A New Oxymoron: Ugly Cosmetic Repairs

By Christopher E. Carter, P.E.

The other day, I received the following e-mail from my 12-year old daughter:

“Attention: Aliens are coming to kidnap all the good looking people. You will be safe. I’m just e-mailing to say goodbye!”

Isn’t that great? I have no reason now, to fear the aliens! Neither do some of the homes I’ve seen fixed. Why is this, you ask? It’s because poor workmanship and supervision during the cosmetic phase of a structural repair can undo all the good that went in to making it pretty again.

It’s an ironic dilemma. Cosmetic distress in a home is what prompts a homeowner to call the builder. It usually shows itself as drywall cracks, brick cracks, tile cracks, trim separations, and so on, and in the homeowners mind, it’s what’s wrong with the house. Cosmetic distress is also what causes the homeowner to recall the builder after it’s fixed. See the irony? Doesn’t make sense, does it?

From a logical perspective, if a structural problem is causing cosmetic distress within a home, then repair of that problem will, by deduction, fix the cosmetic distress. Right? Well, not always.

Imagine a home that undergoes a major structural repair. Before the men in pickups arrive to do the work, lots of investigation and preparation are accomplished. Builder warranty reps evaluate responsibility and liability. Geotechnical engineers investigate the soil. Structural engineers evaluate the foundation and superstructure. Several contractors prepare bids. You get the idea – a lot is riding on this repair.

So, after all is said and done, and the homeowner has lived through a structural repair experience resembling the Boston “Big Dig” tunnel project, a cosmetic workman will appear at the end of the job with orders to “fix the cracks.” No one else will typically be there, except the homeowner who is still eyeing the original distress.

This is when everything can unravel. Without proper, aggressive cosmetic repairs to eliminate the original distress, a $175,000 structural repair, for example, can be made to look ineffective with just $20 of drywall compound and caulk.

As the repairing builder or insurance company representative, you need to have hands-on, contractor-independent verification that cosmetic distress at the end of a job is repaired adequately and permanently – not quickly and cheaply.