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Watch Out for Bad Contractors

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Construction Deficit

Homeowners across the nation are victimized each and every day by builders and remodelers who really don't know what they are doing. These builders and remodelers are often referred to as non-professionals. Well that is true, however, very few people that I have come into contact with have ever discussed the root of the problem.

When I decided that I was going to be a builder and a remodeler, I just started doing it. Fortunately, I didn't try to tackle projects that were totally beyond my capabilities. But, I constantly was experimenting with products and techniques. I was an amateur chemist, as I would apply paints, adhesives, add water to concrete, etc. without bothering to really find out what was happening. In many cases I found out very quickly what happened, as the installation was botched. I licked my wounds, repaired the damage and went on. It didn't take too long to figure out that these mistakes were costing me money.

Homeowner Losses

The problem, however, is that the vast majority of the time, the problems associated with improper installation appear long after the installer has cashed your check. You are left holding the bag. My guess is that millions of dollars a year are spent on premature replacement and repairs of materials that have been improperly installed.

You can avoid this happening on your next building or remodeling project. The trick is to hire an individual who has decided to take his or her professionalism to the highest level. These individuals are the ones who invest time in reading. They take the time to read exactly how a particular item is supposed to be installed. They read as much as they can about new products and construction techniques. More importantly, they read the technical trade journals that specifically explain just how some things work in building and remodeling.


For sake of discussion I will give you some examples. Concrete is a very popular topic with many of my readers. Every time I write a column concerning concrete I get a big response.

I attended a conference sponsored by the Portland Cement Association in the fall of 1994. We discussed the installation of residential concrete. The consensus of the group was that over 90 percent of residential concrete is finished improperly! How, might you ask? It's very simple. Almost invariably, concrete finishers will sprinkle water on a slab as they finish it. They do this because the concrete is getting away from them. They do not realize that this added water is severely weakening the top 1/8 inch of the concrete. This added water is diluting the amount of cement at the top of the slab.

The reason that many finishers continue this practice is because it was the way they were taught! Too much information in residential construction is passed along verbally or by experimentation. Very few individuals have self-educated themselves or taken the time to read the many fine pieces of literature that are readily available.

Another example is lumber shrinkage. Just about everybody knows that lumber shrinks as it dries out. But how many builders and remodelers do you think know that this shrinkage is not equal in all dimensions of a piece of lumber? Across which dimension does a piece of lumber shrink the most? Why is this important to know?

I'll tell you why it is important to know. If you have been a victim of drywall nail pops, this information could have helped you. If your new cedar or redwood siding developed splits this could have helped you.

Just for the record, wood shrinks the greatest amount across the face of the grain. It shrinks the least (actually hardly at all) along its length. If you visualize an 8 foot long 2x4, this means that the 2x4 will virtually always remain 8 feet long. But, when shipped from the log mill, most 2x4's measure 3-1/2 inches wide. If a particular 2x4 has not been adequately dried, after installation and drying, this 2x4 might measure 3-5/16 inches! It lost 3/16 inch! And you wonder why seams open up in your hardwood floor, or why plywood buckles. Remember, this same movement will occur in the opposite direction when wood swells!


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