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
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
But don't hold your breath.
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.
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
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,
installers, . . .) Crews did ONE thing - over and over and over - and
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
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,
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
Oh for the Good Old Daze?
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
Tim Daneliuk email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
Tim Daneliuk firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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.
On Wed, 12 Nov 2008 00:05:31 -0800 (PST), " email@example.com"
Here is where we come to the core of the problem.
I'm actually not smart enough to have helped create the current
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
That's all I know.
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
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
Tim Daneliuk firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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 ...
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.
Keep the whole world singing . . . .
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"
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,
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.
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