Custom Luxury Homes Lessons to be Learned
“Do it right or don’t do it at all!” Growing up, if my Dad said this to me once, he said it a thousand times. It’s no wonder that phrase consistently permeates my thoughts, even subconsciously.
We recently started doing some renovation work on a home our client acquired for $2.5M. Just a few years ago that same home appraised for approximately $5 million. “Wow, things in Austin are worse than I thought,” you might say. Well, not really. What happened is that the original builder neglected to install the proper flashing and waterproofing, so what started out as a beautiful luxury custom $5M home, soon lost half of its value when the underlying water damage began to surface (see photo of removed window sash below). The home sat vacant for several years, and during that time, it’s value steadily plummeted. It turns out that there isn’t much demand for $5M leaky, moldy, rotting homes.
The sad part is that none of this should have ever happened. Proper construction techniques could have prevented all of it. This luxury home was originally constructed in 2001 when demand for custom luxury homes was high and supervision spread thin. What many consider to be the “small details” seemed to have gotten overlooked and in some instances completely left out. Unfortunately, we live in a time when very few plan drawings detail the proper flashing and waterproofing requirements for each specific job. Many architects and designers these days leave those details to the builder to figure out. Unfortunately, most builders leave it to the framing contractor to figure out, and most framing contractors assign the work to their least skilled crew members, the carpenter helper. Fast forward 8 years, and the “small details” ended up costing this home owner $2.5 million.
In the State of Texas, there aren’t any licensing requirements for general contractors. It is amazing to think that you need a license to cut someone’s hair but not to build their biggest investment. Furthermore, with little capital requirements, there are few barriers to entry for anyone desiring to be a builder. So it is really important for consumers to research a potential builder.
Most people understand the importance a structural engineer brings to the project, but who is responsible for the mechanical systems? Who is responsible for flashing and waterproofing details? My favorite engineering example is concrete design. The engineer will commonly specify concrete to a design strength of 3,000 psi at 28 days and conform to ACI 302. This means that, at 28 days, the concrete should achieve a minimum hardness of 3,000 pounds per square inch. That’s all well and good, but what does it take to achieve 3,000 psi concrete? What if it’s 110 degrees Fahrenheit the day you are scheduled to pour concrete? Does that require a different concrete mix than if it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit? You bet it does! These are important issues to have the answers to, and only years of experience teach them.
Ours is a business of very important details, and we must not let a relatively small, say $12,000 worth of flashing and waterproofing details ruin our client’s multi-million dollar investment. Do it right, or don’t do it at all!