During the initial stages of a project, remodelers know when they are pushing the limits of their experience. Depending on the type of project a remodeler encounters, he or she may need a construction forensic specialist. "The tip-off to call in a specialist is when a remodeler sees things he is not familiar with, runs into problems he has never encountered or is not comfortable with his own answers," explains Von Salmi, owner of Von Salmi and Associates, Westminster, Mass.
Salmi has been a construction forensic specialist for 45 years. Although he promotes his company's services to architects, engineers and remodelers to thwart problems and understand issues that may already exist, homeowners hire him to act as an expert witness in arbitration and litigation cases. "I think the path we take with construction forensics is to keep people out of the court system because it's expensive, takes a lot of time and doesn't best address the immediacy one feels about his or her problem," Salmi remarks.
Areas of Concern
A construction forensic specialist's job is to help remodelers avoid future litigation by discovering potential problems early. If the builder or a previous remodeler made unauthorized substitutions, these can create problems for a home. For example, nails that are backing out, plywood pushing through shingles and roof leaks are signs of inadequate structural members. The construction forensic specialist's job is to discover the source of a problem, determine whether anyone is to blame for the failure and recommend how to appropriately deal with it.
Salmi points out during building booms, more contractors enter the marketplace because there is work to be done. Not all of these contractors are experienced, which can lead to unintended consequences. "In my opinion, there is nothing that substitutes for experience. What happens is some work is done at sub-par levels because some people lack the knowledge of proper building methods," Salmi notes.
Salmi outlines five consistent areas of concern:
- Water penetration in a foundation: When areas experience major rainstorms, foundations with substandard protection will leak.
- Roofing problems: Improper flashing, framing and not considering wind-driven water are common issues. Water penetration at the roof not only compromises the life of the roof itself, but also can cause problems for the home's interior, including water penetration around windows and doors, as well as water leaking into walls.
- Interior moisture problems: Bathrooms, especially showers, that were not constructed properly can cause structural and mold problems inside a home. In addition, homes today often are constructed very tightly, which can cause moisture problems if the appropriate air exchanges within the home are not considered.
- HVAC concerns: Problems arise when systems or ductwork aren't installed properly, systems are undersized or dampers are not working effectively.
- Symptoms of construction defects: Ruined finishes could be warnings of bigger problems. Evidence of leaks may appear as flaking paint on trim, mold growth or peeling floor finishes.
For remodelers to protect themselves, Salmi recommends they understand the initial scope of work may not be all that is required to correctly execute a project. "I think the successful remodelers are those who go beyond just the immediate scope of work as requested by a homeowner," he explains. "They should do this to point out ramifications of what can happen if one does not deal with the peripheral issues surrounding the original scope of work."
Salmi recommends remodelers share all of their discoveries with their clients, so the clients can make an informed decision about whether to pay for additional work. Sharing this information relieves the remodeler of responsibility for the problem items and demonstrates the remodeler's level of expertise and concern for the client and the home. Remodelers who demonstrate this level of care may receive referrals from a satisfied homeowner and additional work from the homeowner.
Engaging the services of a construction forensic specialist can identify potential problems and solutions before they become legal issues. "I think the greatest value a construction forensic specialist can offer a remodeler is to head things off before they become a problem," Salmi notes. "What you know is what you know and what you know isn't everything."