Building Bridges

Why are you in the industry!

I was recently checking the house of a client who has in the past spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on home renovations. I have been to this house many times to repair (repeat) work done by the same shoddy joker. She complained to me that her doors weren't swinging correctly. I asked which ones. She said all of them. So I inspected all of them, 34 doors in total. I found that not a single one of them was installed correctly. You might ask what does "correctly" mean. I mean 6 out of 16 screws in the hinges. I mean wire and even Allen keys in the place of hinge pins. I mean door plates with only half of the screws. This house is a 100+ years old. This "shoddy" operator screwed this job. He removed all the doors and related fixtures. He lost all or most of the screws and even some of the fixtures. Why I asked. He removed them all for painting and lost all the parts. To rub salt in the wound this shoddy operator told the home owner that this house should be in "This Old House" magazine after the work he completed. The reality is this crappy operator did a number on this house. He slacked off and did a half arsed job and depended on the work of subcontractors to make the place look decent. The work he did was second rate and a real display of laziness. Fixtures were loose everywhere, half of everything was missing parts and the workmanship was just sub-par.

Electrical! Danger!

I was recently alerted to a veritable disaster in waiting. I was asked to take a look at a house where the owner was concerned that the electrical outlets and switches and related circuits were not install correctly. The switches and outlets would frequently spark and had a lot of movement. I inquired why things seemed so universally shoddy. I found that the hack who had worked on the house for several months had one of his crew do the wiring. The young kid who did the wiring was very confident that he had the skills to do the circuits. What I found when I inspected the outlets and switches were that not a single one was grounded and over half of the remaining wiring was loose at the terminals. The ground wire was there, simply rolled up and in the back of each junction box. As to why the young fellow chose to do full installations of everything but not ground everything I guess I will never know. The loose terminal wires were sparking every time movement occurred, this could easily shock someone or cause a fire. I informed the home owner of what I saw and I suggested that they call a licensed electrician. Chances are if this confident young man did such questionable work at the points I inspected then there may be other issues that a professional will find and fix. Always hire professionals. Insist that general contractors hire professional licensed sub contractors. Your safety and your assets are not worth risking.

Guttering reverse

I was working on two different homes in the last couple of weeks. I know a certain shoddy carpenter that I have run across in the past has worked on both homes in the past few years and I was amazed to find a consistent screw up in the guttering. Prefab guttering is not unlike Lego, it fits together in a very predictable and sensible way. It is designed so that the water flows over the joints so that they won't leak from the connections unless there is a serious failure. If however your brain works in a strange way and you consistently install fixtures in reverse they will leak and leak and leak. Of course the same is true if you don't care about your installation work. The gutters on both of these houses had the same tell tale signs of shoddy installation, the staining of leaking water down the downspouts and the side of the house. It was like seeing a criminals call sign, a lot like it, as I firmly believe that this kind of consistent negligence is criminal. The crazy thing is it took a few minutes at each site to unscrew the connections, pry out the cheap sealant and reverse the connections. Done and done, if the perpetrator had taken his time to learn or understand the concepts of drainage it would not have cost the client to have this work repeated. Chose wisely, it could cost you.

Watch out for water

We just finished a beautiful cedar deck. While putting in the ledger board we discovered a ton of damage around the base of the house under the mudroom. There was abundant rot in the foundation. It was apparent that the foundation had been repaired in recent years by a shoddy contractor. The framing had been replaced and it was re-framed with fir, this fir was sitting in the dirt at (slightly below) ground level soaking up 7 months of rain every year. There was also no flashing above the siding in this lower section. In short fir, dirt and water don't mix. The crazy thing is it would have cost perhaps $30 more in materials to do this job right the first time. My guess is that this is another shoddy contractor who actually had no idea what they were doing, just doing a quick fix - turn and burn.

Who's watching?

Mike Holmes is the HGTV host of "Holmes on Homes" and "Holmes Inspector" who follows dishonest and shoddy contractors and repairs their work. He serves a great role, policing poor work and alerting homeowners to the pitfalls they face when dealing with questionable characters. I think in a very similar way to Mike Holmes, and I believe that most of these second rate contractors should be shut down and made to pay for their crimes. That's right, much of this activity is criminal. I have seen "contractors" scam clients, lie to clients, and even steal from clients. I have even witnessed "contractors" threaten clients who themselves opted to report incidence to the proper authorities. I believe that these shoddy operators should be named and shamed. Honest contractors should lead the way, reporting the dishonest and under qualified and take responsibility for cleaning up the industry. The greatest fallacy is that people think they are saving money by rolling the dice with supposedly cheaper shoddy operators. The harsh reality is they usually prey on vulnerable people, they overcharge for their work and they cost you much more in the end.

Epic Fail

I was called to a location recently where the contractor had not finished the work. He took the money, the home owner told me he even got the work signed off by a local building inspector as completed, I don't even know how that is possible. The work was simply incomplete, insulation was missing in large sections of the house, electric wiring was hanging out of the wall in several places and there were several light fixtures and electrical outlets that had been dry-walled over. This was shoddy work at its worst. I called the builder and asked for some explanation, I was also looking for some plans to determine what was supposed to be the result in several places. He simply was not willing to cooperate, he said he ran out of money and that was that. Another case of shoddy contractor, he should not be permitted to work without proper training and close scrutiny.

Double Check

This contractor is especially shoddy. He worked for a business as a sub contractor in Portland. He lied to them initially telling them he had a contractors license, they trusted him and did not check. For years he charged high rates under the guise of paying for his license, bond and insurance. All the while no license, no bond and no insurance. Eventually he messed up and it fell directly onto the business, they were responsible for their subcontractor and they ended up paying an honest contractor the repair the damage. The shoddy operator walked away and went to his next scam. This is a lesson for everyone, homeowner, business or even a general contractor; check the qualifications of everyone who does work for you.

Faulty Framer

I was recently on a job where a carpenter was framing a decent sized structure. This guy led the way with really intense impatience. It was obvious he had never built a structure this large before or even done any significant framing at all. This fellows impatience led to incorrect installation of the sill plate. This led to more materials and extra labor required at a later date needed to level the whole structure. In the end, this "mistake" added dozens of hours and in the end several thousand dollars of cost to the job. The reality is this wasn't a "mistake", this carpenter has a personality flaw. On the front end he should be patient and do a little research. He should ask questions when he is unsure of procedures that are tried and tested. He should secure a full understanding of the  project and its requirement before lifting a tool. By charging ahead and pretending to know what he is doing he costs everyone money and produces an inferior product.

Jack of all trades, master of none

I worked with a fellow who called himself a master carpenter. We were installing a custom red oak hand rail on a staircase. The potential was there to do beautiful work. When it came time to cut the miters for the joinery he began to guess at the angle required to produce the desired effect. He cut several times using up precious wood. This shocked me, I had to step in before he used up more wood than we needed. This is not a mathematical skill as he claimed but a fundamental skill that all good carpenters learn and should know. This fellow was another who proudly claimed to be a jack of all trades, but as my dad used to say, a jack of all trades is a master of none.

Better Training, Better Enforcement

It is my opinion that better training and qualifications should be demanded by the governing entities in the construction industry. The construction industry has become the last vestige of real scoundrels. Anyone can become a contractor for a few hundred dollars and a little paperwork. These are people who lie about their capabilities, drink on the job, and cheat their clients out of good money. By demanding real training, practical and theoretical, and more than just a few hours of easy reading here and there, the industry could reach a higher standard and improve its pitiful reputation. The push for this change needs to come from contractors themselves. If those of us who want a better system ask for better standards we might just get it.