Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)


Building Houses to Last -- NOT!

There are building techniques that will survive for only a few years, then there are methods that will result in materials lasting for many, many years. A classic example of non-durable, short term, construction is the way many contractors pay no heed to the consequences of moisture wicking up into wood.

The photo above is a wood column that supports an overhang roof. The overhang protects part of this concrete patio from rain but not the edge. And, where the post rests on damp concrete, rot-decay was developing. Even pressure-treated lumber lasts longer if it is not damp all of the time. How much better it would have been, in this instance, to install the column on a steel saddle bracket post base that was embedded in the paving.

Another common area, to find such a problem, is trim at the sides of garage vehicle doors. 


So far, the wood above is holding its own but, over time, decay is probable. Wood trim at the exterior, areas exposed to moisture, should be separated, 1" gap minimum, from pavement or a flat surface. The photos above are only two examples of contractors taking short cuts. In the first instance, a bit more work would have been involved in installing steel connectors to posts at the landing. In the second photo, it would have been just as easy to do it right the first time: install the wood trim with space at the bottom. From what I can tell, at least in Bellingham and Whatcom County, the problem is two fold -- many contractors do not know any better. Then there is the whole other group -- those that know better but they don't care!


Steven L. Smith

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Comment balloon 39 commentsSteven L. Smith • April 27 2014 01:16PM


Important items to pay attention to, when looking at homes to buy.  

Posted by Li Read, Caring expertise...knowledge for you! (Sea to Sky Premier Properties (Salt Spring)) about 5 years ago

Steve, sometimes I wonder if some of the new construction I see will outlast the 30-year mortgage it will take to buy it.

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) about 5 years ago

Shoddy new construction everywhere. 

Posted by Pamela Seley, Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA (West Coast Realty Division) about 5 years ago

Now this is a good posting worthy of the front page! Many people who are have built, or are building, a home in the past 6 or 7 years will find out that their builder had to cut many corners to make the home affordable and eek out a profit. You don't get something for nothing. Have your new home inspected every 24 months and take the advice of a good inspector.

Posted by Jeffrey Hogue, Berks County Real Estate Pro (Weichert Realtors Neighborhood One) about 5 years ago

Li, subtle but important.

Pat, I have been amazed at the amount of damage I am seeing at 8 year old and newer houses. Rot already!

Pamela, I sure see it here.

Jeff, I am sure that economics during the difficult times are a factor. Then there are those simply looking for shortcuts at any cost.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 5 years ago

You do that in Oklahoma and this is like telling termites that you just opened an all you can eat diner.

Posted by Joe Pryor, REALTOR® - Oklahoma Investment Properties (The Virtual Real Estate Team) about 5 years ago

Is not good is.

That faux stone is entirely improper as well.  Not in tune with anything the faux stone manufacturers have on their installation diagrams.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 5 years ago

Here in Northern Florida they have started to install Plastic Jambs. It is heavy duty and it solves the rot issue.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) about 5 years ago

While we were have some renovations done, we have found some mistakes made by the builder.  Is it just lazy or less money if they do the short cuts... I'd say it is money!!

Posted by Rebecca Gaujot, Realtor®, Lewisburg WV, the go to agent for all real estate (Vision Quest Realty) about 5 years ago

I see the same thing over and over makes you wonder what is hiding behind those walls

Posted by Delaware Junk Removal Residential And Commercial Hauling Clean Outs, Whole House Clean Outs, Basements, Garages, Attics (Delaware Junk Removal 302-530-9186) about 5 years ago

This is an excellent post on a topic I haven't seen written about before.  While I have noticed appliances and other goods put together cheaply, with built in obsolescence, I have only recently began to see some of it shift into the building of homes.  I hope the trend doesn't continue!

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) about 5 years ago

Like Washington, water is very destructive here in Oregon!

Posted by Catherine Ulrey, Equestrian and Acreage Property Specialist (Keller Williams Capital City) about 5 years ago

Great post with very good reminders for those of us in the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest!

Posted by Laurie Satushek, Realtor & Team Founder, Educate - Empower - Enrich (The Laurie Satushek Team) about 5 years ago

I just was listening to the Freakonomics podcast about how in Japan the houses are designed to be demolished just a few years after their bill because of the public sphere of earthquakes and belief in the nonpermanent and Buddhism. It's funny that it can go that far, but I think in your case it may be that as you allude to, the builders not wanting to take too long on each project to fill quotas and such.r

Posted by Laura Cerrano, Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher (Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island) about 5 years ago

I see that kind of rot here also -- water is not a house's friend.

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (Grand Lux Realty, Monroe NY, 914-419-0270, about 5 years ago

Very informative but is this due to a lack of knowledge or they just don't care? The laborers who do this this type of work may just be seeking to get paid without any care.  Shame building inspectors never look for these things during construction. 

Posted by Ira Bodenstein, NMLS#: 445143 (PNC Mortgage) about 5 years ago

These practices seem to be universal. I see the same out here.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 5 years ago

Steven, thanks for the great post.  I always like seeing photos to go along with issues that you and other inspectors find - it helps me learn even more.  Thank you.

Posted by Ann Zieve, Unmatched Ownership Experience (Keller Williams Success Realty) about 5 years ago

Steven, either way if contractors don't know or don't care, it will become a problem later.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA about 5 years ago

Hey Steven,

This is problem around the country.  Good advice.  Thanks and best of GREAT success to you in 2014!

Posted by Jordon Wheeler, J W Group Real Estate Sales and Service (The Jordon Wheeler Group) about 5 years ago

Thanks for the various comments, obviously this is not anything specific to a given region, probably not even to any given country.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 5 years ago

Hi Steven. It is sad that it happens at all, but I'm guessing there's a 3rd group involved as well: those that look at this as job security!
Thanks for sharing,

Posted by Bruce Kunz, REALTOR®, Brick & Howell NJ Homes for Sale (C21 Solid Gold Realty, Brick, NJ, 732-920-2100) about 5 years ago

I have never understood why (with all the nanny state crap we have) no one has said "No more exterior wooden door frames unless protected by a 6' overhang".

Of course, I still don't understand why any one in Oklahoma would build without hurricane straps (tornado straps here).

Posted by Than Maynard, Broker - Licensed to List & Sell - 405-990-8862 (Coldwell Banker Heart of Oklahoma) about 5 years ago

I think we see this so much that it actually looks normal.

Posted by Geoff ONeill (John L. Scott Medford) about 5 years ago

But the bad guys keep getting work, how is that possible? 

Posted by Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector, The Home Inspector With a Heart! (SLS Home Inspections-Bradley Bourbonnais Kankakee Manteno) about 5 years ago

Steven, thanks for the photos and your explanation regarding what can and will go wrong with this type of building practice. 

Posted by Adrian Willanger, Profit from my two decades of experience (206 909-7536 about 5 years ago

I think wicking of water is one of the most misunderstood and overlooked occurances in home building.

Posted by Jeff Pearl, Full Service Full Time Realtor (RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA) about 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this, very informative. And yeah, why can't we get rid of the bad ones doing such terrible jobs? 

Posted by John Jonas, John Jonas (ReplaceMyself - Virtual Assistants) about 5 years ago

Steven, I had no idea these were signs of shoddy work. Thank you for enlightening me!

Posted by Suzanne De Vita, Online Associate Editor (RISMedia) about 5 years ago

These things still happen because people are in a hurry or uninformed.  Just creating problems for the future. 

Posted by Grant Schneider, Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes (Performance Development Strategies) about 5 years ago

Actually very timely as I am building a deck onto my moutain cabin and will follow your instructions on the post sitting on the ground

Posted by Brad Lauritzen, Manufactured & Mobile Home Lending (Santiago Financial, Inc.) about 5 years ago

Always great points!  Thanks for sharing.  Here in Vegas our homes are not built like they are in the tougher climates.

Posted by Jimmy Chickey, Realtor, Nationally Recognized Author, Teacher (Keller Williams Realty Southwest) about 5 years ago

We have a new home and the gap from the door in the garage to the side yard is about 1/2 inch wide from the knob to the floor plus we can feel the cold air when we stand near it at night. Brrrrr...... so I must agree with you that new construction is not perfect and sometimes shoddy.

Posted by Kristin Hamilton CA Realtor, (909) 557-6966- Specialize 55+ Communties Banning (Sun Lakes Realty) about 5 years ago

Steven:  True enough that contractors or builders themselves may fall into the two categories.  But the municipality rewarding them with permits and doing the inspections should only fall into one.  Build it right ... and durable for the long haul. 


Posted by Gene Mundt, IL/WI Mortgage Originator - FHA/VA/Conv/Jumbo/Portfolio/Refi, 708.921.6331 - 40+ yrs experience (NMLS #216987, IL Lic. 031.0006220, WI Licensed. APMC NMLS #175656) about 5 years ago

This is a huge issue nowadays as a lot of these new builders are building houses that last juuuuuust long enough to be good through the warranty period and then it all falls apart :/

Posted by Eric Liu, Founder ( about 5 years ago

Thanks for the great post.  I miss B-ham.

Posted by Alyson Engelbrecht about 5 years ago
Local and state codes predicate if the house is up to current energy and structural construction, Manufactures of windows still use exterior finger jointed trim and molding, if all surfaces are primed painted and painted, for an extra expense you now can purchase fiberglass trim, doors, aluminum windows. A case where the trim per your photos is near ground level where it will wick up Moisture can be maintained, caulked, but water is sooner or later be able to wick up and crest dry rot. I have built and find most issues are on the South Wall where they get more direct moisture.
Posted by Rod Pierson, Northern California (Results Real Estate Inc) about 5 years ago

Hi Steven, I grew up in a home that was over 150 years old when my parents purchased it. It was built to last for centuries. Sadly, the fast and cheap method of building today really confuses people because they don't think in terms of life span. Nor do they understand how to modify the home to make it more durable to last the longer span of time. 

Posted by William Johnson, Retired Real Estate Professional (Retired) about 5 years ago

We have a post outside on our covered deck that is exactly how you describe. Our house is only 7 years old - built by a very reputable builder. Can't imagine why they didn't put a plate down first - it does wick moisture. 

Posted by Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD, REALTORS® in Clark County, WA (ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors) about 5 years ago