Why do new homes have so many defects

Why are standards getting worse?

There are many potential reasons that could explain why new homes built this year will have more defects and be of a generally lower quality than those built five or even ten years ago. Chris Wood has completed a study into why defects occur in new homes less than ten years old. Whilst the study confirmed there are many reasons for defects in new homes, he found that the root cause was connected with professionals within the industry placing profit above quality.

As part of the research questionnaires were sent to various disciplines working in the house building industry: 35% Warranty inspectors, 16% Quantity Surveyors, 17% Clerk of works/quality inspector - only 3% of respondents were site managers. They were asked What was the main reason for defects in new homes? The results are shown below:

Reduced number of warranty inspections

Owing to the increase in the number of homes built each year and the increased workload due to building control inspections, the warranty providers now normally only inspect a new home at six 'key stages' of construction. They no longer carry out random spot checks and are contacted by the site manager (unless he forgets) when an inspection is required. This can mean that the warranty inspector only checks the stage he has been asked to look at and he may not visit the site for a number of weeks between stages. The decrease in the number of independent inspections can only contribute to lower standards and increased incidents of defects.

Lack of skilled tradesmen

The construction industry has known for some time that there would be a time in the future, when there would be a shortage of skilled tradesmen to build the number of new homes required. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) was formed as long ago as 1964 to promote and improve the standard of training within the industry. However the issue of the lack of skilled tradesmen has still yet to be addressed. A point was reached a few years ago when there were insufficient plumbers and plasterers to meet the workload. As a result of the shortage many sub contractors are left with no option but to employ operatives with limited knowledge and skill, or pay over-the-odds for skilled people. There is therefore a distinct likelihood that your new home will have been built at some stage, by semi-skilled workers who are learning their skills whilst building your new home.

Fewer apprentices

Some of the larger house builders have a policy of employing apprentices, as their way of 'giving something back' to the construction industry. The reality is that the apprentices that are employed, are placed with sub contractors and paid below the minimum wage (because they are receiving training).

Barratt building site

Insufficient time to build – unrealistic build programmes

Over recent years, the time taken to build the average house has decreased. This has been achieved in part due to advances in technology, materials, construction methods and off site manufacturing. However, even with all the current efficiencies being adopted, the time given to build your new home continues to decrease. Some house builders allow 12 weeks or less to build the average home, placing a burden on the under-resourced site (due to skill shortages) which invariably means quality coming second and reduced drying out time causing excessive shrinkage cracking.

Self employed tradesmen

The skill shortage has resulted in price rates for each operation increasing dramatically over recent years. It is not uncommon for a tradesman to start on site at 7.30am and have earned 'enough' (circa £1000 per week) by 2pm and leave the site for the day. This results in even less work being completed but the build programme remains unchanged.

Planning delays

There is growing incidence of the planning process delaying the start of new developments. When planning permission is eventually given, there can be a rush to start work on site in an effort to make up the time lost. This can have even more relevance if the site has a contribution to make to the company’s end of year figures. However, planning delay often causes a knock on effect with both architectural and structural information being required within an unrealistic time frame, often resulting in mistakes on the working drawings, many drawing revisions and problems on site. Overcoming a design problem on site, especially once a section of work has been completed usually involves remedial work or a compromise. This, together with a reduction in the available time to complete the required number of homes to meet the target figures, adversely effects quality.

Non standardised designs being built

Most of the larger house builders have a set of standard house designs that are built throughout the country. Only the type of brick, roof tile, and to a lesser extent windows, differing to suit the locality. However, due to planning delays, many of the larger builders, having inherited an approved design with the land acquisition, are choosing to build non-standard designs to avoid potential delays in a return from their capital investment. New unfamiliar and unproven house designs invariably have 'teething problems'. These can cause delays to the works and potentially lower quality due to compromise solutions being adopted to reduce remedial works.

More reasons for new homes problems…>>>

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Poor workmanship

Lack of Inspections

Use of Sub Contractors

Poor/impractical designs

Lack of skilled labour

Poor communication on site


Reasons why  defects  occur in new homes








Planning delays

Fewer Inspections

Lack of skilled tradesmen

Insufficient build time

Non standard designs built

Self Employed tradesmen

Around 160,000 new homes are built each year in normal market conditions and most of these will have had defects at the time of occupation. The number of defects or 'snags' found in new homes has been steadily increasing each year. In 2005, the average number of snagging defects per home was 62. Now you can expect to find at least 40 problems in a one-bedroom property to well over 130 for a four-bedroom house.