Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Debate on whether home building practices have weakened our total infrastructure

The New York Times today offered an op-ed on workmanship that would have pleased my late father, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to; Inferior products and labor drive modern construction”, on p, A23, link here.  The writer talks about his own 60 year old house, built solid.

My parents knew the builder of the house they paid cash for in 1949.  I get the perspective.  But I think it’s mixed.

Older houses from that period sometimes have asbestos tiles or have it in insulation.  It doesn’t cause a problem usually, unless it gets wet or damaged, or if the house is rented, or sold, especially to a family with young children.  There is kind of a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude in the whole real estate industry about it.

The writer says newer construction often has toxic materials in drywall, too.  Maybe.  In Texas, there were some well known cases of toxic mold in drywall.  

When I moved to Dallas (for 9 years, it turned out) at the start of 1979, condo conversions were common, and many projects had used aluminum wiring.  A few fires forced builders to change.  Also, flat roofs would leak.  Some litigation forced builders to change their behavior gradually throughout out the 80,s until the real estate bust around 1988.  Bubble and bust practices (with the subprime mortgage bust in the 2000s) would also influence building.
But with newer construction, there are opportunities:  for smart homes, earthquake, fire, and foundation failure risk reduction, and particularly windstorm and tornado resistance (by the way steel is used in construction frames, as well as storm cellars in the Plains).  The public has to demand it and be able to pay for it.  Or, better, be able to "do the work yourself" in less centralized world.   

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