The Building Bidness

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Not always! There has always been crappy construction, done with an eye toward profit rather than quality, just as there have always been customers who want (or need) quantity over quality. I used to spend time in a lovely little house near the beach that had the second floor framed with 2x4 joists on 24" centers. The joists were also notched for the grooved lath that held the house wiring. The second floor was like trampoline! If they hadn't been relatively straight-grained virgin Douglas fir they probably wouldn't have lasted a year.
When my parents bought their latest house the kitchen had been remodeled with custom-built cabinets. They were pretty ugly, looking like they were built of oak flooring. Guess what? The kitchen was remodeled by a flooring contractor! At any rate, when my folks ripped out the old kitchen, they found that the slightly-springy second floor was supported by 4x4's on 4-foot centers! Not only that, when my dad was tearing out the old wallboard he found three live electrical wires that had been merely cut off and left to hang inside the walls. Now that's attention to quality.
I have rehabbed a fair amount of old furniture, and I know that you know that there is a lot of very poor craftsmanship behind those drawer fronts and under the upholstery, and very cheap materials.
I think your safety glasses are getting a little too rosy. People are people. Some like their jobs, are good at them, and care about the results. Some customers know good work and are willing to pay for it. But there are just as many people, and maybe more, that only care about short-term profits, are only punching the clock, need something right now at a low price, are only going to use it for a little while and get rid of it, etc.
If you look around, you'll find that actually, housing today may not be as charming as in the past, but in general is much safer and more energy-efficient. Also, in general, buildings today are not meant to last forever, so why invest excessive amounts of labor and materials in them? If the customers decide at some point that keeping buidlings around is better than always ripping down and rebuilding, then the "old ways" may come back, at least in terms of high-quality craftsmanship and materials.
But don't hold your breath.
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"Swingman" wrote

Forgot to mention ... one of the builders in Tracy Kidder's "House", Jim Locke, who "epitomizes true craftsmanship", subsequently wrote a book called "The Well Built House", that is equally, if not more important, to those ever wanting to practice beating themselves over the head by doing so.
HIGHLY recommended also, as just a damn good read for most wooddorkers.
--
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I don't know how far back the change occured - I suspect after Allentown - the first tract houses (ie. build 400 units at a time - with separate crews for each major task - excavation, rough plumbing, forming, pouring , framing and subflooring, wiring, plumbing, heating and ducting, lath & plaster or dry wall, electrical finishing, finish carpentry, painting, cabinet installers, . . .) Crews did ONE thing - over and over and over - and often had no idea what was to be done next. So the foundation crew screw ups were left for the framers to fix, the framers left screw ups for the sheet rock guys and the sheet rock guys got good at furring walls and hiding things under mud, what screw ups they left would be taken care of by the painters and trim carpenters, ...
I've got a house that was built in 1954 - a tract house - one of four floor plans and two rooflines for each floor plan. I've done a LOT of remodeling over the years - and found walls are seldom plumb or corners square. On the other hand, I've worked on some old victorians that probably started out square and plumb, but time and settling have affected the original attention to detail.
Then there's my oldest, an ex-marine who became a carpenter's helper after getting out of the marine corp. He was fortunate to be taken under the wing of an old school "carpenter" and learned to do things both right - AND quickly and efficiently. So when it came time to build his own place - yes he hired subs - but he checked their work BEFORE handing over a check - and did all the framing himself, with help from his BIL - who was paid going wages.
Since the site is about 8 houses down the street, I'd stop buy around lunch time to get the tour of what had gotten done - with details of "challenges" with his solutions. Unlike his wife and mother, who know nothing of what's involved in building a house from the dirt up, I could appreciate what he was doing and ask leading questions which would give him the opportunity to brag a bit. (mitered corners on facia boards on the end of the rafters - so there's no end grain exposed to the weather, plumb and square methods, trim out tricks, etc..
He subsequently got his general contractor's license, passing the test on the first try - just as the building boom was ending - and with it, his job with an upscale remodeling outfit (MINIMUM jobs are $175K - bathrooms, and typical jobs are $350K kitchens).
Tough times coming for The Trades - which is why he's applying for the California Highway Patrol. There will ALWAYS be speeders and drunk drivers so there's good job security.
The unfortunate thing about our educational system is the lack of "trade schools". If you want to learn problem solving and develop discipline and creative thinking, engineering and computer science aren't the only place to develop those skills. Just hand a pair of metal shears and some galvy sheet to an engineer and ask them to make a rain gutter down spout. Or better yet, have them build a set of stairs, with a landing - then do the hand rails for it.
Oh for the Good Old Daze?
charlie b
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<SNIP>

I have an uncle who owns a machine shop. He is always looking for machinists. So much so that, in the past, he's paid the fees for kids with promise to *go* to trade school. Guess what? They can't hack it. Specifically, they can't handle the math (algebra and trig) that are pretty much a necessity for any working machinist.
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> Tim Daneliuk =A0 =A0 snipped-for-privacy@tundraware.com
> PGP Key: =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0http://www.tundraware.com/PGP /
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...

that alone will be the downfall of the US. sure we need a lot of college graduates in high tech fields, but people have to live somewhere and get things repaired. without training in these fields, where do the majority of people to do these tasks come from, as existing people in the trades die off and aren't available to teach any more.
regards, charlie
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On Tue, 11 Nov 2008 13:19:47 -0700, charlie wrote:

Well charlie, you can blame a lot on today's society. It's not a matter of getting something repaired anymore. Just throw it away and buy a new one. Yes, this is going to be part of the reason for the downfall of the U.S. I believe, that in the schools of today it's more important to get the kid's to graduation so the stats are high than what is taught and learned. Yet the U.S. cannot understand why the people in foreign countries out-shine the U.S. kids in math and sciences.
Paul H.
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it's pretty hard to throw away the plumbing or electrical system in your house, let alone go to the store to buy a new one. not too many people i know who throw away a relatively new car and get a new one.
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charlie wrote:

I saw this fairly regularly...either through leasing or else selling their old car and getting a new one every few years.
Gets expensive quick though.
Chris
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charlieb wrote: <snip>

Not only lack of Trade Schools, but also the lack of people willing to take on apprentices. I have talked to several contractors where I live and they say they do not want to be bothered having to teach. They rather find skilled workers. This makes no sense to me.
My son'n law who is a stone carver (does a lot of restoration work in D.C.) has taken on apprentices and they all end up leaving for one reason or another. Not the money side of it, but just they want to move to different areas or decide to go back to school for something else. So I can understand how this can be frustrating and why many contractors decide not to do it.
Chris
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Chris wrote:

There's another dimension to this. I am product of the collegiate system and also briefly taught after grad school. There is *tremendous* pressure to convince parents that their kids all need to go to college. But the fact is that a university education isn't for everyone. In no way am I saying this condescendingly. Some people are great at theoretical math. Some people bend sheet metal with eerie elegance. Shoving everyone into the academy does a great disservice to people who's gifts lie in the trades, helping other people in social services contexts, and so forth.
Jamming everyone into a strictly academic curriculum is unfair to the students and bad for all of us. I depend a lot more on my local plumber (who is really good) than I do the mathematician doing manifold theory. Both have a place, but we should be encouraging our kids to follow their gifts, not making the funding dreams of the universities come true.
There is now considerable evidence - after nearly 50 years of research - that academic "IQ" is highly correlated to language and mathematical skills. These skills are innate - after billions spent and tons of teaching theory, there has been precious little evidence you can take people without those innate math and language skills and "teach" them. At some level, you have this ability or you do not. By parallel example, no amount of coaching would have made me an NBA star - it's not in my DNA.
But the universities pound the message of "If your kid is not a college grad, they'll never succeed" message into anyone who will hear them. (It no doubt annoys their fully tenured faculties that the aforementioned plumber makes more than the dean of their college.) We all have our "thing". Our job as parents is to help our kids find that thing and encourage them to pursue it. Sadly, there is a cultural and academic stigma attached to people who work with their hands. This will never change until professional academics - especially in the administrative end of things - are forced to unclog their own sewers ...
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SNIP of other true statements...

It hasn't happened in the last few years, but there have been many times I heard parents talking to their kids when I switched from commercial work to residential.
They would ask with sincerity, or with a downright sneer in their voice: "Do you want to wind up like those guys in there? Is that what you want? If that's the case, you might as well start flipping burgers now if that's all you want out of your life. We thought you wanted more."
Heard it more than once.
I even had a homeowner that had a son that was really interested in working in construction. He wanted me to hire his son for a summer so I could dog the hell out of him to make him stay in college. He actually asked me to do that, so that I could make sure his son didn't wind up like me.
No insult there, eh?
And how many times did I hear in my youth "well, the difference between you and me Robert, is that I make my living with my head and you use your hands." That statement alone should let you know how arrogant and stupid the educators of our country have become.
Everything you posted is true. Kids/teenagers are taught by parents, educators and hammered with peer pressure that it is shameful, or a last resort to make your living with your hands these days.
A sad comment on our society in my opinion.
Robert
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

Yeah. When I was in high school I told my parents that I wanted to be a mechanic. They went ballistic. Then I went to college and it pretty much ruined me.
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On Wed, 12 Nov 2008 00:05:31 -0800 (PST), " snipped-for-privacy@aol.com"

Here is where we come to the core of the problem.
I'm actually not smart enough to have helped create the current financial mess.
You need an MBA to do that kind of damage.
I'm not smart enough to understand how I can make a loan to a person who has no hope of paying it back and call that a good day at work.
I'm not smart enough to loan money to a builder who has one foot in the financial grave and think that I have done a good deed that day.
I'm not smart enough to give money to a company that has already proved themselves to be improvident.
I guess I just don't understand finance.
What I do understand is that my house and my vehicles are paid for.
I do understand that my eleven and sixteen year old children can go to whatever college they are fortunate enough to get into.
I do understand that the only reason that I showed up to work today was to make sure that my wife would have a comfortable retirement - because I will surely die before her because I have nothing left to worry about.
That's all I know.
Regards,
Tom Watson http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /
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Tom Watson wrote: <SNIP>

Me either. Here's what I don't understand:
How can you be on the public dole and think you should take out a loan on a house.
How can you earn $N per year, and be $N/2 in credit card debt?
How does any responsible person see a flat screen TV, a luxury car, a fabulous vacation, a second home, or a boat as an entitlement?
How is it that it's wrong to bail out Wall Street (it is), but not wrong to bail out the lazy, the greedy, and those lacking fiscal self-control on Main Street - cuz, you know what, they're both flat out wrong.

What if they do not want to? Are you cool with them going into the trades, opening a hair salon, becoming a musician/entertainer/comic, or wherever their abilities take them? If you are, good for you. If you're not, rethink this. The university system is increasingly a scam intended to scare parents into parting with $100k+ per student to ensure their "success" ... only it often does not work out that way.

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I completely understand your feelings about the below. I feel the same way, i.e. If you don't have the backup, or might not have in a downturn, don't go into debt if you can possibly avoid it.

As you have read here, people asking for a mortgage (for a house they planned to buy and could nicely afford) were asked by the banker why they didn't buy a much more expensive house since they qualified for it. IMNSHO that constitutes something close to enabling irresponsible financial transactions.

I don't know. Trying to live at the level I'm entitled to, despite being out of work longer than expected? It might be easier to get there if you're not very careful, and if your home is going to be worth much more next year, what's the problem? Note that I'm not really advocating this!!!!

See above

It has something to do with keeping the economy going. Don't you remember how the economists were saying that despite the slowdown then and then, the economy surprisingly wasn't going into recessions since the consumers kept on spending? Well, now with the fear mongering even greater than necessary, the consumer is stopping the spending, and the recession is getting much worse.
I don't have any solutions ...
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Han
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[snipped for brevity]

I agree with that view.
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Amen, Tom. I always worked commercial, but same story. I like to tell that the same guys dug the ditches and hung the last brass doorknob. Electricians, masons,HVAC, and plumbers were usually the only subs on the job.
When did I have to decide if I needed a finish carpenter, form carpenter, or computer flooring carpenter? I guess it just evolved, but I agree there were better buildings built back when. Every carpenter could finish a bit of concrete or set concealed hinges in a walnut trimmed Forms & Surfaces door, and probably had the tools with him to do it.
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This was never really true. Sure, every carpenter was expected to do everything, but most of them were not terribly skilled at all of it. When I was doing a lot of remodeling work I was into a lot of houses built around 1900. There was some very good work in them and a lot of rather shoddy work, sometimes in the same house. The truth is that even in those days there were guys who specialized in certain things simply because they were more skilled at them. That specialization actually goes back thousands of years.
I think the main difference in quality is that the cost of doing it right has risen to the point it isn't worth doing for most people.
-- "We need to make a sacrifice to the gods, find me a young virgin... oh, and bring something to kill"
Tim Douglass
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Unfortunately, my neighborhood has been infected with McMansions. They buy perfectly good houses and drive a bulldozer through them. Then they put up really big crap. They are just finishing one next door. 8500 sq ft. My wife and I walked through it today. I was appalled. While many of the materials were expensive, the workmanship was awful. 1/8" gaps in trim, blotchy stain, sloppy paint...
I am a volunteer electrician for Habitat for Humanity. We don't tolerate that kind of work and the house is 1/30 the price. Our houses aren't big, they aren't fancy, but they are honest.
-- Doug
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