Once and awhile I get a frustrating call about someone hiring a contractor where the skills did not match the promise. Sometimes the work is poor, isn’t finished, or is in such a state that it needs to be redone. Either way, people feel mislead.
Some contractors like the challenge and rise up to exceed your expectations, others do what they can to mask the failure. This is not about winging it on your shed or house, this is paying someone to provide a service. Gone are the days of apprenticeships, lifelong practice, research, and training towards a craft, and in are the days of buying it off the rack and slapping it in.
The building trades have been splitting for over a century. For hundreds, even thousands, of years buildings were made by hand in parts; timber framers fabricated and assembled the frame; joiners made windows, doors, cabinets, stairs, tables and bookshelves; carpenters completed field assembly; painters mixed and applied the paint; and the lime trades like plasterers and masons made lime putty and mixed plaster and mortar. By the mid-19th century, the Industrial Revolution forever changed building construction where machines guided by people mass-produced and assembled parts and products for any building, rather than a specific building. While skilled trades remained in the field, fewer actually made the products being installed on buildings, diverging the trades into assemblers and craftspeople.
Don’t get me wrong, manufactured building parts and products can make a better building. Innovations in transportation, manufacturing, and science manipulated products to make bigger buildings that push engineering and reactions to their environments to the limit. Yet the convenience of manufacturing and the planned obsolescence made building parts disposable, so there is less of a need to fix and a greater reason to remove and assemble more. This building revolution removed the art and reduced the need for skills in maintaining a building, allowing assemblers to eventually dominate the industry.
Today, the assembler can go into any big box store and get all the parts they need to complete a job. The store provides the product with little or no mixing, assembly, or craft necessary. The “Do it yourself” of the late 1950’s expanded to anyone can do it, where the science of making and assembly are not considered, and the consequence of failure is profitable.
The assembler and the craftsperson’s roles are important in the modern building market, just not the same. The craftsperson may be in the industry’s fringes, but they are still here. You can’t tell by an advertisement, a name, or their word. But you can get what you want and what the building needs. First. Does it feel right? Second. Start small, with an odd job and if they earn it, have them do something bigger. Third. Ask for and check references by stopping by a job and asking difficult questions like “was the job on time and on budget?”. Fourth. Check contractor’s registration status and get a copy of their insurance. If they pass this test, you have a good chance of finding the best quality for the best value.