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Irrigation citations, HVAC performance & Siding concerns
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Glen Davis CBO, MCP
Mueller Community

Posts: 17
Joined on June 19th, 2009
Irrigation citations, HVAC performance & Siding concerns
by Glen Davis CBO, MCP on December 7th, 2009

Greetings Mueller Homeowners,

I have created this forum for you to have an opportunity to ask specific questions regarding any concerns you have on your home and/or the building and inspection process.

Please bear in mind that I only occasionally visit the site to check on concerns and/or misinformation I see being posted. Please feel free to send me a private message as those will certainly reach me and I can respond accordingly. If your issue is delicate and you wish the information to remain private please indicate so in your private message to me. If you would prefer me to respond so that the community can benefit from your question please also indicate so.

The three particular areas I would like to address briefly during this forum introduction are noted in the subject line and as time allows and responses began to come from the community I'll offer more in-depth answers as needed and we can also explore the complete range of issues prevalent with owning a home, including maintenance and obviously the inspection process.

First topic : Irrigation systems
With our unprecedented drought conditions this summer that necessitated the mandated watering restrictions, some Mueller homeowners were unpleasantly surprised with citation notices from the city of Austin regarding excessive runoff. The runoff issues are entirely different than watering on incorrect days but nonetheless they are equal in the eyes of the city with respect to wasted water.

In short,the builder and the builders irrigation contractor share the primary responsibility of confirming the irrigation system is adjusted appropriately with respect to gallon per minute flow rates and appropriate coverage that does not wastewater or cause excessive runoff as judged by the city. Obviously, excessive runoff can be a very arbitrary decision. For those of you that have been issued citations, I would encourage you to secure a copy of the irrigation system installation permit and inspection approval via the city of Austin inspection database. The following address I have attached should get you to the appropriate site.

This information is helpful to confirm the system was legally permitted and inspected by the city of Austin inspector. You should also find a copy of the certified irrigation installers city of Austin checklist confirming that your system has been installed in accordance with city requirements. Near the irrigation controller in the garage you should also see another document that shows the flow rates in addition to the basic station map. The permit and these documents attached to the wall all confirm that your system has been not only inspected by the city but the state licensed irrigation installer. It is impractical for the city of Austin to assume that homeowners would have modified basic irrigation settings with respect to directional flow and or gallons per minute. With that said, if you have received a citation in the past, I would secure these documents and deliver copies of them to the city of Austin at the time you contest the citation. Secondly and most importantly, it is your builders responsibility up to one year date of occupancy to deliver an irrigation system that is not only functional but compliant with city of Austin requirements. Also bear in mind that systems can be installed entirely correctly ( gallon per minute flow rate and sprinkler head alignment ) but still create excessive runoff due to improper grading and drainage on the lot that is clearly a builder responsibility. It's important that you or inspector identify these issues prior to the expiration of the 1 yr warranty and even more important that you follow up with your builder to confirm any issues identified by your inspector with respect to the eerie station system are corrected. Be advised that the builder's first response is typically the system was approved by not only the city of Austin but by their own state licensed irrigation contractor which brings you back to a deadlock with the builder. If you reach that point and the builder does not voluntarily correct the issues, you still have the option of contacting the city of Austin and request them to perform a reinspection of the irrigation system. The information provided by them may give you the necessary ammunition to request the builder to reevaluate their opinion so that you may avoid future risk of fines.

Second topic : HVAC performance
This is a very large topic and can't be adequately discussed in one session. I will say though I've seen other posts including one or two by other inspectors going into detail on how homeowners can perform their own inspection and certify their systems operating correctly. It is not appropriate advice for an Inspector to give nor is it accurate. The issues on the HVAC systems that are prevalent not only in the Mueller community but also statewide are not quite so simple as performing temperature deltas. There is a very wide range of causative factors that even master mechanical contractors do not fully understand. It is true that many of the basic issues including the fact that all of the calculations are essentially one-size-fits-all, thermostats are located in many of the homes at questionable locations, return air volumes are restricted in many cases and yes some of the systems are likely undersized as well in some cases they may actually be oversized.

In addition to the issues mentioned in previous posts and the comments above there are also numerous systems in this development that have installation issues on the in-line zone damper where the main damper on a split system home is not functioning correctly ( either fully closing or fully opening ) evidenced by independently testing the zones and determining if there is bleed of air supply to a particular register or floor if the system is in the off position. That condition has been found numerous times in this subdivision and is not builder specific.

The bottom line, there are many floorplans where that are very forgiving even to the most egregious installation issues but there are also many, particularly two-story plans where the issues come home to roost. The typical builder response is " we do em all that way, the city inspected and approved it, the HVAC inspected and approved it and therefore there's nothing wrong ".

It falls on you or the inspector you hire to be knowledgeable enough to spot the issues and/or at least put enough of the puzzle together to document there are issues. Most importantly, the credentials of your inspector are where the rubber really hits the road as to whether or not your builder is going to be willing to step forward and take this to another level of evaluation. Bear in mind that most builders have little respect for basic real estate inspectors and that additional qualifications, certifications etc. are what come into play when it comes time to plead your case with the builder.

Third topic : Siding concerns
Again, this topic can be discussed in more detail at a later date but suffice to say that the vast majority of all siding installations in this subdivision particularly at inside and outside corners and around windows/doorways are not compliant with the manufacturer installation guidelines.

The large gaps you see behind the corner and the window trimmers are result of the builders cornice crew taking shortcuts in being able to cut the boards wildly knowing they have 3 1/2 inches of trim board to cover the large gaps. The manufacturer ( James Hardie Corp ) actually calls for the siding panels to be butt joined to the trimmers and caulked at the horizontal to vertical connections. At the end of the day the shortcut will not affect the performance of the veneer but does allow for the penetration of insects etc and moisture penetration only in extreme cases where rain is driven at 45° from horizontal.

The more important issue is that many homes out there ( specific builder names are withheld ) have inadequate, poorly fashioned and altogether missing flashing details that are required by manufacturer and the applicable city of Austin adopted code models. This is an oversight by the city as they have a responsibility to confirm appropriate detailing and come clients to codes at the final inspection. Unfortunately, city inspectors are not performing their job and it comes down to the homeowners and/or their independent inspectors to locate the deficiencies and report accordingly.

As I indicated in the HVAC system, the builder will typically respond that it has been inspected and approved there are no code deficiencies or need to repair. Again, it comes down to the credentials of your inspector to be able to persuade the builder that the issues truly exist and deserve correction. This is precisely why you can see houses built by the same builder that are directly adjacent each other and one house is correct and the other is not. That was a function of working for the homeowner in getting those issues corrected.

Much more on this subject later.....

Obviously, this initial post only touches on minute portions of each issue and will need more in-depth discussion. Please feel free to review and respond.

Glen Davis CBO, MCP

Master Code Professional
Certified Building Official

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Irrigation citations, HVAC performance & Siding concerns
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