Why the Siding on Your Brand New Home Doesn't Have a Warranty

Let’s chat about siding. Specifically, siding on new homes. New homes should be the easiest to inspect since they’re built to the newest codes by licensed contractors and tradesmen. {insert eye-roll here}

Most of the new homes in our region are built with either a cement fiber-board such as Hardie Plank or a wood-resin composite such as LP’s SmartSide materials. Just to be clear from the top, these are both quality products and nothing I have to say that follows is a slam against them.

No, my complaint is that these sidings are all to often compromised during the installation process. This won’t be readily apparent for a decade or two, but I do expect that we’ll see a wave a failures. Complaints to the companies are going to leave a lot of consumers unhappy because the consensus opinion will be that the warranty was voided at the time of installation.

Why is My Warranty Voided?

Speaking bluntly, your warranty for the siding is likely voided because the contractor couldn’t be bothered to read the installation instructions provided by the manufacturers. It’s not as though the specifications are unduly complicated or long. The James Hardie instructions run four pages. The LP SmartSide runs five. Both have plenty of pictures for the literacy-challenged.

Top Four Ways Your Siding Gets Installed Wrong

A Failure to Adequately Flash Openings and Band Boards

The single most consistent failure is to not install the flashing the windows, doors, and band boards. Each of these have a horizontal surface that can accumulate water which can lead to leaks or degradation of the trim pieces (and then leakage.)

There should be a piece of metal flashing installed in these locations. This flashing is commonly called head flashing or Z-flashing. It is installed under the top piece of siding, extends over the vulnerable horizontal surface, and finishes with a downward leg to clear the water from the trim. In the first picture, if you look closely you can see the flashing (it is painted the same color as the siding) over the horizontal trim at the front porch. In the second, the flashing is plainly missing.

Flashing installed over the band-board correctly

Flashing installed over the band-board correctly

Flashing missing over this window trim

Flashing missing over this window trim

Not only is this flashing required by most, if not all, manufacturers, there is even a code reference. This flashing has been in the International Residential Code since 2009 (R703.8 Flashing).

A Failure to Leave Proper Clearances

There are a variety of clearances to consider when installing siding. Clearance refers to the gap we leave from the siding to another material. For example, by code we leave six inches between the bottom-most edge of the siding and soil. By specification, we are supposed to leave two inches between Hardie Plank and the roof deck. SmartSide only requires one inch in this location. This is a consistent difference between the two materials. Your inspector should be able to recognize the difference between them and apply the correct specification. 

That said, good luck in getting most contractors to actually follow the guidelines. 

Damage evident at the base of the wall due to water contact.

Damage evident at the base of the wall due to water contact.

Brand new and prepped for failure. Poor clearance to the deck and soil.

Brand new and prepped for failure. Poor clearance to the deck and soil.

A Failure to Install the Water-Resistive Barrier

“ . . . felt or other approved water-resistive barrier shall be applied over studs or sheathing of all exterior walls.” That is a direct quote from the IRC. It does not differentiate between the top of walls on gable ends or the garage against those at living spaces. So why do I see this on local job sites?

Seen recently on a job site nearby. 

Seen recently on a job site nearby. 

A Failure To Add Kick-out Flashing

Kick-out flashing is supposed to be installed at the intersection of a roof and a vertical wall. This piece of flashing is angled so that water running down the roof deck is directed away from the wall and into a gutter. If the water is allowed to flow unimpeded against the siding, there will be damage. The only question will be one of degree. 

Mr. Fix-it has a wealth of great information at his website!  http://misterfix-it.com/

Mr. Fix-it has a wealth of great information at his website! http://misterfix-it.com/

So there we go. Four reasons to keep a sharp eye on your siding contractor. Just an FYI, this doesn't just apply to new homes. I've seen the same types of failures on older homes that were re-sided.  

So what happens if it DOES snow?

Roberson1 (9)One advantage of living in Asotin is that the whole Lewis-Clark valley is considered to be a 'banana belt'- we're normally 10 degrees warmer than the surrounding prairies. We're also a desert. The average rainfall in Lewiston, Idaho is about 13 inches per year. Pullman get about 20 inches which makes it a semi-arid desert but the great soil in the Palouse hold water well and allows for dry land farming. A lot of their moisture happens this time of year, in the form of snow.

In the valley, we snicker. Most of the time, if we get 'snow', it's a dusting and we broom it off as we get on our way.  Very little fuss.

This leads the builders in the valley to occasionally entertain bad ideas on what constitutes good construction. If you take a quick gander at the picture above, you can see a prime example.

The picture was taken on an inspection of a brand new home. Can you see the problem?

Yep, whoever it was that pointed out the air intake (the curved one) is way too close to the roof deck wins a Tootsie Pop.

The intake should be much high off the roof deck (I recommended 12") so that, in the event of snow, it doesn't get blocked. The ultra-high efficiency furnace that is connected to the intake has a sensor that measures how much combustion air is getting pulled in. If it doesn't sense enough air, the furnace will not start.


It's winter and we definitely want the furnace to fire off and keep our tushes warm. We also don't want to make a service call (on overtime rate because it always happens that way - Murphy's Law is immutable and irrepressible) to get a perfectly acceptable system working again. And even if you know what the problem is, do you really want to climb onto a snow covered roof to fix it?

This is an easy fix. Add some height to both the exhaust and air intake. Viola, end of this particular problem.

And yes, it should have been caught by the building official but cut them a little slack. Like the rest of us, they're human and can miss something. Yes, it should have been caught by everybody up and down the construction cycle. That's why you hire an inspector, even for new homes-we're the last link in the chain of people (builder, contractors, code official, agent, inspector) that are trying to make you happy in your new home.

Keep that intake clear and stay warm, folks.

Crawl Space Access

Crawl space access is one of those completely unsexy things that inspectors get excited about - and with good reason, since we get paid to go in there. Most homebuyers take one look at the spider webs and confined space and pat me on the back. "Good luck, take pictures." seems to the general idea. They're not coming with me. Accesses get placed in all sorts of interesting spots - outside, in the garage, through a basement wall, closets - you name it, someone has put it there.

Okay, not the attic. We'll save the discussion of attic scuttles for another time. . .

The code for crawl space access is pretty specific.

R408.4 Access Access shall be provided to all under-floor spaces. Access openings through the floor shall be a minimum of 18 inches by 24 inches (457 mm by 610 mm). Openings through a perimeter wall shall be not less than 16 inches by 24 inches (407 mm x 610 mm). When any portion of the through-wall access is below grade, an areaway not less than 16 inches by 24 inches (407 mm x 610 mm) shall be provided. The bottom of the areaway shall be below the threshold of the access opening. Through wall access openings shall not be located under a door to the residence.

Did you read all that? No, don't worry. The inspector will manage it. Heck, we're delighted if we actually get a code-compliant hatch in an older home. Some that I've gone through are a half or less of the size above. It's why you should always hire a skinny inspector.

No, the part that will drive the inspector nuts and possibly cost you money (if you're the buyer) or a sale (if you're the seller) is having a perfectly acceptable hatch that isn't accessible.

Don't Cover or Block the Crawl Space Access

Yesterday was a classic example. We have a home with a sloped floor, a large tree five feet from the foundation wall, and no way to check the crawlspace for structural damage because the hatch was in the laundry room. Under the washer/dryer.

Very few inspectors are going to move installed appliances, risking damage to the appliances and the flooring, to get to a hatch. Instead, most will write it up as a defect, mark the structural components as uninspected and leave the buyer guessing about sloped floors.

The longer they guess, the worse the problem will get in their minds.

If you are the seller, please do yourself a favor. First, know where your access is. If it's under equipment, take the time to move things for the inspector.

If it's in a closet, remove your personal possessions to leave it available. Same thing for exterior hatches - don't stack the firewood on top.

Some older homes will have the hatch nailed down. If this is the case, pry it up before the inspector gets there. The odds are that he or she won't take the chance of damaging flooring.

And if you're using screws to hold the covers in place - frequently done on exterior hatches to keep the board tight to the wall - use a standards screw head - no need to go with fancy star-patterned heads. We might not have that particular pattern or size on board the truck. Use a Phillips or square head screw.

The inspector will thank you, and the buyer will get the information they need without the extra worrying. And you move one step closer to a successful sale.