Potomac Valley Builders: Sloppy Management, Lousy Work Our home was built by Potomac Valley Builders, working under the guidance of our architect, Jim Rill. We chose PVB for several reasons, including Jim Rill's recommendation and the evident competence of Gerald Witmer, a principal in the company that we were led to believe would supervise the project. We paid PVB more than two million for the completed house, and have now lived in it eight years. As we got acquainted with our house, we also got acquainted with its failings. Roof On the day we moved in, rain poured through the ceiling of the master bedroom. On other occasions, water has come through the ceilings of two other rooms – our office on the top floor and the ceiling of the “glass room”. We keep a bucket in the office to catch the drip whenever it rains. Electrical We have always blamed poor planning for the fact that we have electrical panels are located on opposite ends of the basement, and that circuit breakers on one side control many circuits on the other side of the house. Our electrician has shown us that the original electrician intentionally broke components in our circuit panel to increase the ability of circuit breakers to handle the load that was placed on them. Lutron switches and dimmers are installed everywhere, but with no evident planning. To turn on a light on one side of the room, you generally must walk to the other side. We had to have our circuit breakers completely redone: the lavbeling was inaccurate and often illegible. Plumbing Our builder selected PVC with thin walls for most piping, including the water main to the street. We've had a burst water main which flooded our basement. The shutoff at the street was not marked and was buried. Heating and Air Conditioning The subcontractor who did this went out of business right after we took occupancy, leaving us with a number of problems: Most air conditioning filters are inaccessible, requiring the removal of cabinet facing. Heating and air conditioning are regulated by separate controls. Any given room is likely to have its heating and cooling controls in different locations. To shift from heating to cooling or vice versa, a dozen valves must be opened or closed, along with a number of switches. With this effort, we suffer when the world is warm in winter or cool in summer. Our swimming pool was connected to a pump and filter inside the house, and its water was heated by running it directly through our geothermal units, without use of a heat exchanger. Because this water was salted as part of our pool bacteria control procedures, problems developed. A hot water heater designed to supplement the work of the geothermal units soon corroded and failed. A replacement for it corroded and failed. The geothermal units failed. Swimming Pool As soon as we added water to the swimming pool, the pool room developed serious condensation on all surfaces. Our builder suggested and installed an industrial-size dehumidifier. Because the dehumidifier created considerable heat in the pool room, he suggested that we run the room's air conditioning year-round. Our electric bill for our first month of use was over $1,700. It turns out that no dehumidifier is needed if the pool is simply covered when not in use. Due to some poor planning, the two huge geothermal units we have installed do not have the capacity to control the temperature of the pool room. Without discussion, PVB installed a small electric heater in the pool room, and placed a small geothermal unit under the floor of the pool room, to try to keep the room warm in winter. Driveway The corners of the new driveway immediately began to subside, with puddles lasting long after a rain. Our builder was willing to address this for an additional charge, but was unable to match the look of the original driveway when he patched. A section of the driveway bordered by a stone retaining wall is subsiding, and will soon need attention. Several area of the driveway are now worn through, exposing the under layer. Roof and Driveway Drainage We designed a system to capture all water that falls on the roof of the house or garages, and all water that falls on the driveway, sending it to a pair of huge underground tanks. These tanks sit on a deep gravel bed intended to capture excess water that comes from rain when the tanks are full. An irrigation system draws from these tanks. But little math seems to have been involved in this design: When the tanks are full, after 10 minutes of irrigation the well pump kicks on to replace the missing water. Obviously the float valve is too high in the tanks. With the high float valve, the tanks are normally nearly full. A heavy rain fills them, fills the gravel bed, and flows down the hill. The pump that draws water from the tanks failed in its first year of use, and had to be replaced. Outdoor Staining The exterior of our house is stained to reveal the natural color of the wood. But initial staining was done before the stone masons were finished, and stone dust stuck to the drying stain. In an effort to remove this mess, PVB powerwashed the surface of that soft wood, damaging it. To maintain the house, we have twice restained using the same product that PVB's painters used. Unfortunately, the wrong stain was selected for the house. It buckled, bubbled, and peeled. We finally found an excellent painter who researched stains, spent 4 months preparing the surface and staining, and the stain has now lasted us three years – and still looks good. Koi Pond Our koi pond had plumbing to handle skimmers and provide filtration. Pressure gauges were placed on the pipe, so that the connections could be tested. But no tests were ever done, and after the concrete was poured and dried, operation of the pump revealed that many of the pipes leaked, and could not be used. The koi pond's remaining piping that is in use, has one or more leaks that the builder could not locate. To offset this, the builder installed an autofill, which needs to run frequently to keep the water level constant. Skimmer baskets were installed in two locations on the edge of the koi pond. But they were of a size that suited a much smaller capacity indoor swimming pool, and immediately clogged with leaves. One of the baskets cannot be removed because concrete was added above it for the patio. The other is connected to a piece of PVC that is leaking. Snow guards Attractive snow guards were installed by the builder, but installed backwards, so that they would fall over whenever pushed by a load of snow coming from above. It took repeated complaints to induce the builder to reverse them. Patio drainage We are currently in the midst of a $60,000 repair of the drainage of our second story patio, and so can report on some details of construction problems. Four patio drains connect to a single horizontal PVC pipe which connected to a single vertical pipe. This vertical pipe clogged, so that water entering one of the four drains would bubble up. At times, the water got so high that it threatened to flood over the threshold and into the house. Our builder was unable to remember where the vertical pipe was located, had taken no photos during construction to provide this information, and could not locate it after extended digging in our back yard. He tried repeatedly, but could not snake the clogged vertical pipe. Our plumber was unable to do any better. As we jack hammered our way through the patio to access the drain, we found that the piping was located below a foot of concrete, rebar, and membrane – impossible to repair without destroying the patio. Drains were poorly chosen. Those installed were not designed to capture the moisture the membrane was blocking. When we opened it up, the concrete of the patio drained for days. A gentle test of the PVC that the builder buried in the concrete reveals that the PVC leaks at most joints, which operated as if they had not been glued at all. The builder did not place any weep holes on the edge of the patio, to allow water that had soaked into the concrete below the flagstone to escape. But that likely wouldn't have been of beneft because the patio was designed with a slope to carry water falling on it to the middle, not the edges. The builder did not seal the patio stone. Water soaked through the patio and the ceiling of the bedroom below when the house was new. These problems occurred, we believe, because there was inadequate supervision. We chose PVB because we were told that Gerald Witmer would be our project manager. Two months after construction began, a new project manager informed us that he was in charge. We were never consulted on this change. The new project manager was, to be polite, pro-active. At first, we wondered why PVB never sked us to be a reference for new customers. Now we know why.