Construction Defect, How To Identify A Construction Defect ,patent defect, latent defect, workmanship defects, inferior building materials

Construction Defect – Here Is One Ultimate Guide

What are the different kinds and where are those typical construction defects normally found in building structures? Well, in most of the cases there aren’t any single leading issue, but on a whole, there are three key elements which share the blame equally:

  • Deviations from Architectural Plans
  • Deviations from Approved Materials
  • Deviations from Standard Field Quality

Since there is no one source of failure, these elements raise the bar in finding the actual root cause for a construction defect.


What Is A Construction Defect?


This is one very simple question with a really complicated answer. A construction defect is one of the most common yet major causes of litigation and dispute in the construction industry. Most of the times, there is a huge disagreement when it comes to recognizing the actual reason for a construction defect.

Simply put, the term “construction defect” is defective workmanship. It can be generally defined as a fault in the design, the workmanship, the materials/systems used in a project which ultimately result in the failure of a component part of a building or structure and causes damages to the property/person.


How To Identify A Construction Defect?


The quicker the discovery and resolution, the lower the cost for all – this mantra applies for any kind of defect. But again, this isn’t simple when it comes to spotting them on a building structure. The reason is simple, a building is made up of several assemblies which can be possibly impacted by construction defects but are largely hidden to human eyes. This forms two types of defects:

  1. Patent – These defects are known or readily obvious upon inspection such as drywall stains from water intrusion.
  2. Latent – This kind of defect exists during the construction phase but is undetected until after (sometimes years after) construction is completed and the building structure and its systems are in use. Below grade waterproofing or foundation failures from poor compaction and/or hydro-consolidation are few examples.

Some of the most common and high-cost construction defects include Structural integrity (concrete, masonry & division, carpentry, unstable foundations), Expansive soils, Mechanical, Electrical, Water intrusion, Thermal and moisture protection, Doors, windows and glass, and Finishes.

More than understanding this concept, the question that would bother you, even more, is how do you identify it? Keeping in mind this question we have categorised construction defects as 5 different sins.

Note: These “sins” demand continuing investigation during the building design, construction, and maintenance phase. Well, these sins might not be too deadly and endanger lives but could cause potential damage to a building structure, resulting in expensive repairs and probable litigation.


Construction Defects – Here Are The 5 Sins


Sin 1 – Design Vs Workmanship

Many times, design professionals like engineers or architects or engineers who design buildings and systems may not work as specified, this can result in defects. Simply put, defects in design is a result of the failure of the design professionals to produce accurate and well-coordinated set of construction-related documents. Most of the times, such defects are categorized as error or omissions. A design error is mostly a fault in a design element which is usually discovered by the contractor during the construction phase and demands redesign or replacement of few components to rectify the error. An omission is a result of an incorrect design item which was missed by the design professional in the construction documents and needs to be added to the contractor’s scope by change order.

Coming to workmanship, defects in this area is mostly a result of the contractor’s failure to construct a structure or component part of a structure as per the guidelines in the construction documents. Some examples of this kind of defect are an improperly installed weatherproofing system, soils that were not properly compacted, or inappropriately installed flashing or an absence of flashing. Other issues include cracks in foundations or walls, electrical and mechanical problems, or plumbing leaks.


Sin 2 – Material Deficiencies

A building structure is the final outcome of the materials it is made of. Hence using inferior building materials can result in a poor building resulting in significant problems. Common problems with building materials can include deteriorating flashing, building paper, waterproofing membranes, asphalt roofing shingles, particle board, inferior drywall and other wall products used in wet and/or damp areas, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.


Read: Green Buildings Materials: – Alternatives to Replace Concrete


Sin 3 – Improperly Installed Windows

Windows are often the first defects to get noticed. Mostly these problems arise due to faulty installations. Drywall stains are the most evident results of improperly installed windows, the hidden defects include, missing sheet metal head flashing, improperly lapped flashing membranes, and failure to properly install flashing at heads, jambs, and sills. Accumulated grime also results in problems, most of the times installers leave the post-construction debris in the frame which restricts the smooth operation of the windows.



Sin 4 – Facades & Exterior Leaks

As architects get more creative and unique with their designs, the likelihood of having window and exterior facade issues becomes far greater. Aesthetically pleasing, sleek, oversized facades, which comprise of thousands of component pieces can be a victim of defects and improper installation resulting in serious water infiltration issues which are often difficult to detect and repair. Exterior leaks are significant problems in both new construction and restoration projects and these issues can be addressed only by doing it right the very first time.



Sin 5 – Ventilation/Exhaust Problems

This is often a problem in both the in individual apartments and in public areas of a building. A proper ventilation system might be missing or may not functioning properly. New high-rise building structures present a peculiar problem for ventilation/ exhaust systems, called the stack effect. These structures are properly sealed from the outside, but when their heating systems are in use, hot air rises through the hallways and creates a negative pressure, possibly pulling odors from one apartment to another, typically on the lower floors.



Sin 6 – Subsurface Deficiencies

Expansive soil conditions apply mainly to the hilly regions where it is difficult to provide a stable foundation. Note, a lack of a solid foundation can result in cracked foundations or floor slabs and other impairment to the structure. If subsurface conditions are not properly addressed and equipped for adequate drainage, the property is more prone to problems like improperly settling to the ground, the structure shifting or moving, flooding and in many cases severe issues like landslides.



Who Is Responsible For Construction Defects?


There are several responsible parties for construction defects, but mostly the responsibility lays down with the general contractors, developers, and the builders of residential structures, irrespective of the fact that the work was performed by subcontractors or if the faulty materials used in building construction were manufactured by others. Architects, designers and other involved parties may also be culprits in litigation.


General Tips To Prevention And Resolution


Construction defects can result in a massive damage, owing to the fact that the can go unnoticed for a long period of time – It can make disputes surrounding construction defects immensely complex to manage. Thus, prevention is better than cure.

All the parties involved in the design and construction of a building project should aim to prevent any kind of construction defect. For the general contractors, developers and builders implementation of a quality assurance/quality control program are crucial to minimize defective work. Implementation of such programs provides them with a chance to repair defective work before the completion of the project. This reduces monetary damages and also protects from future litigations.

Also, when the construction defect is detected in the construction phase, a preliminary investigation of the structure should be carried out. This would involve a walk-through of the site to gather as much information as possible. This information will help the decision makers make an informed choice about their actions and take corrective measures to avoid damages.




Construction defects can disturb completed projects in negative ways – aesthetics to disastrous collapse with heart-breaking human toll it can take a number of shapes. Always remember, avoiding the most common construction sins can create a safe and secure home site.


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Curated by editor at  Wienerberger India

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