Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Trades Deficit

Water damage has permeated though the OSB into the SIPS panel. Thoughtless planning and poor flashing lead to this entire addition to be stripped and recladded.

Every once and awhile I have to get off the old house care kick and opine about the state of things. Since the 1970’s, experts have cautioned the lack of trades training will someday have a profound impact on the ability to build and maintain buildings. And since then, the market has radically changed where anyone can buy a tool or material and call themselves an expert. And to further the pain, the trades have veered from craft to assembly, where most buildings are in fact built by headless hands. And to top it all off, social media has allowed many builders to proudly post their makings, only to reveal their lack of knowledge and best practices.

Proud of their work? While the work looks good, the practices are far from best. A clear case of a guy with a grinder and some caulk made it look good, but long term performance will be compromised. Counter flashing must go into mortar joints, and yes, each piece will be custom and take more time.

I realize building restoration is a unique, highly specialized, and elitist part of the construction industry. Many who practice in preservation realize their work is part art and part craft, and whole heartily recognize the impact their work will immediately, and 100 years from now, have on a building. This holistic view of work and impact guides many to make decisions less favorably to their pocket and more for the integrity of the building. While many are not looking to be honored for their works, they are none the less honored to do the work.

Many modern construction practices are far from the mindset of the preservation craftsperson. Modern practices seek the quickest and easiest method bought right off the shelf of the big box store, where the solution is written into the name of the product. These solutions are not based on research into reversibility, longevity, and effectiveness, but how to find a solution in a product, not a practice, and on how the treatment can get them a check as quick as possible. And since the market allows anyone to bid and do work, the choice made by a building owner is mainly based on price and the fact that they contractor promises to fix it.

The ease of buying a fix in a tube and the fact that anyone can by a tool creates a myriad of poor choices. When the technique is learned by use of the tool and the product, and not from a practiced craftsperson, the mistakes can be repeated for the life of the user. They have no idea they are making bad choices, since they are not reflecting on their work years later, or having the seasoned worker correcting them right on the spot. All we have is social media, where contractors proudly show their work only to be chastised by either more experienced craftspeople or just ego driven megalomaniacs thats hate anyone else does. This causes an issue since those that may “know better” are drowned out by the naysayers. And honestly, this is no way to “teach in the trade”.

There was a time when the availability of tools and a truck were far more limited. I am not saying that all old work was good, because clearly bad building has been going on since the beginning of time. But for hundreds of years this work was easily reversed or clearly seen since failures were pretty obvious through failure. But now with all the glues, screws, tubes and views, anyone can handle a tool and make themselves an expert. And since these products are not designed to be reversible, repair is almost impossible and replacement a must. And this is where the disconnect of intent versus bidding gets broader.

Intent is part goal and part means and methods. A proposal defines the intent through a scope of work, but many homeowners have no idea the means and methods. They look at the scope and say”yep, they got it”, then look at the price and see this company is way cheaper than the other, so they are getting a better deal. But what’s not known is the means and methods that drove the bid. Many times the more expensive option is considering more effort, and time is the most expensive part of fixing an old house. And since words mean little and actions are everything in construction, try not to commit to a contractor with the most complicated fix first. Start with the easy stuff, then work your way to things that matter most.

So the final analysis of this tirade is the crafts are diminishing and assembly by the headless hand is becoming more prevalent. But you can become part of the solution by hiring contractors on merit, not just price. Take a leap and hire the one being more thoughtful, respectful, and knowledgeable on the impacts of their work. It will save you money and save your house.