The Holmes family was very excited – they were about to build the home of their dreams. They had already found their lot, walked the overgrown grounds together. Little Jane Holmes, eight years old, had stood in the tall green grass, arms spread wide, and proclaimed to the world that she was standing where her new bedroom would be.
They celebrated by stopping at their favorite ice cream shop. Jane devoured a chocolate ice cream cone with sprinkles.
Driving home that night with Jane asleep in the back seat, Susan and John—Johnny to his friends—discussed the next steps of their plan.
“We should get bids for construction,” Johnny supposed. “The Gibsons said the building contractor they hired a few years ago handled everything.”
As they pulled into their driveway, they decided Johnny would seek bids in the morning.
The Mistake of Ignorance: Johnny Decided to Manage the Construction Himself
Several days later, Johnny hung up the phone. Susan joined him in the office and watched him shuffle the papers he’d put together since calling the first contractor. Numbers jotted down in ink, crossed off, rewritten. Notes in red in the margins. Several items underlined, circled.
“These builders want so much,” he told Susan, his eyebrows rising as he showed her the latest quote.
Her eyebrows rose too. “Wow.”
“Yeah, think of what we could save if we didn’t have to pay a building contractor.”
“But we need one, right?” Susan asked, leafing through the papers.
“I don’t know.” He flipped to a sheet where one of the builders had broken down the costs and responsibilities. “This guy said he’d coordinate with the construction crew, electrician, plumber, etc, etc. But I could do that. Each crew knows how to do their job. Why should we pay someone a bunch of extra money just to call the crews and tell them the address? We know what the house is supposed to look like, we have the plans, and we can find workers who can use those plans to make the house look the way we want. How hard could it be?”
The Mistake of Arrogance: Johnny Went With His Gut
A few weeks later, building was underway. He collected individual quotes from each crew. Putting all those quotes together, Johnny had to add them up three times to make sure he hadn’t made a mistake. They’d come in WAY under budget. This was easily the smartest decision he’d ever made!
With the foundation poured, the whole family made another visit to the building site. In their minds, they could already see the finished product. They couldn’t have been happier.
Then the first question came in. The framer wanted to know what type of wood to use. A building contractor would have known the answer. He would have had suppliers to reach out to, he’d have gotten good rates on quality lumber, he’d have known exactly how much he’d needed and been able to coordinate the arrival of the product at the proper step in the building process.
Johnny knew none of this. “Just do what you normally do,” he told the framer.
The framer smiled. “Okay.” He then purchased lumber from Canada to save money. Johnny celebrated this small budget victory.
Another question from the framer about windows. “The designer specified ABC windows but you could save 15% by switching to XYZ brand. They’re the same size. You won’t even know the difference.”
Johnny approved the swap of windows and celebrated another small budget victory.
A third question about the HVAC system. What size? Johnny was sure that a larger system would cool his house quicker, effectively running less often and lowering his electric bill. Victory again!
A fourth question about the ridge beam in the cathedral ceiling. “It’s really big!” Mr. Framer said. “The designer way over-designed this and is wasting your money. We can easily use a smaller beam. It’ll look better and won’t cost nearly as much.”
Yay, for victories left and right!
The Mistakes Came Full Circle: Johnny Watched His Bank Account Empty
It was time for the building inspector to visit and make his rough framing inspection to determine if the house met all the safety and efficiency codes set out in Johnny’s state, Connecticut. It needed to pass in order for Johnny to continue to the next phase of construction. He greeted Mr. Inspector with a hopeful smile and a firm handshake.
Johnny followed Mr. Inspector closely and watched as he glanced back and forth from the construction plans to the various materials making up the bones of his future house.
In the bedroom, Mr. Inspector scowled and made a mark in his paperwork.
“These windows are XYZ brand, correct?” Mr. Inspector asked.
Mr. Framer steps in. “Yes. That’s right.”
“These don’t meet the emergency escape and rescue opening requirements of the code. You’ll need to replace the windows in every bedroom.”
Six of the XYZ brand windows failed inspection because the ¾” difference in the open area fell short of the emergency escape and rescue opening requirements, which would have put little Jane Holmes at risk of not being able to escape quickly should a fire ever strike. The additional expense was charged to Johnny’s account and the project was delayed another two weeks while the crew waited on the windows to arrive.
What Johnny didn’t realize was that the builder had an account with XYZ brand windows and received rewards for every purchase. But XYZ windows were not, in fact, the same as ABC windows, didn’t have the same great energy performance and now he was paying for the difference by having to add more insulation in the attic to compensate.
Mr. Inspector checked another note on the construction plans, inspected the floor joists above his head, double checked the notes on the plan. “The plan calls for No. 2 Douglas Fir-Larch which would have made this 17 foot span without any issues. But you used Hem-Fir which won’t hold up at that span. If you want to keep what you’ve already built, you’ll need to double them up in order to make it work.”
Mr. Framer sighed and shook his head. “Are you serious? I use these all the time. It’s never been a problem before.”
Mr. Inspector was not swayed by Mr. Framer’s argument. It was his job to ensure the structure was safe for occupancy. He didn’t want any lives on his hands, especially not little Jane’s.
We’ve already had electrical and plumbing installed,” Mr. Framer complained. “Is there any other way we can make this work?”
“Not as you’ve built it, no,” Mr. Inspector said. “Unless you want to add a drop beam down the center of this room.” He gestured along the length of the room and pointed to the door at the end. “But that’ll involve adding another beam over the door to hold up the drop beam. And you won’t be able to center a light fixture in this room anymore.”
Mr. Framer threw his pencil across the room in frustration and walked away. Later, after he had a chance to cool down and accept his mistake, he called Mr. Electrician and Mr. Plumber back to remove the work they’d installed. He then placed another order of floor joists. The additional cost was added to Johnny’s bill and the project was delayed while they all waited for the arrival of the new floor joists.
Twenty-three other points failed inspection. Twenty-three corrections were added to Johnny’s bill. Building was delayed another three weeks.
Mr. Inspector kindly pointed out that the HVAC unit, which was oversized for Johnny’s house, would end up costing them more in the long run because of the inefficiency of powering up for a larger space than they had. Johnny wanted to cry but he held it together.
The house also failed the blower door test. No one was there to make sure the framer sealed the framing as they were going along, so a lot of extra expense and time would be needed to find and fix the issues.
A good building contractor would have been there each step of the way to manage all of this. They would have called suppliers and crews they trusted, securing rates they’d lowered after years and years of loyal service. They would have relied on them to know exactly how long everything would take to arrive and the order in which to bring everything and everyone in. They would have seen the mistakes when there was still enough time to fix them and they would have kept the entire project much closer to budget, knowing every hundred or thousand spent along the way endangered the completion of the house.
Tragedy Struck: Johnny and His Family Encountered Their Worst Fear
Johnny hung up the phone and pinched the bridge of his nose. He had a headache. He’d had the same headache for the last two months. But this last call found a way to push it to a new level of pain.
The Holmes family was out of money and the house wasn’t finished. By his estimates, which he was starting to understand were based on nothing, the project was going to end up costing 30% more than what it would have if he’d have hired a good building contractor in the first place.
The bank refused to extend the loan.
Unable to confront Susan and Jane, Johnny died of shame and frustration.
Ok, so maybe I embellished the ending a little bit. Johnny didn’t die, but he almost wished he had. The project was in an impossible state of chaos. The Holmes family had to borrow money from Jane’s parents (this alone was enough reason for Johnny to die of shame) and a distant cousin to work through correcting all the issues that could have been avoided had he hired a qualified building contractor.
At face value, the job of a building contractor seems simple. But so does every management position. What simple descriptions don’t take into consideration are all the years of experience, the network of supply and service they’ve built over the years they’ve been in business and the expertise in seeing problems before they arise.
The Better Way
Not only do we highly recommend hiring a qualified building contractor to handle your building project, we also believe good buildings start with good designs. Not just good but efficient, aesthetic, functional, safe design. At a reasonable price.
Don’t be like Johnny Holmes. Hire the right professionals up front and trust them to take care of you.