Many people assume that a newly built home will incorporate the very latest components available because the builder must adhere to the current building code requirements. This is not always the case, and although a new home will have to pass inspections plus meet code specifications, this is often a minimum standard and allows builders to choose a range of quality for the components they utilize.
What is more alarming is when changes to the code do not reflect a ‘house as a system’ approach. When this happens, jurisdictions can even end up with substandard buildings. Vancouver residents know all about this problem, and experienced the financial cost directly if they were a ‘leaky condo’ owner. Part of the cause of the rot and moisture damage in these condo buildings was the result of unintended consequences. Well intentioned building experts insisted that a code upgrade forcing improvements in air sealing and insulation would save energy and make homes more comfortable. What was missed was the effect of trapping moisture in construction materials because they couldn’t breathe and dry out properly in these new, tighter structures. Also, for a few years the planned change implementing the use of insulating window frames (like vinyl) was delayed under the pressure of strong lobbying by the aluminum window manufacturers. So, homes were built nice and airtight with thin stucco exteriors and no overhangs. The inside of these homes was more airtight than in the past, so humidity was higher because moisture caused by living could not escape as easily. This humidity got trapped in the walls and condensed on the solid aluminum frames of the windows. Back mold and wet window jambs became normal in many homes, far worse than it used to be in the older homes that were not as airtight. Finally, after a few years the code was upgraded to force the use of insulating window frames, moisture content of construction materials was regulated more closely, and designers realized that in our wet climate overhangs are probably a good idea.
Many builders never had any leaky buildings, because they were experienced enough to know what to do and didn’t just follow the minimums outlined in the building codes. The same is true today, and a quality builder will use higher quality materials even though it isn’t obvious to an inexperienced purchaser. They do it because they know it’s the right thing to do. Windows fall into this category, because most new home buyers don’t know the difference between qualities of windows, and assume that if they meet code they must all be basically the same. Not so, unfortunately. Until buyers get more excited about the quality of things like foundation cement, the structural lumber, and the other important components like windows; many builders will continue to choose to save money on these items. They turn around and put these savings into things that people do know something about…like the icemaker in the fridge, and the soaker tub in the bathroom.
I have never understood why a home purchaser would get excited about high end appliances that they know they will replace at some point, and not really care about the quality of the important structural components or the experience of the tradesmen who did the actual work.
It seems that the replacement window industry will never run out of homes that need to have their windows upgraded, because many builders continue to utilize the lowest cost product that will meet code. Our business future continues to look bright.