New Home Building Tech?

My mom is building a new home and my partner and I are considering building one ourselves. Everywhere I look it seems that there are mistakes, delays, cost overruns, unhappy customers and poor quality. This despite dramatic improvements in quality in many other areas of manufacturing such as consumer electronics and automobiles.

Even if construction goes as planned, the inability of painters to actually paint a straight line, combined with visible drywall seams, nail pops, leaking windows, cracked driveways, and walls that aren’t plum seems to leave the fit and finish of your typical new home light years behind where I’d expect it to be in 2005. Is there anything on the horizon that’s likely to change this situation? Is it even recognized as a problem in the industry? Any chance the typical new home will have the same QA as your average cell phone sometime soon?

It sounds like the problem is cheap, incompetent labor, not outdated technology.

Exactly, I was just going to say that if you want to build your own home, go ahead, and you’ll have the distict advantage of knowing at least one contractor, builder, drywaller and painter NOT to use.

Oh, and unlike the automotive and electronics industries (which are put together by robots), the ability to paint a wall and not the ceiling, to put up a wall that is level and plumb or to install a window that doesn’t leak has little to do with technology and a lot to do with workmanship.

Having built a large custom house about 5 years ago I can tell you that you need an honest and competent general contractor, which can be yourself, to oversee every aspect of the project.

In addition, you need to visit the house often enough to spot problem areas before they are finished or signed off. If you see crooked drywall seams you can point them out and tell the GC they are unacceptable and should be fixed or replaced. Expecting someone else to watch over things as you might is unrealistic since that person may be focused on getting the project done and not necessarily on the quality of the work involved.

Most construction technology consists of simple tools and instruments and rely almost entirely on the ability of the skilled worker to be used effectively.

Just a small point: I happen to put together automotive industries, and I won’t be replaced by robots any time soon. Being replaced by Indians and Chinamen is another matter, though. Or are you calling them robots? Should we be taking this to The Pit? Calm down, I’m just teasing… :slight_smile:

Debaser just built a very nice 2 family home, he hired a competent General Contractor, but purchased the house from a modular building company.

The house showed up to an onsite poured foundation, in 4 pieces, was assembled, buttoned up, and finished.

If you walked into it today, you’d never know that it was not a “stick built” onsite building.

I also saw the unfinished construction, prior to final detailing, and I can tell you, I WISH MY HOUSE WAS THAT STRONG!

Very nice work, a very nice home, and the pricing was very competative (apparently, as he does his homework) to that of “traditional builders”.

They can build darn near anything by the way. As big and complicated as you like.

good luck

Indeed craftsmanship is the sticking point. In fact, I have a painter in today who is quite remarkable.

What I’m suggesting is something more along the lines of what Butler was saying. Perhaps there could be some processing or manufacturing inovations that would relieve the requirement of rare excellence and allow a higher quality mass-produced product.

In my attempt to be silly, I forgot to mention what I meant to post in the first place: modulars.

That’s probably the newest, most prolific new “technology” that’s being used to build houses. We go through this all the time: get trailers out of your mind; I’m referring to houses that are identical to “stick builts” but are in fact assembled off site in an assembly-line type of process (think Boeing 777 rather than Ford 500 type of process, though).

I’d have to give a high level course on manufacturing theory in order to explain why the potential for off-site construction is so much better. I do say potential, though, because it’s still up to the builder to implement things well (think Volvo vs. say, Hyundai).

Most of these builders will let take a look at their factory floor if you care to.

About 15 years ago, a friend built his own home. He acted as general contactor and hired (mostly friends and relatives) out the jobs he wasn’t comfortable with, like the electrical service. It is the nicest home I have ever seen, and is worth about three times what he paid out. He worked with a company that supplies all the material and delivered it on a set schedule so that his construction loan could be converted to a mortgage.

I had a picture of car frames being spot welded in my head when I typed that. It was in reference to the OP stating that automotive and electronics have come a long way BECAUSE of technology, so why can a house still be built with the craftsmanship of an 8 year old. Eitherway, the point was that we’re not comparing apples to apples here.

The problem I have with modulars (which, from the right manufacturer, can be very well built and robust) is that they limit the size and span of the rooms; they can’t be any larger than can be carried on a flatbed or are otherwise joined in an inherently weak seam down a middle. Having seen some of the half million dollar stick-frame homes they’re throwing up around here, though, it’s hard to imagine anything from a factory being of poorer construction and quality.

Personally, I like geodesic construction, and there are many companies that offer “prefab” panels and joining hardware. However, aside from the code and resale issues, you are still highly dependant upon contractors to pour a foundation, assemble it correctly, install wiring and seal it, et certera. And if you’re not a fan of open-plan layouts it definitely isn’t the thing for you. In my opinion there is no worse housebuilding crime than to take a geodesic and break it up with a bunch of right-angle walls.


Not to highjack too much, but remember to be glad you’re not in say 1905.

For instance, with some and no construction experience, two of us installed drywall/cement board walls and ceiling and a cement board+tile floor, and they look pretty good. There’s no way an amateur could have installed the lath+plaster walls, plaster ceiling and floated cement+tile floor that were there previously.

Plus silicone caulk in tubes/caulk guns, paint rollers, laser levels and what-all. Sure is easier to make things look nice than 80 years ago, that’s for sure.

Washington D.C. and some other Eastern states have a poor ratio of qualified craftsmen to populace. Seriously – while there are excellent contractors, carpenters, etc out there, the odds of finding one have gone down significantly.

As an avid taught-myself-carpenter who doesn’t take short cuts, I’ve been horrified at what companies are throwing up and calling 600,000 dollar homes. Many are a terrible disgrace.

I’d go this far: In reviewing dozens and dozens of homes in the East, ranging from 165,000 to 1.2 million dollars, I have seen maybe 1 or 2 builders who did the job right. Not one home in NJ, DE, or NY were anywhere near properly built. I want to build a home on a piece of ground in South Jersey, and I have no shot of hiring a NJ-based contractor who is capable. Not one contractor even knows how to case a window!

In PA, and New England, you have a much greater chance of finding a quality contractor. I can’t hire some PA companies or subs because they are not willing to dig into NJ, when they know PA inside out.

Sadly, most municipalities are interested in collecting a fee from the contractor for licensing and permits to perform job “x” rather than determining the proficiency of said contractor.

As Philster noted, some of the biggest are far from the best. Some of the crappy workmanship I’ve seen in houses built by a company whose name starts with T and rhymes with roll makes me wonder how they sleep at night. Really, a properly fit miter joint doesn’t need a bucket o’ caulk to make it look nice.

The well-educated and dedicated folks are very hard to find, because we’re regularly booked in advance. Good luck.

What type of person would you ask for recommendations on contractors, general contractors, etc? Would you ask City inspectors, other contractors, real estate offices, who?