Verify Everything

Verify everything

I had started the framing phase full of excitement. It was fun watching the walls go up and see the abstract shapes on the blueprints come alive into real things. I was happy to hire a former classmate, and thought it would be cool for him to kick off his new job running his family’s construction business by framing my home. He had seemed excited too.

Finding out how bad the work was was crushing. A few people have told me that my posts about this seem pretty calm. I’m glad they do. Staying calm isn’t always easy. I had poured so much of my life into this project, including my entire life savings. Having the work done right was important to me. Finding out what the contractor had done to my home was bewildering, infuriating, and often just outright depressing. Anchorage is a small community. This could have been such a positive thing for everyone. It was so senseless.

The biggest lesson I learned is that as an owner-builder, you need to verify EVERYTHING. If you don’t have the knowledge to assess the work, find or hire someone who can. Remember that being “licensed, bonded, and insured” is a minimum legal requirement for contractors, NOT a guarantee of competence or integrity. Do not rely on city/muni inspections. Gov’t inspections are like airbags in a car: they might save you at the last minute but you definitely do not want to rely on them. Even if inspections do catch problems, they catch them when changes are hardest to make. Again: verify everything. Even if the contractor seems honest and charismatic. Even if the name of an established family business is on the side of the contractor’s pickup.

The Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Sumerian set of laws dating back to 1754 BC, contains laws and punishments related to shoddy construction. Incompetent and dishonest contractors have been with us since the dawn of civilization and will probably be with us to the end. This is one of humanity’s oldest and most persistent problems. Don’t think it can’t happen to you.

Verify. Everything.

Posted June 7, 2020.

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