…or am I just an ignorant homeowner? A couple of days ago I posted a question about the number of PEX fittings the plumbers are putting in the walls and ceilings of our new house. Subsequently, I commented about the pathetic competence level of all of the tradespeople that we have interacted with on this project and was asked to give some examples. My response generated a lot of interest, and I have been encouraged to re-post my little manifesto under a new heading for others to enjoy/ disparage/ ridicule. Here it is with a few mods:
Well, since you asked…Yes, I am the GC, but not because I want to be. We originally hired a “custom home builder” out of Chapel Hill that was recommended to us by the architect that charged us $2000 to trace our plans and put his stamp on them. Like fools, we had a cost plus contract and thought that the builder was experienced enough to accurately estimate what the actual costs would be. Here are the things that led to his firing:
1. Gee, there’s a lot of rocks in the ground. Instead of bringing in the appropriate equipment, the GC has his guy piddle around for two weeks digging the footings with the GC’s backhoe. Footings end up $10,000 over budget. In retrospect, we should have fired the guy then, but we were excited about finally having a house…
2. GC doesn’t bother to check the foundation for square. The masons don’t bother either. Back corner of house ends up out of line by 4 1/2″. GC’s framers notice it while framing deck, don’t tell anybody, and frame the deck to match. Masons meanwhile brick up to sill level. After discovering this we have to demolish the brick wall (about 6′ tall, 25 feet long) on that side of the house, scab tapered framing members to the rim joist to cantilever it out, rebuild the brick wall, and infill behind the brick with rubble and mortar. We ask the GC to please try to spend more time on the site.
3. We’re living in a mobile home on the site, so we see everything. “Wow” we say, “the framers must be hard workers–they arrive promptly at 7am”. But wait, they sit in their trucks drinking coffee and shooting the breeze for almost an hour every morning. And the GC doesn’t show up until 10 or 11, if at all. Oh well, as long as they do a good job. Then we get the first bill and see that we have been paying them lavishly to take their time waking up. We complain to the GC and he credits us $1000 and reads the framers the riot act. We URGE the GC to spend more time on the site.
4. The framers can’t manage to construct a 12/12 pitch roof. They frame and raise the gable ends first, then install all of the intermediate rafter pairs. When I come home from work I immediately notice that the gable end peaks are 3 or 4 inches lower than the rafter peaks. When I asked why, I get the CLASSIC (oh, so classic. I wish I had snapped a picture to post here) dumb looks. Well, I guess they forgot to check the gable peaks for square while they were still laying on the deck. I had to cut them a stack of long, tapered 2x4s so they could shim up the gable ends to the correct pitch. That was fun.
5. The framers “forgot it was going to be a brick house” (there were cubes of brick all over the place) and make all of the roof overhangs 4″ too short. I later have to scab on extensions all around the roof perimeter and have to do days of work shimming and fudging to get get the fascia widths consistent. The GC insists that his framers are “capable”. We BEG him to spend more time on the site.
6. The framers frame the main stairwell 3 feet too short. Duh, “we misread the blueprints”. I walk in and immediately see that there was no way a set of stairs was going to fit in there. They didn’t notice anything wrong. Rip it out and do it over at our expense. We ask the GC “What the hell is going on?” He assures us his men are capable capable, capable and that I’m getting too worked up over it. “YOU NEED TO BE HERE MORE”, I say. Apparently he has something more lucrative going on elsewhere.
7. The house has 5 doghouse dormers. The framers frame the roofs so that the rafter ends rest on the 1/2″ roof sheathing with no support below. When I question this, I get the classic “We always do it that way. It will be fine”, with the stongly implied “You’re just a homeowner. What the hell do you know?”. Well, I’m also an engineer and I’m not an idiot. I made them install supports beneath the rafter ends.
Then we hire a lawyer, at our expense, to write up an agreement to terminate the contract. GC signs it and admits he was afraid we would sue him.
After that crew (dubbed “the idiots” by my wife) was dismissed I hired three more sets of carpenters at various times to help me finish the framing, and they were all as bad as the first. Nothing plumb or level. Can’t figure out how to frame the hipped roof on the porch, so I end up doing it. Use triple 2×10 girders along eaves of one porch, doubled 2×12 girder on other porch. Gee, that will look nice. I rip out the 2x12s and replace w/ 2x10s. Very pleasant job, 15 feet up in the air. They forget that there will be a subfascia and fascia at the end of the rafter tails, so it’s impossible to line up the fascias where the porch roof meets main house roof. Rafter tail cuts are mysteriosly way out of plumb and level. Later rip porch roof off and redo, with me providing them with a pattern rafter. When I replace the tar paper that immediately blew off because the original crew used 15# with staples instead of the 30# with button caps that I requested, I find the roof and wall sheathing was nailed off completely randomly. I ask the current bunch of framers if they know what the code nail spacing is, and they can’t tell me what the code says. I added probably 2000 nails to the sheathing with my nailer during the course of the framing. Found long stretches of un-nailed sheathing on the roof that they just forgot to do. Now I just recently noticed that the stairs have to be ripped out and re-done because the rises are so inconsistant they don’t meet code. I’ll do it myself, as I wouldn’t even consider having any of the framers we used back on my property.
The whole time, I am amazed that the framers (all of them) cannot cut a straight line with a circular saw if their life depended on it. I have a chopsaw and stand in the house, and beg them to use it. “It’s only rough framing”, they say. “Please use the chopsaw” I say.
Thank God, the “carpenters” are all gone now. I am now personally doing all of the exterior trim and remaining framing. My wife has had the patience of a saint. She is a nurse and often comments “If I did my work the way these idiots work, the hallways in the hospital would be littered with dead patients.”
And then the masons. Ah, masons. I don’t mean to insult the good masons that must be out there somewhere, but based on my limited experience with North Carolina masons there is no lower form of life on the planet. The first crew, hired by the original GC, is the one that forgot to check the foundation for square. They also got the piers in the wrong places and put the foundation vents in one course too high. They also consistently failed to keep their strings tight, so every long run of block and brick that they did has a sag in the middle. They layed the first course of block on top of ice and mud until I stopped them and made them clean off the footings. They threw all of their trash into the woods surrounding the house and dumped mortar on the rock outcroppings. They were not invited to come back. The second crew, hired by me to do the bulk of the brick veneer, were Mexicans. They were very hard workers and very pleasant people to have around. Unfortunately, they knew NOTHING about masonry, even though they had been doing it for years. After I got them started, I ran an errand and came back to find them attaching the brick ties to the walls with BUTTON CAPS. “No, no, no”, I say, “see all these boxes of galvanized ring shank nails next to the boxes of ties?” Then came time to install the flashing for the weep holes. They started nailing it on OVER the 30# tar paper. “No, no, no, I say, you tuck the flashing UNDER the tar paper so the water will run out the weep holes.” This was an entirely new concept to them. I cringe at the thought of what they have done on other houses when there was no one supervising.
The last mason we hired was instructed to build a brick chimney for our wood stove. I come by during the process and ask him “Why are you packing mortar around the flue? The code says to leave an air space around it for expansion.” Code, what code? “We always pack them solid.” “Well, I want you to leave a 1″ air space.” I come back later and they are about 10 feet higher up. I look down from above, and there is an airspace alright, but the flue sections are wobbling all over because they didn’t support them periodically with angled bricks. I had to show them how that was done. Totally new concept to them. I also asked them to put refractory cement in the joints between flue sections. The boss replied (exact quote) “Re-what now?” He had never even heard of it. I stuck a pail of it in his hand and said “Just use it.” Meanwhile, the boss is fuming about having done this for 40 years and to just leave them alone.
Well, you asked for examples. There are a lot more that I’ve repressed. So, now we’re at the plumbing stage and I see all these unnecessary joints on the PEX. The saga continues. Thanks for listening.
So, that’s the story to date. I want to add that I’ve read Fine Homebuilding cover to cover for almost 20 years. Is that part of the problem? It seems that NOBODY around here does ANYTHING the way it’s done in Fine Homebuilding (based on my nosing around countless new construction jobsites in recent years). I know that you folks that frequent this site are on a higher plane than the jokers that I’ve been dealing with, but boy, this should help you to understand why the trades tend to have such a bad image with the general public. It must pain you to be associated with all the hacks that are out there. So, anybody want to spend a little time in North Carolina? Free room and board and all the home cooking you can eat!
Edited 5/10/2002 1:36:02 PM ET by ANCHORBEAM