Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Race to Bottom: Let the Buyer Beware

I have to say I am frustrated for all building owners. I know there are great craftspeople and honest contractors everywhere, although I am seeing less and less work done right. I call it “The Race to The Bottom”. This race is being lead by all people, good and bad, trying to get a job done so they can be the cheapest, meet their costs, or at worst, make a buck by getting poor work done quick. The economy has not helped, where many contractors are desperate to get work. I know there are a handful that are plenty busy, yet there are even more trying to get anything, say anything, and do anything they have no idea about.

So what does this mean for you? Well, it means you may be getting less than good, far from perfect, and getting a bad investment. The worst part is, people are expecting good work and have no idea they are getting junk. The unfortunate part is they do not realize how bad it is until something fails or it shows up in the strangest ways. Here is a project I recently saw..

A large 1960’s dormitory house suffered from high moisture and huge utility bills. As a good cost conscious steward, as well as being concerned about the health and safety of the occupants, they underwent a series of upgrades and improvements in the past few years. We met with them over of a concern for some persistent mold in one of the rooms. We spent about an hour discussing water, moisture, and mold in the room, yet we needed to survey the overall building for clues so we knew what to propose for a solution.

The building is built on a slab, and the room’s floor was recently epoxy sealed, so that should not be the cause. The attic revealed no active water infiltration, although there was a glaring problem, unrelated to the room moisture. They insulated the attic floor, making the attic an unconditioned space, which is good. They cut holes in the soffit and installed two large, thermostatically controlled gable end fans, other good things. Although the failure was during the insulation installation, where the insulation covered most of the soffit vents. This not only chokes off the airflow, but also allows the insulation to absorb moisture and become ineffective. It will also make the attic hotter in the summer, adding to cooling costs.

The second big problem was the least obvious. While investigating the area on the outside of the moldy room, we discovered the most common cause of building failure: poor building assembly. This drives me nuts. The elevation is vinyl sided and the windows clad in aluminum. The cladding over the window trim and sill was done in the exact opposite way, allowing water to go into the wall, instead of off. This is not a caulkable moment. Rather it is a simple method of being aware of water’s movement. Aside from the obvious gravitational action, there is capillary movement and directional wind movement. Besides the fact that cladding over window trim rarely works, it especially is bad when it is done wrong. And this was after only about an hour of investigation. We still hope to look at the entire building with greater scrutiny.

This “Race to the Bottom” is so endemic to the construction industry, it is hard to say there is an easy solution. I feel like Congress can change more easily. What it really takes is to unfortunately trust no one, except those who have proven themselves to you and their work has some longevity. Ask the simple questions first, like “have you done this before?” or “how long will the repair last?” or “are you using the best materials?”

The buyer has to beware. There are products and resources I am researching now that are supposed to be the best deals and the best prices, but they are far from it. I know convenience is King, but the convenient is ripping you off. They are selling low quality products at a high price, but they are still cheaper than the better products, right?. You are getting a raw deal and they are banking on the fact you will be back.

My hope is that a better economy will result in more spending. Yet my fear is money will be spent on a higher volume of garbage. So before you get that great deal or hire the low bidder, pause and think about is it worth throwing away or failing prematurely. If you buy cheap, you will spend it more than once, making the better, more expensive product a much better bargain.

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