Published on November 20th, 2012 | by Henri


Contractors’ ethics go beyond just following code

Q.     I was intrigued by your recent answer to the contractor having condensation problems. As a former contractor, having experienced a similar problem, I agree that the methodology you described may solve the problem. However, you failed to mention three important factors.

Number one: as described, the contractor in question built the cathedral ceilings within applicable building codes, and is therefore not responsible for the problem.  Number two: the applicable building codes have not been correctly updated to take into account the higher thermal efficiency of newer homes. In effect, newer houses do not “breathe”…they are not as drafty as older homes, and therefore there are more problems with condensation, mold and material out-gassing.  Lastly, one wonders if the architectural details required a 6mil vapor barrier, and if so, did the building inspector note the omission during the insulation inspection?

Although it is noble of the contractor to wish to fix the problem, he must weigh the cost of that nobility against the fact that he did nothing wrong. Hopefully the contractor has the financial ability to make the repairs, but the clients in question have the responsibility to split the costs.

A.      You make some interesting points. But as a former general contractor myself and as the founder of an ethics committee in the area where I used to build, renovate and restore some 50 years ago, I disagree with you on several of them.

The fact that a building is built according to code (whether the code is behind times or not) and that the architectural specs do not call for what is essential to obtain a failsafe cathedral ceiling is not a valid excuse for a contractor not to do what he or she should in order to avoid problems. We builders have a responsibility to keep up with the latest technology and to advise clients (and architects who may have omitted an essential component) of the need for any changes to wishes, plans or specifications.

Clients are not builders and do not have the necessary knowledge to have their dreams built without problems; it is our job to make sure there will be none and, if we don’t, we have done something wrong and we must stand behind our work and fix the problem. That’s one way to learn never to make that mistake again.

As an example, in the early 1960s the trend was to install ceramic tiles on tempered Masonite applied over gypsum board, using a new technique: mastic. Bullnose trim made the installation look like a mud tile job. However, after a couple of years, the oil in the Masonite caused the mastic to fail and tiles to fall off. We had done nothing wrong – we had simply followed the trend of the time developed because mud tile setters were hard to find, but homeowners were suffering the consequences. Needless to say, it was our responsibility to replace the tile work at no cost to the clients; an expensive lesson.

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