Thursday, February 21, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

It was totally predictable. Just like the waves that crash on the beach of the Monterrey Peninsula, the lure of big profits, and fast easy cash flow has once again washed in a whole new crop of builders! Because Texas has steadfastly refused to implement contractor licensing, anyone can hang out their shingle and start building homes. All it takes is a cell phone and a truck... And everybody in Texas has a cellphone and a truck, right?

With every downturn in the economy we see overextended "homebuilders" finding themselves short on cash, crashing on the rocks, and washing out to sea. All too often the naive homeowner is left holding the bag. But with every wave that washes out, another economic wave swells, and a whole new crop of builders washes into town. Fortunately this happens less in other areas of the country where wannabe contractors have to apprentice two years under an established builder before they can even sit for a highly rigorous licensing test. But not in Texas!

We endorse the idea of injecting new, energetic builder blood into the marketplace. But the lack of regulation governing their training puts the unsuspecting homeowner at risk.

Years ago crops of new builders at least tried to make an effort to learn something about the homebuilding business by taggin' along with the subcontractors and watching, or sometimes even working, with those that have practiced a craft for years. Now we have "cellphone" builders that know nothing of the minutia of building homes -they drive around in their truck all day barking orders at the subs by phone. Sadly it's left up to the subs to try and figure out how to get the houses built. The grand loser? Why the homeowner of course!

What most other states have figured out is that there are thousands of little bitty nuiances to the homebuilding business that need to be learned to protect the homeowner. Ahhhhh...that's called "experience!" Thousands of little 'tricks of the trade' need to be learned before a high quality product can be produced. For example did you know that:

  • The maximum clear span of a 2 x 12 without significant deflection is 18'?
  • Or, that ions of dissimilar metals (two or more) used together most often results in one of the metals eating the other metal? This can happen in just a year or two - not good for water intrusion!
  • Or, that paint and stain rags left in a heap will ignite due to "spontaneous combustion," and fire travels at a rate of 17 feet/second?
  • Or, that compressive strength of a concrete pier depends not only on the strength of the bearing rock, but also on the "skin friction" of the pier walls?
  • Or, that brick is an inhibitor of rain and snow moisture but the porosity of the brick and mortar requires that metal flashings extend all the way through the brick and up the exterior wall?
  • Or, that the standard backset (distance between the edge of the door and the center of the knob) of door hardware is 2 3/8" - not suitable when the doors have 3 1/2" stiles (vertical members) and you are trying to get the knob in the middle of the door.
  • Or, that lacquer and lacquer products are highly flameable and cannot be used around any live electrical source that isn't fully contained? (Read: blow your house up!)
And on...and on...and on... The point is practice makes perfect! Is there really any substitute for experience? How can a guy just starting out in the homebuilding business, that doesn't have the benefit of either an apprenticeship, or rigorous testing, and hasn't done his time in the trenches of experience, qualify to undertake the construction of probably the single largest purchase a family will ever make? Maybe the better question is "would you really want to live in a house built by a guy just cutting his teeth?"