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25th Ask the Builder Anniversary

 bi-directional wood grain insulated steel garage door

Major building product improvements have happened over the past 25 years like these bi-directional wood grain insulated steel garage doors by HAAS Door. (C) Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

25th AsktheBuilder Anniversary

October 2, 2018 is the 25th anniversary of my Ask the Builder syndicated newspaper column. I’m very proud of surviving this long as a writer and publisher and thought I’d share some of the good and the bad I’ve seen since that morning I waited outside in the dark for the newspaper carrier to hand me my copy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Look at that mug shot! You'd think I'd be happy, but that's the photo the Cincinnati Enquirer wanted. I finally got my editor, Ann Haas, to accept a smiling photo of me in a flannel shirt! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

It’s funny, but it doesn’t seem that long ago that I made the transition from a full-time custom home builder and remodeler to writer then publisher. I’m often asked by readers like you and subscribers to my newsletter how I made the successful transition.

The simple answer is I took failure off the table. I was determined to make this new career blossom because I knew that if I continued to work with my hands, back and knees, as I loved to do, I’d be crippled or fully disabled by now. As it turns out, I’m still building, but using electrons instead of concrete, wood, and steel.

This was the teaser to my column on the front page of the Tempo section that Saturday. What a ride it's been! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

I’ve seen many good things happen over the past twenty-five years with respect to building products and I’ve seed disturbing trends emerge with respect to product longevity and the quality produced by tradespeople who build your new home, add that room addition, or install a new roof.

One thing I’ve discovered is it sometimes pays to wait before you buy a brand new product that hits the marketplace. An example is composite decking. I’ll never forget when the first composite decking product made its debut. Homeowners swooned over it. However, it took nearly twenty years for the composite deck industry to finally figure out how to make a fantastic product that will last and looks great.

I witnessed the painful growing pains of low-flush toilets. Government regulations forced manufacturers to create toilets that used far less water than ones that had worked so well for decades and decades. Most of the new toilets wouldn’t flush right. It took years for some engineers in the industry to finally figure out how to get less than two gallons of water to create a powerful flush.

Technology has also overtaken the home building and remodeling industry like an army of steamrollers. Some argue for the better, and some like my wife, despise it. I constantly test new products around my own home and Kathy hates the recessed LED light over our kitchen island that has a speaker in it. The speaker can play music from my smartphone via Bluetooth radio waves. Kathy feels the speaker is also snooping in our conversations.

She also wishes she could take a hammer to my doorbell and floodlight. I can see and hear what’s happening around my home from anywhere in the world with these devices so long as they’re connected to the Internet. Kathy hates that I can spy on her as she walks around the yard enjoying her flowers and plants.

I can spy on Kathy or anyone else in my yard. I've also got my friend Arlo to help too. Kathy hates Arlo. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

I’m upset at the alarming and growing trend of lower quality with some building products. Hybridized framing lumber engineered to grow faster has vast amounts of less-dense spring wood growth in it. This makes the lumber more susceptible to rot, bowing, and twisting.

New lumber is nothing like the lumber of old. Look at how wide the lighter-colored spring wood bands are in the timber to the left! (C) Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Fiber cement siding, a product that’s been around for over one-hundred years, has wood fiber in it now instead of waterproof fibers. Old fiber cement sided houses look as good as the day they were built, while my newer fiber cement siding is crumbling. Why the manufacturers don’t incorporate inexpensive fiberglass fibers like we do in concrete baffles me.

These fiber cement siding panels could be eighty, or more, years old. They're on an old house in Meredith, NH. When installed there was no need to paint them. For some reason, people decide to go down that road of no return. Copyright 2017 Tim Carter

The straw that broke the camel’s back at my house was asphalt shingles. My 30-year-warranty asphalt shingles started to go bad in just ten years and I had to replace them a few years later. I was so upset by this I wrote my Roofing Ripoff expose’ book that explains why your roof and mine are falling apart long before they should and most importantly how to avoid premature shingle failure. It’s my opinion that ethics seem to be in short supply, or missing, in the boardrooms of certain manufacturers.

Roofing Ripoff Book

Perhaps the most disturbing trend of all is workmanship quality. One could write a book on all the possible causes, but first and foremost is the removal of the incentive in high school for young people to choose a trade as a rewarding career path. That’s a grave mistake in my opinion, and you and millions of others are paying for it by dealing with more and more low-quality, uninspired workmanship that seems to be the new normal.

If I could wave a magic wand right now, I’d make two things happen. I’d bring back and expand all of the vocational school programs. Home building, as well as all trades, would be encouraged as a career in grade schools.

Young women and men would be encouraged to fill the ranks of every trade.

I’d also make ethics a mandatory course in high school, college, and a core topic at all business schools. The quest for higher and higher profits seems to put far too much pressure on the ethical aspects of business.

I want you to know that you’re responsible for the overall success of Ask the Builder. You continue to read my column and write letters to your paper editors sharing how I’ve helped you. You visit my website each day to find all of my past columns and videos that are filled with money and time-saving tips. I say we keep on going for another twenty-five years! What say you? PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW.

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13 Responses to 25th Ask the Builder Anniversary

  1. I have enjoyed your blog for probably 10 + yrs. (You were still in Cincinnati). Also very much enjoyed meeting up with you in Washington, DC when you were testifying in front on Congress about the internet, etc. Keep up to GREAT work. Hope I'm still around in 25 years (will be 99 and really crippled).

    25 years seem like no time at all, once one has enough darn birthdays under their belt!?!
    Anyway, I've saved every single email from ATB, since I singed up for it a few years back.
    Loved the picture of you, on that first column too. "Lots of hair, wearing a SUIT? Looking very "astute", let's say!?
    Now, don't worry about your lovely bride........"Hating this and that, technology" and/or, "things that you install around the house". First, you're a "MALE", and secondly, you're a "Husband", so it's to be expected! No other reasons needed.
    Keep up the great work and columns!

    • Paul,

      Yes, my editor, Ann Haas, insisted that I wear a suit and tie for the photo. I HATED IT. It took me about nine months to convince her I'd look so much better in a flannel shirt. I think the flannel-shirt photo is still being used by some papers across the fruited plain.

  3. Congratulations on 25 years, Tim! I started following your web site and writing while you were still in Cincinnati and I've harvested a lot of knowledge from you. Thanks for keeping it up!

  4. I never had a job I truly loved, so I'm envious over your love for Askthebuilder and will continue reading. Happy 25th Tim & support.

  5. Congrats. Tim.
    Always look forward to reading your post. Building techniques are a little different over here in the UK, but I am an avid reader! So jealous of some of your pictures with the wide open spaces!

  6. Congrats Tim.
    I’m a long time subscriber (at least since 1999) and you’ve helped me on numerous projects. Keep up the good work!!!

    Thanks again,

    Patrick Jones

  7. In 2001 we replaced a tiny deck with a much larger deck. When it was time to stain it, the internet was just a baby, but when I searched for a really good stain, your site showed up. I wrote, and YOU actually answered, recommended DEFY. I loved that YOU responded, and what a great product it turned out to be. It is time to restain, and Tim, they don't make it anymore. Thank you for all your help, and humor through the years!! Now will you suggest another product? Love what you have accomplished here!

  8. Happy Happy Anniversary Tim! I remember your Cincy daze too! Your advice is always spot on and with Stain Solver - the spots off! Good stuff!

    For the record our paper still runs your column and I look forward to it each Sunday. Yes, you are wearing your trademark flannel shirt.

    Many happy returns to you.

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