The Building Bidness

Page 1 of 3  
There are a fair number of guys around here that this will resonate with.
When I went to work for my first GC as a Carpenter's Helper, he had his own electrician, his own plumber, his own block and stucco guy, his own carpenters - all this was in-house. Little did I know that I was observing the death of that way of building homes.
As carpenters we were there from the setting of the batter boards to the turnover of the keys to the owner. Sometimes we participated in the site work.
As carpenters we did the layout and participated in the concrete flatwork. If there were concrete stairs, we formed them. We framed, we roofed, we guttered and downspouted, and we sheetrocked, we hung doors and trimmed. We also painted. We put the windows in, and the floors, and the stairs, and the kitchen cabinets, and we laid the tile or stone in the entry. If there were to be bookcases - we made them - onsite.
Shortly after this sweet indoctrination (which I have been eternally grateful for) the model of how to build houses changed.
The builder went from being a man who had worked himself up through the trades to being a guy with a phone and a fancy car.
He hired subcontractors for everything and had almost nobody on his payroll.
There was some tension there for awhile as the old line guys tried to explain why their way was better.
But the numbers ruled.
Why did the guys with the cars and phonebooks win?
Accountability.
Under the old way of doing things you could not dodge your responsibility because every dodge showed up in the next step and you would have to deal with it - or one of your fellow employess would.
This kept things honest and true.
Did the old way build better houses? You bet your ass it did.
Could an old timey builder compete in the current market?
Nope.
Customers want their square feet. They have never been raised to understand the quality involved in a righteous home.
They want their square feet.
I'm not complaining all that much. I've made a pretty good living in the past by trimming out million dollar plus houses the way they should have been trimmed in the first place.
But the system sucks.
Regards,
Tom Watson http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

PERZACKERY TAWM! the new system sucks!
skeez
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Tom Watson wrote: <SNIP>

Boy Howdy. I spent a some time as a callow yute as an assistant for the local carpenter. He was, of the, ahem, old skool you describe. *Everything* was perfect, square, plumb, and finished flawlessly, even the parts no one could see. 'Funny thing was that he was faster than anybody else in town - little or no rework.
Then I went to work repairing maritime electronics for another old time, no BS, boss. He taught me useful things like turning the exterior screw heads (that held cable clamps down) for that last tightening so the slots would be vertical and thus the water would run out of them.
Those two guys taught me more in a handful of summers than 8+ years of college ever did. And they didn't do it because they particularly liked me or were taking me under their wing ... they did it because, well, that's how it's *supposed* to be done. To this day, when I have to pry something open in my fairly new house, I met with a host of small horrors that would have gotten my biblical beast of burden kicked by either of the aforementioned mentors.
P.S. No antenna or radar we ever installed - or better still, repaired after someone else had installed it incorrectly - ever blew down or got filled with water in the wretched conditions of the N. Pacific fishing grounds. In at least one situation I can recall, the entire crew of a big ocean going crabber survived because our radio worked to get the Guard to them promptly in a storm. Being nice is way overrated. Insisting your employees do thing properly every time is way more important ...
---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tim Daneliuk snipped-for-privacy@tundraware.com PGP Key: http://www.tundraware.com/PGP /
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
"Tom Watson" wrote

<snip of a world class lesson in perception>

I'm resonating ... and you hit the nail on the head (a rare occurrence these days, literally and figuratively).
--
www.e-woodshop.net
Last update: 10/22/08
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

You know Swing, I'm not quite old enough yet, I still have babies to raise for a few years, but I could grab a couple of trades guys of similar bent and move our asses out to your country and build houses old timey.
It would be a wonderful way to end my career. Like full circle.
I've been involved in a couple of projects where it's almost been an All Star Team of mechanics on a building. It was like making music.
I'd like to repeat that.
Regards,
Tom Watson http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
RE: Subject
All together now, can we say, "Levittown"?
Lew
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Lew Hodgett wrote:

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

I disagree on several points but mostly this one. A good builder will stand behind his product and a poor one won't.
Why did the guys with cars and phonebooks win?
The only reason is cost.
If a builder wasn't saving money using contractors, you can bet he would still have 15 guys on his payroll.

You're not comparing apples to apples though. I've been around a long time too and I believe that the materials used in homes today (again mostly due to cost) has as much to do with the quality of homes being built as the craftsmanship. You can still find good tradesmen, if you look and can afford them, but they all use the same crappy material. When was the last time you saw 3/4" planking (run on an angle) used for a subfloor on a new home and then 3/4 solid hardwood throughout? When was the last time you saw 3/4" planking used for roof decking on a new home? When was the last time you saw cast iron drain lines in a new home? Even copper water pipes are becoming more rare even in upscale homes. If we built homes today using the same old school materials we would have much better homes and I would suggest this would certainly close the gap in quality between then and now.

I agree.

I agree here too.

Maybe but I've never met a framer that I would want to trim my house...not even framers that had 20 years of experience when I started over 25 years ago. In my early days I also worked for and around a few old school guys who tried to do it all. Some things they were very good at and some things.... not so much. Your experience must have been different.
This is an interesting discussion but it may all be moot since we may not get to build any more new homes in this economy anyway.
Mike O.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

We weren't framers, Mike. We were carpenters.
That is the point that I am trying to get to.
When people respond by saying that the trade got fractionated into framers, finishers, flooring guys, etc. - I reject that.
We were trained to be carpenters.
Carpenters laid out the site and did the framing and did the finish and often did the paint in those days.
Accountability was the deal.
You could not dodge your responsibility because you were the guy to pull off the next step.
Regards,
Tom Watson http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

I disagree on several points but mostly this one. A good builder will stand behind his product and a poor one won't.
Why did the guys with cars and phonebooks win?
The only reason is cost.
If a builder wasn't saving money using contractors, you can bet he would still have 15 guys on his payroll.

You're not comparing apples to apples though. I've been around a long time too and I believe that the materials used in homes today (again mostly due to cost) has as much to do with the quality of homes being built as the craftsmanship. You can still find good tradesmen, if you look and can afford them, but they all use the same crappy material. When was the last time you saw 3/4" planking (run on an angle) used for a subfloor on a new home and then 3/4 solid hardwood throughout? When was the last time you saw 3/4" planking used for roof decking on a new home? When was the last time you saw cast iron drain lines in a new home? Even copper water pipes are becoming more rare even in upscale homes. If we built homes today using the same old school materials we would have much better homes and I would suggest this would certainly close the gap in quality between then and now.

I agree.

I agree here too.

Maybe but I've never met a framer that I would want to trim my house...not even framers that had 20 years of experience when I started over 25 years ago. In my early days I also worked for and around a few old school guys who tried to do it all. Some things they were very good at and some things.... not so much. Your experience must have been different.
This is an interesting discussion but it may all be moot since we may not get to build any more new homes in this economy anyway.
Mike O.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
"Mike O." wrote

Hell, I've got one in the bidding stage, and another lined up behind that one ... I'm not counting my chickens, mind you, but I'll keep building as long as I'm able and someone wants to pay ... or until youngest daughter gets out of college and bass boats become more affordable, which ever comes first. :)
Speaking of "The Building Bidness", and once again ... anyone, pro or diy, with any interest in home building, should be required to read "House" by Tracy Kidder. It's been years, but I still cherish the overall read, which explores every angle and POV.
As one pundit put it about "House" ... this construction project is the framework for exploring what happens when we put a running meter on a dream."
--
www.e-woodshop.net
Last update: 10/22/08
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

We've been very busy until just recently. We have a few ahead us but there are going to be spaces between. What we're starting to hear is that the lenders are very stingy right now. Our builders are telling us that instead of a couple weeks for people to get their loans, it's taking two or three months. That's for people who will obviously qualify and there are many more now who won't.

I'll have to check it out. I always get a kick out of the movie The Money Pit. Some things are a bit exaggerated but I swear I've heard some of those lines on the job.
Mike O.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Somebody wrote:

SFWIW, we deal with manufacturers of materials for the building industy.
One customer, a manufacturer of PVC pipe, indicates current production is in the 40% of normal range.
Another, an MDF manufacturer started cutting back on production in the Mar/April time frame.
It's going to take a while to clean things up.
Lew
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

I think what happened is the dream changed. My mother was raised with the idea that a house was a home, something she should get as soon as possible, with as small a mortgage as possible, with as large a down payment as possible.
I felt the same way, though I put myself in circumstances that made the whole deal impossible until something over 20 years ago.
But others, no. Buy it as an investment, fewest bucks in the bucket wins, flip it in 2-3 years, and do it over again, larger.
That does not make for carefully examined construction. It makes for a carefully examined payment book.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
"Charlie Self"

Don't get me started ...
Part of the "dream" changed due to the fact that a 'house as a home' has been subverted by local taxing authorities into a source of increasing revenue. For all practical/legal purposes you no longer own your home, you are renting it from the government, who uses it as a cash cow.
Just stop paying your yearly rent (property taxes) and see how long you retain "ownership" of _your_ "home".
In addition, if it happens that your "home" is in an area that the "real estate" industry has touted as desirable, and thus driven up real estate property values beyond reason, forget about staying in it after your retirement without your estate being subjected to usurious interest on any old age deferral the benevolent taxing authority may grant out of the goodness of their heart.
Once again we have allowed ourselves to be screwed by our elected representatives who have managed to create a situation whereby they are not accountable for an increase in the tax rate to the electorate, but, instead, can increase taxes (without representation) by virtue of the creation of an "appraisal district", which increases the appraised value, and thus your taxes, based on transactions run ever higher by the greed of the "real estate" industry.
After all, the sheeple get what they deserve ... fleeced.
For, like sheep, that is ultimately their purpose ... insofar as government is concerned.
--
www.e-woodshop.net
Last update: 10/22/08
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Mike O. wrote:

I can't tell if this paragraph is a joke.
Are squeaky floors and root-filled sewer lines indicative of quality construction?
I have a 40 year old house and I'm about two seconds away from ripping up the plank flooring and gluing down OSB. I'm about 3 seconds aways from tearing out these crappy single paned windows. I'm about four seconds from plying off the roof, (after running some lights up in my attic and seeing what passed for rafters and the rickety bracing those fine "craftsmen" installed) and installing trusses.
It was only 13 years ago that I built my own first home. At that point board lumber was still much less expensive that engineered lumber. If I had waited even 5 years, it would've been close to even. I wouldn't have though twice about using those new fangled materials like I-joists, floor trusses, laminated beams.
I agree with you about the cost aspect, but it's still all about skill, craftsmanship, and pride in your work.
--

-MIKE-

"Playing is not something I do at night, it's my function in life"
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
"-MIKE-" wrote

Actually, and IME, the 70's, while not the beginning, was the era that shoddy home construction became so ubiquitous that those coming up at the time had never seen the difference.

There ya go, Bro ... couldn't' agree more.
--
www.e-woodshop.net
Last update: 10/22/08
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

I spent a lot of time in my youth correcting the problems created by the building boom that happened after the second world war.
Skimpy ply, 24" centers, 2 x 3 walls, etc.
It wasn't the seventies that did it.
Regards,
Tom Watson http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
"Tom Watson" wrote

Read that again ... ;)
--
www.e-woodshop.net
Last update: 10/22/08
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

How true. I have worked on several homes (100+ years old) in the historic district of our town, and a few older commercial buildings over the years.
People are people. Tradesmen are people.
There are some that want to excel at every aspect of their work, and there are those that are putting in a day's work. Tearing out old work, revamping old work, repairing old work certainly bears that out. I have seen plenty of slipshod work in old structures.
If a guy is going to do good work, he will do it. If he is there to collect a check and do work just good enough to get by, that's what he will do.
It's that way in all of human nature, across all job descriptions.
Robert
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Related Threads

    HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.