Ghosts of Builders NOW

Squeals of delight and fright dominate October, a month dedicated to fearful happenings – all pretend. Here are a few true snippets, pointed reminders that in the home planning and building business, real fear lasts all year.


A ghoulish home-designer reduces the size of a house just by changing room names.

In the house plan biz, the toughest challenge is to control the size of a project. Square footage can get quickly out of control as clients make requests for additional rooms and spaces. Designers do a tremendous amount of work fulfilling these requests, which can seem endless, while at the same time growing weary of working for such demanding clients. At some point, usually after the first preliminary bid, the overly abundant square footage, and pileup of unrealistic expectations will finally slap the client in the face. Then the usual course of the project leads back to the drawing board for drastic revisions, almost always to reduce square footage.

In this truly spooky tale, a two storey house must be reduced by one thousand square feet. But also, in this case, the designer (the ghoulish protagonist) has grown weary of the project and just wants it to be over, and the customers to be gone. So, he takes the shortest route to the finish line. He changes room names on the second floor (Bedrooms 3, 4 and 5, Bathrooms 3, 4 and 5 and Playroom) to ATTIC. With that done he removes the area of those rooms – the needed 1000 square feet – from the square footage listing for Living Area, presenting the plan as if it has been made smaller, which it has not. Like a house full of ghosts, the square footage has disappeared. But the roomish apparitions will return when it is realized that changing the name of a room does not make it go away. While the number on paper has changed, the materials and labor needed to build the floors, walls, ceilings, and roof for every renamed area is still there. Revising the cost by revising room names does not have a ghost of a chance of working.

This is a crime, in most states a felony, called Theft by Deception, and has fierce punishment which could include fines and prison. The horror is that the designer will keep getting away with it only because clients don’t realize they have been intentionally cheated. If anyone will ever go after that designer in both civil and criminal court, the horror can be put back on him. Sadly, this will probably never happen, which means more and more clients – perhaps even you – will try to build real homes using fake numbers pulled from thin air, finding themselves (yourself) with home building finances forever haunted in a real, chilling, personal horror story.

Fear by any other name is just as scary.

Two Ghosts, One Haunted Housewife

When ghouls gang up, horror is sure to follow. Even when the fiends are strangers to one another, terror will find YOU!

Ghost Number One: Mail-order and online house plans also fight the square footage battle. Very often such ‘catalog’ plans will be designed as thin walled, all siding structures, but illustrated with images showing all brick or stone, which requires thicker walls. Thicker walls create more square footage. More square footage costs more money to build. One chilling objective of the house plan catalog business is to make the size of a house seem smaller than it really is because this increases sales. Then, the thin walled, all siding plan is delivered to a customer who is expecting brick or stone because that’s what the picture showed.

Ghost Number Two: Next, a deceitful contractor (a particular one for this story but not all) gets the plans. If he increases the size of the house to accommodate thick brick walls, then his profit could be threatened. His answer is to reduce the size of the house on all exterior walls by the thickness of the brick (about 6”), which makes every affected room six inches smaller on every exterior side. Six inches doesn’t sound like much, but it can make the difference on whether or not furniture will fit as expected. The right answer is to add the brick to the outside and preserve the room sizes.

I asked him what words he uses when he tells his customers that he’s actually making the house smaller but not charging less. His answer: “I don’t tell them at all. These little housewives don’t know the difference, anyway, and I want the money.”

While this doesn’t happen all the time, it happens often enough that you should be scared into heightened awareness.

Boo, everybody!

Vanishing Builder

A design-build company is run by a frightfully dishonest owner. Whenever a prospective client brings him plans, no matter the size or complexity, he will give a disproportionately low price which cannot be matched by any honest competitors, and for which he cannot possibly finish the house. Customers are so enamored by the low quote that they hire him without question.

While he’s not even a client of mine, I once had the opportunity to ask him how he can give such low prices. His candidly truthful answer: “I don’t need to finish the house. When the money runs out, I just walk away.”

So many times, victims of his diabolical scheme to start then vanish have come to me for help to redesign their already-in-progress but almost unfinishable house, just so they can move in, even if it’s not the home they hoped for.

Happy House-a-Ween!


Home-building can be a String of Bad Decisions Combined with the Ignorant Expectation that Nothing Can Go Wrong, That There is Nothing to Fear

Home-building decisions should be made by informed thoughts, and a rational look into the future to see the outcome of a logical chain of events. Unfortunately, the frightening norm, for pros and novices alike, often skips the part about information, rational thinking, and logic. In this article, a ‘builder’ (a demonic instigator of suffering) constructed, for himself, a fatally flawed house which immediately began to collapse because of his bad decisions.

Below: That’s my foot on a break so large it could be a portal to Hell. It runs all the way across the house. The new slab is broken in half, here. One of the builder’s bad decisions was to leave out the wire mesh that helps prevent such things. The next picture (below next) shows the wire mesh still rolled up and sitting on the slab in which it was supposed to be installed. That’s it on the left end of the photo.

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Broken Slab

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Wire Mesh Left Out of Slab. Oops. Scary!

Below: a rafter is notched to fit over a ceiling joist, which is also notched. This has already triggered a structural collapse. The ‘electrician’ (also the same builder) threaded a live wire in the gap between the rafter and joist to save the time of drilling a hole. But as soon as the rafter and joist settle and pinch together, they will bite the wire and cut its yellow sheathing. This will cause a short circuit which will lead to a fire which will burn down the house. Could it cause a fatal shock? We won’t have to wait long to find out.

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Notch lumber. Collapse Structure. Break wire. Short circuit. Cause Fire. Burn house down.

Below: the ceiling joists at the top of the picture appear to be curved downward in the middle. This is not a camera illusion. Another of the builder’s bad decisions was to use lumber too small to span the room’s ceiling. So, it is collapsing.

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Downward-curved ceiling joists are not an illusion.

For an all-in-one treat, the picture below has a lot to offer. You’re looking at an exterior wall of the house and the interior ceiling joists. The curved board is a grossly undersized joist. The 2×6 lumber is intended to span no more than thirteen feet, but the builder decided to use it to span thirty-two feet. Also, the wall on the right is falling outward, away from the house, so it is pulling on the framing for the ceiling, which is distorting the structure. It isn’t shown, but the roof is also buckling because of the combined failure of the wall and ceiling joists.

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All-at-once failure of the wall, ceiling and roof.

Any one of these calamities is bad. All together they can trigger a deadly series of events which can turn owners and visitors alike into ghostly haints, doomed forever to be visitants of a home they can neither live in nor leave.

This experience could be out there waiting for YOU!

… BOO!!

See more from Andy Bozeman, HERE.