Business Inquiry:

Are only contractors to blame for product defects?

Shashank Vaidya (Director)
Product Defects

There has been an awakening of the customer in the real estate sector. From helplessly accepting defects, they are now conscious of minor flaws and demand nothing short of perfection from developers. There are exceptions to this, as there were exceptions to the earlier typically docile customers. The defect liability clause in RERA legislation has reinforced their ability to demand quality. These changes augur well for the industry as a whole, but are we ready for it?

As a result of this awakening, defects are now being looked at much more closely than ever before. Multiple rounds of snagging-de-snagging before handover is a norm and not an exception. However, snagging only helps in ensuring that defects are rectified before the product is handed over to the customer. It does not help in preventing the defects. In this regard, it can at best provide data to identify most frequently occurring defects such that management and expert’s attention can be focused on developing preventive solutions.

As a party to the defect identification, rectification analysis etc., in our role as PMC and TPQC (Third Party QC), we often find that the first reaction from the Client is to instinctively blame the contractor for the defects. It is taken for granted that these defects are caused by poor workmanship. Poor track record and reputation of the contractors is to blame for this opinion. However, blaming the contractor wrongfully is unlikely to lead to the right preventive action and the drama may repeat unless proper root cause analysis is performed.

Quality is composed of three parameters: Quality of design, Quality of conformance, and Quality of use. These are briefly discussed below

Quality of design means the degree to which the design reflects or ensures that customer needs are fulfilled. All required characteristics of the product should be designed into it. We have come across many instances related to defects in finishing items, MEP services, and water proofing system, which can be traced back to faulty design. By design I mean the end-to-end process encompassing planning, design, drawing, specifying and laying down the acceptance criteria. Defects in design make it difficult to create a defect free product / element / item of work. In some cases, the designs are made on certain assumptions which are patently wrong or not applicable in the existing eco-system. Such designs are bound to result in many defects unless extreme care is taken, and a high price is paid in the form of material selection, supervision, and testing. In contrast, what we see is the high price being paid in defect rectification and loss of reputation.

Quality of conformance is the extent to which the completed work conforms to the designs. This part of quality is primarily the responsibility of the contractor and the supervising agency. However, since the contractor is closest to the product, he tends to be held accountable for sins of every other stakeholder.

Quality of use refers to the extent to which the user can secure continuity of use of the product. The product needs to be safe, reliable, user friendly and easy to maintain. Durability is an aspect that falls under the ambit of quality of use, though the seeds of durability (or the lack of it) are often sown in the design and conformance phase. Problems related to quality of use are often faced during the defect liability period or the service life of the product. Since the expected service life of buildings is very high, this aspect deserves to be given greater attention that it gets now.

Further, measures of many of the characteristics of the product are either not laid down or are subjective in nature. Thus, whether a product (or an element) is defective or not is left to the opinion of the relevant party. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to check the work post-completion and identify defects. This often results in arguments and heartburn during handover or during the defect liability period. We have been questioned for our inability to check some of the defects, despite our best intentions and efforts!

Two such defects that are widespread in real estate construction are seen through the lens of these issues.

  1. Seepage through windows: Given the extremely heavy rainfall incidences in many parts of India, seepage is a very common problem. Windows on external walls are vulnerable to this defect. This problem can occur in brand new construction and at any time during the service life of the building. While seepage few years down the line is taken to be inevitable, seepage during the first monsoon season is obviously a big problem. It requires meticulous detailing of window joints, careful specifications of materials, selecting the right methodology and rigorous testing post installation to prevent this defect. Unfortunately, post installation tests are rare, therefore one has to wait with fingers crossed for the defects to surface during rains and then attend to those locations wherever these defects manifest.
  2. Cracks in concrete and plaster: All structures undergo alternate wetting-drying and heating-cooling cycles. Since materials of dissimilar elasticity, coefficient of thermal expansion and swell-shrink characteristics are invariably used together in construction, tensile strains are unavoidable. Therefore, even with best of workmanship, fine cracks are likely to occur. I have often found it amusing when engineers check the strength of concrete and masonry while trying to find the cause of such cracks. Locations where such cracks occur are junctions of RCC and blockwork, behind door frames and tiling, to name a few. While these cracks do not affect stability or function, they are still counted as defect as they impinge upon aesthetics.

Both these defects are not easy to specify (other than using the trite phrase “construction shall be free of any defect”) and measure. They often manifest a few months or seasons after completion of construction. Users rightly expect that such defects should either not occur at all or get repaired quickly.

While it is convenient to blame the contractor / poor workmanship, the root cause of the problem could lie elsewhere. Unless designers, specifiers, quality professionals and construction engineers get their act together and solve the problem from design till post-construction checks, product defects aren’t going away. Armed with provisions of RERA, customers can make our lives very tough indeed!


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Suresh Tripathi
Suresh Tripathi
December 1, 2020 11:50 am

This is very relevant / quality is everyone’s responsibility: blaming the weakest has become trend – if systematic approach is taken then this issue will be mitigated

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