Q: I am buying a brand new home in an unincorporated area and have found out the builder has not been putting building paper or building...

Share story

I am buying a brand new home in an unincorporated area and have found out the builder has not been putting building paper or building wrap behind the cedar siding in all houses in the development. The siding rests directly on the OSB plywood.

He claims this is legal because the siding is not specifically inspected. I then asked the local building inspector and he did not want to comment on it, telling me simply that they do not inspect siding and have no enforcement authority in this area. Should I be buying this house? Am I opening a can of worms here, especially on south-facing walls, where there is little roof overhang?

The county can’t enforce these and many other important building and code issues. They just cannot have someone on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to look at every component.

Historically, building-code enforcement was focused on major structure, occupant-health, and safety items only (foundation and framing, plumbing and electrical). In the past few decades it has morphed into enforcement of energy-code issues as well.

But the bottom line is, the consumer is on his own in many ways.

In most places, the roof and siding are never inspected and rarely is the attic or crawl space entered. The vast majority of builders have built and continue to build quality buildings.

Unfortunately, it sounds like you met one who ranks a $200 cost savings higher than a huge potential liability and potential consumer unhappiness.

You could have the home inspected privately during and after construction. Even then, not all defects and shortcuts are found or repaired without true enforcement authority if the builder is determined to build on the cheap.

Installing siding without any secondary moisture/vapor barrier is foolhardy and actually quite surprising, given our usually soggy climate.

Half of all windows leak at their frames. Where is that moisture going to go without a vapor barrier? Into the wall. Cedar siding cracks and twists, and knots fall out as it ages, particularly on the south side, as you point out, leaving holes and gaps.

South also happens to be the direction from which we receive the wettest weather. Moisture condenses on the backside of siding during certain conditions. How is that moisture drained away without a vapor barrier? It isn’t, and OSB isn’t as resistant to moisture as plywood or solid-wood sheathing used in older buildings.

So where does all this leave you? Quite vulnerable. Count on needing to replace a portion of your siding in the future. Or needing a good lawyer. Maybe both.

If the home is otherwise attractive and you can deal with these issues, buy it. Otherwise, think long and hard.

Darrell Hay is a local home inspector and manages several rental properties. He answers reader questions. Call 206-464-8514 to record your question, or e-mail dhay@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.