Custom Luxury Homes Lessons to be Learned
“Do it right or don’t do it at all!” Growing up, if my Dad said this to me once, he said it a thousand times. It’s no wonder that phrase consistently permeates my thoughts, even subconsciously.
We recently started doing some renovation work on a home our client acquired for $2.5M. Just a few years ago that same home appraised for approximately $5 million. “Wow, things in Austin are worse than I thought,” you might say. Well, not really. What happened is that the original builder neglected to install the proper flashing and waterproofing, so what started out as a beautiful luxury custom $5M home, soon lost half of its value when the underlying water damage began to surface (see photo of removed window sash below). The home sat vacant for several years, and during that time, it’s value steadily plummeted. It turns out that there isn’t much demand for $5M leaky, moldy, rotting homes.
The sad part is that none of this should have ever happened. Proper construction techniques could have prevented all of it. This luxury home was originally constructed in 2001 when demand for custom luxury homes was high and supervision spread thin. What many consider to be the “small details” seemed to have gotten overlooked and in some instances completely left out. Unfortunately, we live in a time when very few plan drawings detail the proper flashing and waterproofing requirements for each specific job. Many architects and designers these days leave those details to the builder to figure out. Unfortunately, most builders leave it to the framing contractor to figure out, and most framing contractors assign the work to their least skilled crew members, the carpenter helper. Fast forward 8 years, and the “small details” ended up costing this home owner $2.5 million.
I’m frequently disappointed with the overall lack of skill within the Building Sciences as a whole, both residential and commercial construction. In the State of Texas, for example, there aren’t any licensing requirements for general contractors, so anyone can be a “builder”! Furthermore, with little capital requirements, there are few barriers to entry, so it’s easy to see how, in what should be a professional industry, there are many that are not.
Thankfully, Texas has licensed Architects and Engineers, but their services aren’t always required by municipalities, and few clients choose to pay for “flashing details”. Certainly, clients understand the art and creativity the architect brings to the project, and they understand the structural integrity the engineer brings to the project, but who is responsible for the mechanical systems? Who is responsible for flashing and waterproofing details? My favorite engineering example is concrete design. The engineer will commonly specify concrete to a design strength of 3,000 psi at 28 days and conform to ACI 302. This means that, at 28 days, the concrete should achieve a minimum hardness of 3,000 pounds per square inch. That’s all well and good, but what does it take to achieve 3,000 psi concrete? What if it’s 110 degrees Fahrenheit the day you are scheduled to pour concrete? Does that require a different concrete mix than if it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit? Who makes the call to the batch plant to alter the mix design for the given weather conditions? What if 3 crew members don’t show up that day, should you change the mix design then? These are the realities that all builders face, but only the true professionals with years and years of experience know the answers to. Maybe a good interview question for a potential builder might be, “Do you know what the ACI is?” or at least, “Do you know the factors in achieving 3,000 psi concrete?”
These kinds of issues drive me crazy… If you are a builder of custom luxury homes reading this, don’t let $12,000 worth of missing or improperly-installed flashing and waterproofing ruin your client’s multi-million dollar investment. Do it right, or don’t do it at all!
Shan Jenkins is President of Jenkins Custom Homes, Inc. Shan has a Bachelor of Science degree in Construction Science from the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University. While Shan has been in the commercial & residential construction industry for almost 25 years, he has owned and operated Jenkins Custom Homes (which designs and builds luxury custom homes), SL Jenkins Construction (a commercial construction company), and Jenkins Waterscapes (a pool building company) since 1992 and this January celebrates 20 years in the industry.