By K. Nepsa

I recently read a great article in The Vail Voice highlighting one of Vail’s new premiere neighborhoods. If you’ve driven through the greater Vail area recently, you may have seen a few new neighborhoods being built faster than you can say “new homes.” And if you’re a potential homeowner of one of these new beautiful homes, then you might also find yourself to be a homebuyer who isn’t as happy with the process as you initially envisioned. Disgruntled home buyers recently took to social media in hopes of finding some answers or maybe just yelling out their frustrations into cyber space. And soon after that, a local News station in Tucson picked up the story, highlighting and interviewing more than a few unhappy home buyers throughout the entire Pima County area, including Vail residents.

There is a science to home building and when the science is ignored or neglected, things can happen. It starts with a soils or geotechnical report. This document is very important as the first step in the home building process, but many people are completely unaware of the science involved, especially by the time they are walking through a new model home. A soils report, for any proposed community, outlines recommendations made by local engineers and geo scientists who analyze data, that come from the soils observed, sampled and tested on site. This step happens long before anything can be built on the soil. This document discusses the types of soils found on site as well as the strength and behavior of those soils based on the testing performed in a lab. The geotechnical company’s recommendations for a proposed community may include, but are not limited to: foundations for houses, retaining walls in the community, potential retention ponds, concrete strength requirements, pilings for larger structures, slope requirements, set back requirements, grading specifications, over excavation of bad soils, required moisture content in the soil, etc., etc., etc. After the site is roughly graded, a post-grade geotechnical report includes additional recommendations and includes fill/cut data for each pad/lot within the community. Does your chosen lot have a lot of fill soils or did it have to be cut at some point to make the pad? This information can be useful in understanding any potential problems that may occur in time.

If any of the recommendations in the report are neglected or compromised in the home building process, failure of the soils can occur. Repetitive, blatant or excessive problems found in your new home can be the result. Also, there are many contractors on site, while your home is being built, and there is a science behind their product and process as well. Mistakes can happen. However, gross negligence is never acceptable and unfortunately, could go unnoticed for a while. I recommend due diligence of the process, which can include the following:

  1. If your homebuilder allows it, consider seeking professional advice (carpenters, electricians, inspectors, drywall installers, HVAC professionals, home inspectors, etc.) and don’t be afraid to communicate with your homebuilder team.
  2. Be proactive and point out issues as early as possible.
  3. Take pictures!
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  5. Follow your gut.
  6. Ask for a copy of the soils report, if they can provide it. Even if you feel it reads like stereo instructions, you may benefit from having it on hand at some future date.
  7. Observe the handiwork of different contractors in your neighbors’ houses, as well as your own. Is their work consistent?
  8. Be respectful! Seriously. Contractors do not want you to interrupt their job on a daily basis and they certainly don’t like rude people. Also, remember that the sales team are bound by their own company’s protocols.
  9. Remember that perfection is rarely achieved, even from a soils perspective. Recommendations are based on the data available at the time of the report and soils can vary from one linear foot to another.
  10. Enjoy your new home!

K. Nepsa has a B.S. in Geology and a Master’s in GIS. She has lived in Arizona, HI, CA and Shanghai, China. Her hobbies include enjoying the outdoors via Jeep, Kayak, horse or foot. She has been a Vail resident since 2005.

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