Builder: A Changing Definition

I don’t care for the term “builder” anymore. I recognize that my perspective on this may be miles away from where the public is at. The term brings me such a negative feeling, now, largely because today’s “builders” are building half a million dollar homes that can’t keep water out for a full ten years. And maybe it’s because I’ll talk to my windows dealer or kitchen cabinetry dealer to find out which options are available to meet a client’s needs and they will start by offering the “builder” grade products at the bottom of the crap heap. Sorry, but not really, because it’s true.

It wasn’t always this way. A builder used to be a revered craftsman. As a matter of fact, they would absolutely HAVE to build quality homes. Why? Because a builder didn’t have these new “super materials” to hide behind. A builder used to have to know how to keep water moving out over the face of the roofing and siding. Super materials are things like ice and water shield that can seal out all sorts of moisture, when properly incorporated. Ice and water shield is not entirely new, having been on the market for probably thirty something years. The thing is, though, that a layer of ice and water shield should never, ever be anything more than a magnificent insurance layer. Water should really never touch it, but always be directed out over the face of the shingles, or siding, etc..

And if one of the builder’s homes did leak, he was in for it. It would be a big deal because technology and a diverse array of power tools were not there to get him through it quickly. Building and repairing were much more labor intensive. And without ice and water shield to slow the water down, the leak would rear it’s ugly head before the one year anniversary. There would be no insurance company taking the hit, just the builder. These painful lessons are sometimes the greatest for personal growth.

That was how it used to be. Then, what happened to those good old days? Well, I believe that the building boom of the 80′s featured a perfect storm of crap. People had been laid off from their jobs due to a recession. Eventually, the real estate and building markets came roaring back with a vengeance. The big kingmaker this time around was the proliferation of building technologies. We now had all sorts of power saws and nail guns for framing, siding, roofing, and finish work, and ice and water shield to cover one’s hiney on the roof. The net result was that any old Joe was now either a carpenter or a builder.

I remember being just a puppy in the trade in the 90′s. Having a classical education from a 3rd generation, old school German carpenter, even a puppy like me could pick out some of these 80′s garbage houses from the good ones.

Alright, where does that leave us today? Today, being a “carpenter” or a “builder” is well within the reach of anybody that believes it can be bought in a big box store. “Yup, I just got me a new nail gun, a couple of saws, a new truck, a contractor’s insurance policy for $700 and now I’m a contractor.” Well lucky duck! And as far as being a “builder,” this term lost all prominence with the association of “builder grade” product lines. I’ve been hired time and time again to solve rot and water infiltration problems at the personal homes of “builders.”  Their own homes aren’t lasting more than ten years before being stricken with rot.

Nowadays, you rarely see a builder saving some select hardwood trees on the lot for either a little shade or character for the home. Builders don’t bother to learn about how to position the home in relation to the sun, how to orient the interior layout to maximize the sun (like having a sun filled kitchen or breakfast nook in the morning to get your day started), or how to properly incorporate soffit overhangs to allow for solar heat gain from the low winter sun, but still provide protection from the higher summer sun.

A builder, these days, often means nothing more than a guy or a gal with a checkbook, a vision, determination, and a lack of respect for the craft. They buy the lots, pick a home plan from a generic book, and hire the subcontractors and “carpenters” to build it. How do they hire these tradespeople? Well, I suppose if I didn’t know there was any difference I might hire according to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, the craft of carpentry is being dumbed down as well. When I was first learning the trade, a carpenter had to know how to use surveyor’s tools to layout and position the concrete forms for the foundation. He would then frame, roof, and side the building. Next, it was time to move indoors for insulating, followed by interior trim work and finally building his own kitchen cabinetry in place. Now, guys and gals need only know four skill sets: Framing, roofing, siding, and interior finish and cabinet hanging. That would be absolutely wonderful if the guys and gals calling themselves “carpenters” actually had training and experience in these four areas. Unfortunately, we’re becoming an instant gratification nation. Nobody’s interested in paying their dues. If you want to be a carpenter, just buy a nail gun, watch a YouTube video, and just as if a magic wand had been waved over your head…Boom! You’re a “carpenter!”

Although there’s a vast library of material to draw from, there’s no need to get into tons of examples to back any of this up. Indeed, most people that have been homeowners more than five years have some first or second hand knowledge of this.

Are there “builders” out there, today, that are REAL craftsmen and women? Absolutely. Finding them will be a whole other issue; they are such a dying breed. The best advice I can give would be to listen to the counsel of your friends and family. Remember, however, that your friends and family may not be in the best position to judge the competency of a builder. You see, just about every project sparkles the same for the first few years. It’s usually after the first five years that problems will begin to surface. So, those friends and family members that have been using a builder long term, well their endorsement should carry more weight. Most importantly, have patience and speak with long time clients to find out how their homes have performed. and how the builder has responded to any issues arising.

 

By John Bradshaw

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>