Complexity can Add Risk

Before I get into the meat of this article, let me stress that the premise I’m writing on is generally true but not a hard, fast rule. When it comes to construction and common building practices, the more complex a home is, the more risk there is that comes into play… usually. However, with proper maintenance and care, complexity does not have to be a negative thing.

In general, simplicity with construction means a lower likelihood that problems may develop, whereas complex features and design often create more weak areas that are prone to defects. This is good on one hand since simplicity is easier and saves cost, but bad on the other since complex features usually make homes more appealing in terms of layout, aesthetics and uniqueness. We all want both – luxury with low risk – but as is the case with most things, it’s often difficult to achieve both without a little extra work. Here are a few examples of some nicer features that present more risk and require more maintenance…

Skylights and Chimneys: Chimneys and skylights are very nice features that most homeowners would like to have. Unfortunately, they are also very prone to leaking, which can lead to interior or structural damage. Chimneys and skylights are often not flashed properly, or their flashing has deteriorated and allowed leaking to develop over time. The penetrations aren’t areas most homeowners ever inspect, so the problem usually isn’t detected until it’s become severe and obvious. Typically, there are four sides that need adequate flashing at penetrations, and some contractors unfortunately cut corners during installation. If you have or desire either or both of these nice features, be sure that the installer is reputable and that you continually monitor the penetrations for leaks that may arise and would need dealt with immediately.

Complex Wall and Roof Design: A house that is a simple rectangular or square shape with a gable roof is less prone to problems because of its simplicity. Of course, this traditional design is rather boring to many people, so more complex designs are often more sought after. With more angles, corners, and other transitional design elements, though, comes more weak areas that require special attention and skilled installation to hold up well. A more complex roof may require additional step flashing, kickout flashing, ice and water shield, a saddle (“cricket”) or other additional components to ensure a highly leak resistant barrier. I recently helped a friend repair roof leaks at two corners where a roof saddle adjoined the wall of a house addition with a higher roof; and the leaks wouldn’t have existed in either area if the roof transition didn’t exist. A complex roof design can also make insulating more challenging, especially if the attic space is or will be finished. Likewise, nicer features in the walls like bay windows or the use of different types of siding require extra planning and skilled work to prevent potential defects. In short, more complexity means more appeal but also a greater risk and need for upkeep.

Layout: Layout can also present problems if the design is not simple, particularly with plumbing. Ideally, bathrooms, the kitchen and the laundry area are close or on top of each other, if on separate floors, so plumbing runs are simple, efficient and as short as possible. If rooms with water fixtures are spread far apart, more supply and waste piping is necessary, which means more area for leaking or other damage to occur.

Jetted Tubs: Whirlpool tubs are another great example. While jetted tubs are certainly a nice luxury item, they can cause some headaches if they’re not maintained properly. The jets tend to fill with grime deposits that are quite unsightly and unsanitary, and they need to be cleaned often if you want your bath water to be clean and your tub to remain in a good state of repair.

Technology: Technology also fits the bill of fancier and more convenient but often more prone to issues. I remember an SUV I had years ago. The side mirrors had smaller circular mirrors for the blind spot. I loved this feature and knew the mirrors were always reliable since they were actual mirrors I could see. The next model I got had lights instead of mirrors, which seemed nicer but actually caused me more worry because I constantly feared that the electronics would malfunction or the lights would go out without me knowing. I no longer own either vehicle, but I would have taken the older, less fancy model over the newer one any day. The same is true for some modern advancements in home technology. Most of these advancements provide major improvements over their older predecessors, such as programmable thermostats that save a lot of money in heating and cooling costs, and doorbells, thermostats, garage door openers, cameras and other items that can be remotely controlled from virtually anywhere. These units offer amazing benefits, but their complexity places them beyond the skills of a typical homeowner if a repair need arises.

Fancy design and luxury features are certainly nice and are desireable for good reason. However, they often also mean a greater risk for potential problems and require more diligence and care. If you already have some of these features or are considering investing in them, be sure that you weigh the pros and cons, knowing that fancier often means riskier. Also know, though, that those risks can typically be well managed with a little extra care and attention if you’re realistically willing and able to devote some extra time to monitoring and maintenance. You likely wouldn’t regret having a nicer home with luxurious features, but you should commit to giving such a home the due diligence it deserves.

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Author: hillinspections

I am a Certified Master Inspector (CMI) and the owner and operator of Hill Property Inspections LLC, the top-rated inspection company in the greater Johnstown, PA area, based out of western Pennsylvania. I specialize in property inspections and environmental testing services and have a passion for helping my own clients and other families in learning to properly maintain their homes. I’m also the owner of Hill Pest Control, LLC and a pest management professional committed to helping our clients rid their homes and businesses of unwanted pests. I am an Army veteran, former State Farm Insurance Agent, and real estate investor with experience in all facets of real estate construction, transaction and insurance. I am also the founder and President of the Southwestern PA Chapter of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and an affiliate member of the Cambria-Somerset Association of Realtors (CSAR).

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