After new building projects or renovations are complete, damages and even injuries can occur because of construction defects. These costly, dangerous events are terrifying. Who is liable for construction defects, and what should homeowners do if they suspect a defect?

Understanding what to do when facing construction defects is overwhelming for many homeowners. Often, many parties are involved in construction projects, especially when it’s a business project and numerous commercial structural engineers are involved. How do you find the root cause of a defect, and who is responsible for what?

Today, learn all about construction defects, what they are, and what you should do in this traumatic situation.

What is a Construction Defect?

A construction defect, in its most basic form, is a defect that occurs during the architecturalal or structural design, construction, or remodeling of a home or building. However, there is much more to understand about these defects beyond that basic definition.

Construction defects lead to many problems and incredibly costly repairs. In some cases, injuries to workers or occupants result from defects that aren’t noticed or repaired.

To effectively address defects, it’s critical to break down and define the defect very specifically. These are the key areas that need special consideration.

#1: Obvious vs. Latent Defects

First, it’s vital to separate obvious and latent defects when considering what can happen to structural design for a residential building.

Obvious defects appear during construction and are typically less expensive to correct than other types of defects. Windows that don’t fit properly and support beams that are too short are examples of obvious defects. The construction team in charge of building or remodeling typically notices obvious defects in this traditional architecture and correct them at a minimal cost.

On the other hand, latent defects are the more common, more dangerous, and more expensive type of construction defect.

Latent defects occur during the construction or remodeling of a building, but the defect goes unnoticed or unaddressed. They often lead to structural or systemic problems, usually years later. Many latent defects are progressive, meaning they worsen over time, and this deterioration leads to even more significant issues.

Common latent defects are understrength support beams, poorly mixed concrete, and leaking roof components.

#2: Defect and the Manifestation of the Defect

Another aspect of a construction defect that is important to understand is the difference between a defect and how it manifests.

For example, a crack in the concrete in your garage may seem like a construction defect. However, the actual defect could be something in the foundation; the garage crack is a manifestation of the defect.

When addressing construction defects, it’s critical to be sure that you address the defect directly and not just the manifestations of that defect. Identifying both is key, or you will not adequately correct the problem.

#3: Types of Defects

Finally, get familiar with different types of defects. This helps set the basis for who is responsible for a particular defect, as specific defects originate during different parts of construction.

Plan or Specification Deviation

Defect types include deviations from planned specifications. This happens when a contractor or subcontractor does not follow construction project plans as required even if the structural engineer for residential homes made the design properly. The project design professional chooses the specifications, and the constructors and builders should follow them.

When structural engineering design services are used, those plans need to be followed exactly. Any deviation from those approved plans is a defect, even if the project is completed successfully. 

Functional Failure

Another type of construction defect is when one or more of the created systems do not work according to the expectation. For example, windows that do not meet the required or planned weather resistance code would be considered a functional failure. Even something as simple as a leaky roof would fall into this category. Implemented plans that fail at their intended function are construction defects.

Building Code Violations

Builders must meet all applicable building codes and safety standards written in the law. Suppose they cannot build to code when following the construction plans. In that case, it is the contractor’s responsibility to talk to the architect or building planner to resolve the issue before continuing. MEP design is particularly important in this area.

What is MEP design? MEP plans detail the requirements to meet all mechanical, electrical, and plumping guidelines. When working with San Diego structural engineering firms, for example, the engineers will be familiar with local building codes and ensure they meet the San Diego standards. 

Rapid Deterioration

All project elements will eventually deteriorate; that is a natural phenomenon. When specific parts of a building or property deteriorate more rapidly than expected, this is a defect.

Normal wear and tear may cause the siding on a building to crack or fall off ten years after its installation. However, that siding should not start failing just four months after its installation. This type of rapid deterioration is a construction defect.

Construction Defects: Who is Responsible for What?

Now that we understand more about construction defects, it’s time to think about responsibility. Who is responsible whenever defects appear during or after construction?

Generally speaking, the following rules apply:

  • Architects or structural design firms are responsible for defects originating from the project’s design
  • Builders, both contractors or subcontractors, are responsible for defects due to not following the design or building code

It’s not always easy to understand exactly who is responsible for what, so getting an expert opinion is often helpful to see the original construction plans.

For example, let’s say you have a home irrigation system installed two years after your property was built. As the contractor is working on the installation, they point out some problems with your plumbing that you hadn’t noticed before. It turns out that there is a significant defect, and you now need to do $10,000 in repairs.

Who, then, is responsible?

The contractor working on the home irrigation system is not responsible; they simply noticed the problem. The party responsible would either be the structural engineer for residential homes who designed the home or the construction team that built it. To determine fault, seeing the original construction plans would be key.

Assigning Responsibility in the Industry

Industry professionals know how important it is to build safe structures but also to define responsibility within the industry clearly. Through contracting and building a property, many legal documents define and assign responsibility, including liability for defects.

Typically, the process looks something like this:

  1. Architect designs plans for a building project or renovation project, usually in contract with the property owner.
  2. The architect contracts an engineer to ensure that the drawings comply with the latest engineering principles and safety guidelines.
  3. The property owner takes the approved plans and contracts a general contractor to follow through with the plans.
  4. The general contractor may take out contracts with several subcontractors to implement the plans.

Many contracts written will assign responsibility, liability, and expectations through provisions throughout this process. These liability provisions are key, and liability is often passed down the chain to the next party as the contracting occurs. Responsibility for defects must be tracked through these contracts.

Liability and Pursuing a Claim

Once you have determined that you are dealing with a construction defect and discover which party is liable, it’s time to pursue a claim.

Contractors and subcontractors carry insurance to cover these types of issues. If they agree that they are responsible for the defect in question, their insurance will often step in to cover the cost of repairs. This process can be slow to implement, but it is available in many situations.

Suppose a contractor or subcontractor you worked with is liable but unwilling to remedy the situation. In that case, it may be within your best interests to sue them in the small claims court to cover the associated repair costs. This process is something that you can likely handle on your own, and it will help offset the cost of getting your home habitable again.

Construction Defects

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

Avoiding Defects During Home Renovation Projects

The real takeaway from learning more about construction defects for most people is that they would like to avoid dealing with defects at all. If you are planning a renovation or having a home built, it’s essential to do your research and bring in the best individuals you can at each stage.

Architects are a vital part of the home renovation process. By choosing the right architect and engineer, you can ensure that your plans are solid, safe, and approved to current building codes. From there, you’ll want to be sure that your general contract and project manager will be paying attention every step of the way.

Finally, remember that even with high vigilance, defects can happen. Contracts must define liability, responsibility, and what the remedial process looks like. Review all contracts for this information before agreeing to them.


In case you have any architectural, structural, HVAC, and MEP design including fire sprinkler design requirements, or need commercial HVAC design, feel free to contact us.  We provide you with the full permit set design + T24 for your request.