out the window wells and dug a deep trench around the side of the house. We had a rain barrel nearby which was overflowing so quickly causing more water to run our way that we had to push it every 5 minutes to stop the water from coming towards us. It was a nightmare.
When the rain finally subsided and the trench was working to divert the water, we came inside, soaked, exhausted and with our hearts still pounding.
But it could have been so much worse. Had it not been a Saturday morning and instead been at night, or during the week, or when we were away from the house, we would have flooded. Guaranteed. And not only that, the water may well have tracked through the HRV piping and into the HRV itself causing a possible fire. It was such a close call.
I called our house builder and told them the situation. They called the mechanical contractor and tried to brainstorm what they could do. It would take sometime to figure out a solution.
Meanwhile, in the ensuing days, my anxiety about the HRV vents did not improve. I was constantly watching the weather. Was rain in the forecast? Crap. I can’t go into work today.
Finally we got an option from the mechanical contractor. Well, he told us, you could dig out the window wells down to the weeping tile where you could connect it to the weeping tile with free flowing crushed rock… Wait wait wait, so you expect me to dig 10 feet down and fill it with rock? Are you nuts?
I had also been thinking of options too. What about extending the pipe up from the vents along the outside of the house? Or else, from the inside of the house, running the pipe through to one of the opposite basement walls. The first option would be easier, the second option would be tremendously costly and create a huge mess in the basement. At first he discounted the first option suggesting that the pipes could freeze in the winter, but once I suggested the second option with all of the costs associated, he decided to consider the first option again. After speaking to the HRV manufacturer, who had apparently had this problem before and solved it by running the pipes higher, that is what we did. It was about $10 in supplies and took 20 minutes of work. We have funny pipes coming out of the ground. But I could live with that.
(And they did not freeze over this past winter. Phewf.)
Problem 3. Another issue came with our concrete kitchen countertops. Sigh. When they were installed, I knew they weren’t perfect, even then. They had some inconsistencies to them and were a little uneven, but I was ok with that. Perfect is overrated. But after two months, they cracked. Now I know that concrete cracks. Our floors cracked and that’s fine. It’s expected and part of having concrete floors, if you don’t want cracks in them then laminate flooring might be better for you. But a countertop, you don’t want that to crack. Maybe tiny little hairline cracks, but major full thickness cracks with separation… those are bad.
I called the guys who did the counter and told them what had happened. To their credit, they immediately offered to replace it. They poured another counter for us, but this one too had problems. They tried it a third time and this one, as well, failed. The problem was the product. It was a new concrete they had used to get the white counter and it obviously just, well, sucked. So, it was either replace the counter with a different colour, which we did not want to do, or fill the crack and live with it. We chose the latter.
But, after another couple months it cracked again, and again, and again. I could live with the first crack, but in a couple years this thing would be a mosaic. It looked terrible and the guys felt terrible about it.
I ended up contacting my friend Dan at Old North Concrete Works who’d done some of our exterior concrete work. He’d recently got the exclusive rights to a concrete product for counters that used fibreglass to reinforce the concrete and could be done in a range of colours, including 6 shades of white. They other guys agreed to contract him to replace our countertop.
When they removed the old ones, it literally crumbled to pieces.
The new counters though – dang they’re real nice. Really really nice. Like how they should have been the first time around.
Problem 4. Speaking of crack. We also had issues with major fault line cracks of our stucco parging along the basement of the house. Apparently it takes a LONG time for the ground to stop settling after your build a house. Like more than two years, because it is still settling here. We’d had our retaining wall and front door pad poured last summer. They did a 6″ footer and used epoxy coated rebar to connect it to the concrete foundation, but over the few months, and the excessive rain (see above) that we had last summer, it has settled by nearly two inches. We will have to get them to come back (when the ground finally stops settling – 2 more years??) to pour a topper later.
But because the retaining wall was connected to the stucco, it tore the stucco down and off of the side of the house. Twice. Necessitating two trips out for the stucco guys to fix and replace the stucco.
They fixed, but it’s since cracked again over the past winter. This time it’s not as bad and I should be able to patch and fix it myself.
Problem 5. The last major issue we had was with our water tank cistern in the basement. You see, we get our water delivered out by a large water tanker truck (if you want to know why read here and here). There’s a hose connector on the outside of the house to the tank in the basement and an indicator light was installed just above it that would go off when the tank was near full. There is a float in the tank that once the water level reaches a certain point it trips and sets off the alarm. Still, I don’t really trust technology and I would try to always be home when they brought our water… just in case. One day, while talking to the driver bringing the water, she said, “You know, this light is really hard to see when it goes off.” Dang, I thought, I better make sure we have it setup properly. Someday I might not be here to check it and watch. So I called our electrician and asked him to look into other options. Turns out there is a special Tank Alarm that has a light on the top like an old school police car and a siren that goes off. It’s friggin’ loud – you would not miss that it was going off. It cost $500 but better to be safe then sorry I thought.
I had the electrician come out and install the alarm for our next water delivery. We tested it out and it worked without a hitch.
The next week I called for a water delivery. They said they would be out on a Wednesday. Shoot, I couldn’t be there that day, but we had tested out the new alarm so it would be fine, I thought. When I got home on Wednesday night though, there was no water. Hmm. Must be coming on Thursday, which I would be home. Again though they didn’t arrive. Weird. On Friday they called me and said that one of their trucks had broken down so they were short and wondering if I could wait until Monday for water or if I was low enough that I would need it on the weekend. We were running low so I asked them to bring it on Saturday. They arrived that afternoon and began loading in the water. My dad was with me so I asked him to let me know when the water was nearing the level when the tank alarm should go off. I came upstairs to listen to how loud the alarm would be. I figured it would be about 20 seconds until it went off…. 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds… 25 seconds, I started to get worried… 30 seconds… Then my dad shouted, “YOU’RE FLOODING! YOU’RE FLOODING!!” WTF?!! I panicked and ran outside pulling the hose off of the drain and shouting to the driver to turn the water off. The alarm did not go off!
I ran downstairs, perhaps, 5 seconds of water had run over the sides of the tank and there was a massive amount of water on the floor of the mechanical room. Holy crap. What happened?! We grabbed as many towels as we could and began sopping up the water and pushing it to the clear-out drain in the floor.
Then it occurred to me… What if they’d brought the water on Wednesday or Friday or next week? I wouldn’t have been here! How long do you think they would have let the water run before they realized something must be wrong? We dodged a bullet.
I called the electrician and told him what happened and he came out the next day. Turns out that when he put the float switch back in the water tank a zip tie he had used was too low and didn’t let the float rise high enough to go off. Yikes.
Needless to say, I’m glad my wife is on maternity leave so she can be home for all of the water deliveries now. Although a long term solution is still up in the air. Crap.
So there you go. Sorry, not everything is perfect afterwards. There’s always going to be issues with houses. New houses, old houses, it doesn’t seem to matter. My issues will be different than yours, but there will always be something. Still, I’m not really complaining. I’m just saying is all.