Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Worthiness and Guilt in Practical Application

Get down on your knees and confess your unworthiness before GAWD. He sent his only son to die for your sins.

If you don't vote and pay taxes and cower before bureaucrats, then you are unworthy of the sacrifices of veterans who fought so you could be free.

Firemen and policemen are heroes. If you belong to any other occupation, say carpenter, you are unworthy of the sacrifices these great Americans make every day.

Being cavity-searched and having your belongings rifled through and having to remove your shoes at the airport is such a small price to pay for your safety. Anyone who would complain is unworthy of the sacrifices TSA employees make for you.

Having to submit plans to your building department(and use a licensed contractor) is the only way to make sure you live in a safe home that won't collapse on you or spontaneously combust. If you think you can decide for yourself if your home is safe, then you are arrogant and unworthy of the sacrifices your building department officials make on your behalf.

So on and so on, ad infinitum. I think I'll hang my head over the fence and moo at my neighbor.

8 comments:

  1. I once inspected a home that had been passed off on by building inspectors as structurally sound. I found a large number of problems beyond those which building inspectors check for -- off-square rooms (apparently they cut one wall short, and rather than fix it, they simply made the other wall off-square to meet at the corner!), places where the decking wasn't supported from underneath and thus would squeak, air conditioning flexiducts that were laid over support wires for the bathroom vents in a way that would result in them collapsing over time, improper window flashing that would route water between the OSB sheathing and the exterior building paper, etc. I shudder to think of what would have been the case with this home if *nobody* inspected it other than a homeowner who doesn't know construction, because a) even more stuff would have been wrong probably to the point that the house was not structurally safe (at least the architectural plans had been approved and the slab foundation and plumbing inspected, and all the sheathing and shear walls called for in the plans were installed correctly), and b) the person who eventually bought this house (which was NOT me) would have had even worse problems.

    You and I don't need building inspectors and architectural plan sign-offs to have a structurally sound home. That's because you're a carpenter and my dad was a carpenter and we both know what a structurally sound well designed and well built home looks like. For the rest of America, though, I think you underestimate the benefit of having these things.

    - Badtux the Construction Penguin

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  2. Hi BadTux,
    Perhaps, but the homogeneity, minimum quality, and costliness of houses today is a direct consequence of building departments.

    Dave

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  3. Uhm, I don't know about where you are. But in Phoenix, where I was, the building department related stuff added maybe $5,000 total to the price of the home. A builder could go out in the desert, buy up 1,000 acres of BLM land for $500,000, put in some streets and sewer and drill a water well and set up a water and sewer district, slap up 5,000 houses for roughly $40K apiece in materials, labor, permits, etc., sell them for $85K apiece, and walk away with $200M in gross profits. Granted, Arizona is a low-regulation state in general, but I didn't see all this stuff having any significant impact upon housing prices there...

    Here in the Silicon Valley, things are different. Regulations regarding affordable housing, impact fees, etc. add up to major chunks of change. But the biggest cost factor here is the price of land, not the price of regulation -- when an acre of land here will set you back $1M minimum, it's clear that either you're going to build a bunch of $400K townhouses on that land, or you're going to build four $800K homes on that land, you're not going to slap up $85K houses. My suspicion is that when you look at the actual percentage of the cost caused by government regulation, it's no more than in Phoenix.

    - Badtux the Construction Penguin

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  4. Hi BadTux,
    As always, you make an excellent point. Arizona has cheap land and relatively light regulations, which is why I built my house here instead of Las Vegas, where I used to live.
    Consider these often overlooked expenses in homebuilding:
    When land is subdivided, the developer almost always has to have the land re-zoned. The fees are almost as stiff as the necessary bribes. After the licensed civil engineers (and uncounted federal agencies) have their way with the developer, then he has to obtain a "dust permit" to start grading. I worked on a golf clubhouse once where the superintendent showed me the dust permit for the golf course--$900,000! Building permits can have a list of "fees" as long as your arm. In Las Vegas, back in 1990 when I built a house there, the Parks fee was $2000 and the Turtle fee was $500. Then there are the imponderables. Since contractors are businessmen, not craftsmen, they build non-controversial, little pink houses that will easily pass the building department. Innovation and cost-cutting that lands on a grey area of building codes are shunned like sunlight on vampires. More and more, owner-builders are excluded from building their own homes because of permit time-limits and a requirement of having a licensed contractor do the work. Add it all up and a concrete pillow 'neath the overpass looks better and better.

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  5. Has something changed in Arizona since I left? When I left Arizona, becoming a licensed contractor basically consisted of a) Passing the licensing test, b) paying a small fee, and c) Filing proof of insurance or bond so that if you were sued, whoever sued you could get paid even if you decided to take a Mexican vacation rather than stick around for the judgement. It wasn't a big deal, other than the insurance part, and frankly only fly-by-nights don't purchase liability insurance for their business. Indeed, that's the only unlicensed contractors I ever ran across in Arizona -- the fly-by-nights who popped up, did some jobs, then disappeared, generally leaving a mess behind them to be cleaned up by "real" contractors.

    Now granted, all of this was ten years ago. A friend built his house there then (or rather his contractor did). Has things really changed by that much in Arizona within the past ten years?

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  6. Hi BadTux,
    I've only lived here in Mohave Valley, Arizona, for 4 years. From what I've seen, the Mohave County building department is about 10-15 years behind Las Vegas, but catching up fast.

    Dave

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  7. The licensing requirement for any contractor doing jobs over $x amount (forget what x is) was/is a state requirement, not a county requirement. There was no state requirement that you as a self-contractor had to be licensed, but you could expect the inspectors to be really giving you the skunk eye.

    The biggest issue with self-contracted homes is what I saw near South Mountain in Phoenix. A guy had bought an acre of horse property, built a house for himself on half of it without pulling any permits, and sold the original house on the other half to someone else. At some point the bank foreclosed because he fell behind on his payments and put the house up for sale. I did a walk-through, and the house was a tear-down even though it was only five years old. The foundation was already failing, the windows dumped water into the interior, the roof leaked due to inadequate flashing, and the stucco was flaking off the side in large chunks. The kitchen cabinets were rotted out because his plumbing leaked, and the electrical wiring violated so many code items that I can't even begin to list them. And the sewer connection violated health laws, he'd basically dug a cesspool in the back yard and everything ran there. The problem is that yes, this guy built this house for himself -- but somebody is going to buy it once he moves out of it, and the house doesn't meet any conceivable building code other than maybe one for a third world country. Anybody who bought this house would be buying one that is unsafe and that could fall down in any strong wind or the roof (a flat roof, improperly sloped) could collapse in any strong rainfall, based on my assessment of the cheapness of its materials and construction.

    So you may believe that you're going to live in your house for the rest of your life. But you aren't. You and your wife could be struck by a bus tomorrow, leaving the house to be sold off to whoever is willing to pay money for it. How is that person supposed to know whether the house is safe or not? He can't ask you -- you're dead. All he has to go on is whatever permits and inspections are on file with your local building department plus what he can see without tearing into any walls. I always pulled those on any house I was interested in, whenever possible. They were usually pretty boring... except when they didn't exist, in which case that was a sign to me to have extra special scrutiny here!

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  8. Yes, you're right, BadTux, and it saddens me more than I can tell you. Fewer and fewer people care to choose the better from the worse for themselves, and that's a shame.

    Dave

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All comments are welcome.