Sunday, February 24, 2008

Construction Nightmares

The ShantyWorld Flickr Construction Nightmare PHOTO Group is now alive and active.
If you thought YOUR contractor was stupid, take a look at these other guys..
The Flickr group is free, and I hope it will be informative and fun for visitors and members alike.

Special note to Licensed Home Inspectors, please post your photos of bad construction.

Home Owners & Realtors: Please post your photos of bad construction & repair work.

Please do not post Full nor company names of these crummy "contractors" !
DO NOT post specific addresses, but the city and neighborhood location would be OK. We don't want people -- especially not me, to be sued.

Flickr Group name: Home Inspection Nightmares
Flickr Adminstrator: shantyminister (no spaces)

If you want to view or share your own photos with this group, you'll need to sign up for either a (free) Flickr account, or you'll need to use your Yahoo mail (or SBC Global or ATT DSL) account to post to the group.

This Flickr group will be monitored.
Let's Post !

© 2008

Construction & Home Inspection Nightmares

As Americans tighten their belts with respect to their own disposable income, you can be sure more property owners will move to repairing and renovating their existing properties instead of trying to upgrade to new digs. As a result, more home owners are bound to find themselves face-to-face with the reality that their existing property may have (existing) defects that need to be corrected. It's also likely that these same property owners will also encounter a contractor that may (or may not) actually complete the renovation work correctly.

Coincidentally, as I listened to the rebroadcast of Tavis Smiley's, the State of the Black Union (2008) on C-Span, a displaced New Orleans resident spoke about her experience with contractors who promised to do repair work to her New Orleans home, took her money, but never showed up to finish/complete the work. I have said (even here) many times, that that is not a problem unique to the victims of Katrina. [ See my post on Mike Holmes, Contractor.]

So when I stumbled on (yet again) Home Inspection Nightmare examples on the This Old House website, courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) , it reminded me that I need to post examples from right here in Chicago. The "Home Inspection Nightmares" section on the TOH web site is their MOST visited section. Most visited! Amazing. On a positive note, it does point out that anyone who owns or is looking to own property, should learn how to avoid (financial) disaster by learning from the mistakes of others.

There were a few patterns that appeared as a result of this "worst of" American homes...

1. That the states with the most lenient Home Inspection (HI) laws (i.e. laws regulating the selling of property), tended to have a significant number of dangerous construction problems. The states having more lenient HI laws included California, many southern states, and yes, my beloved Illinois. (Illinois came in the lower 35% percentile. Calf. was one of the worst in the nation, followed by many southern states.)
2. Communities with more relaxed building codes, tended to have high incidences of shoddy construction, and a high percentage of homes with dangerous existing conditions. [Makes sense, doesn't it?]

Unfortunately, there were fewer correlations between location and the number (or severity) of construction. Shoddy construction seems to know no real demographic. (Even well prepared property owners experience fraud.) While it is true poorer households do suffer a high rate of contractor fraud, middle and upper income households experience a significant rate of contractor fraud as well. In fact, some of the most egregious construction practices occurred in homes valued over $750K. (The primary difference between the rich and the less rich, has more to do with resources available to the household to later seek out a remedy-- to sue the contractor. Of course, suing a contractor usually comes well after a breach of contract or trust, when the damage is already done.)

Let's dispense with the chit chat, and get to the examples..

This contractor seemed to think no joists and no sub-floor were required under the bathroom. They just went ahead and installed new drywall over a wall that had no joist and no sub-floor supporting it. The GC is being rightly sued. Unfortunately, in the 4+ years when this work originally was done, this group of Contractors have worked on many other homes and will probably continue to work on other homes in the Chicago area. What is so sickening about this is, none of the trades involved in the job (the plumber, the dry waller, painter, etc.) did anything about trying to get this situation corrected. How do they sleep at night?

Photo of this same area from below.

Notice how the floor joist was totally cut away by the moron that is the plumber. (Actually two floor joists were completely cut out, but it's hard to see that in this picture.) The white dashed lines show where the joist material SHOULD have been. This contractor later came back and instead of correcting the problem, covered it up with a mudset coat, and literally painted the area (to disguise water damage, the old areas from the new, and the fresh cut wood. )

From the same moron Contractor..

This same house (photo below) was suppose to be undergoing repairs as of a result of damage sustained by a fire. The General Contractor didn't think anyone would notice that the sub-floor should have been replaced--even though it was in his written contract that the sub-floor be replaced. (Uumm, how do you replace a sub-floor AFTER all the new drywall and walls have been installed? This GC repeatedly ignored directives to install materials in the proper sequence.)

In the photo below, why remo
ve, clean & reinstall the radiator, when your position [as the GC] is that the home owner is too stupid to care about the details of how things get installed ? Just cut out the new wood floor AROUND the radiator leg. This "method" saved some dumbass floor contractor the hassle of having the GC's HVAC contractor move the radiators. Notice how that wretched sub-floor (above) shows through under the "new" wood floor. Almost too stupid for words.. Disgusting work, yet typical.

I hope the rest of these photo
s speak for themselves...

trical outlets and switches in wet areas (including showers) are abundant.

And just in case you new homeowners are feeling secure... It appears that a large share of these kinds of mistakes are present in a considerable portion of NEW HOME CONSTRUCTION as well.

So, those of you buying a NEW HOME should ALSO hire a licensed Home Inspector (and/or hire an architect) to help you during the buying process.

I am starting a public FLickr pool of Home Inspection Nightmare shots.
I'll post a link to the FLickr pool later. We can share photos and learn from one another. (Or send me your shots. Photos need to be UNDER 1 MB in size if you email them to me.)
- © 2008,

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tesla Update - Video Test Drive

I was surfing for my usual Mac Podcasts several weeks ago, and came across's video podcast (April 2007) where they managed to get a test ride in the new TESLA (all electric/green) Sportscar. (It's not your mother's Prius.) You can download the HD video from iTunes or can view the stream from the Revision 3 website. (For iPod and iPhone users, the file is video iPod-ready.)

Tesla has been plagued by personnel changes in the company, battery and other technical delays. Tree Huggers & motorheads alike can hardly wait 'til the Roadster hits the market. Read my earlier post (11/9/2006) about the Tesla Roadster.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

They're From Around the Way

Shanty "Pre-Fab Quickies"
Work has been crazy, but I wanted to post a few quick items so my 2 readers won't think I've fallen off my drafting stool and have forgotten about the blog. I'll call these quick posts, "Pre-Fab Quickies." Corny, I know..

Not unlike former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, I've always loved Chicago. Once you get to know the City, it's easy to see why visitors and natives alike can list-- with considerable ease, those items, places and people that shape why Chicago is fabulous. Over the last few months, I've added a few reasons to my list. (I'll share a few of those reasons in later posts..)

For those who want a quick visual slice of Chicago, I encourage you to visit the Flickr pages that have "Chicago" as part of the tag. This designer is particularly fond of the fabulous amateur (and pro) photos posted of Chicago Architecture on the Flickr site. The photos are just fabulous. (This one reason why I love the internet..) What makes so great is not just that images are there for all to see, but that Flickr has a way to search for images by topic, subject, interest. One such example is a photo by "Menlo" on FLickr of Marina City (shown above left).

Crooks Don't Go Away, They Just Find New Chumps

From the continuing saga of "Lies My Contractor Told Me"
, come more contractor horror stories. (You can also substitute the word "Developer" for "Contractor". ) My friends and clients know that I've been warning them for 15+ years that it's not a matter of IF, but WHAT your contractor will lie to you about. (The "when" starts almost immediately..)

That is why I was so glad to stumble on a really good Cable TV Construction show from Discovery HOME Channel called, "Holmes on Homes". The entire premise of the show is about lying, incompetent contractors, and the damage and danger they've been leaving behind. The show takes place mostly in Canada, although one episode was recently shot in the US.

Enter this burly, Canadian Alpha male contractor named Mike Holmes to the rescue. In each episode Holmes breaks down (for some unlucky homeowner) how and why the previous contractor's work was wrong/unsafe/not code-compliant, etc. Then, Holmes and his crew rip out the crummy work and do it the right way (more or less).
Apparently, there are a lot of incompetent, lying contractors and developers in Canada too. (Pheeew --it's not just the Chicago area that has its share of lousy contractors. Again, feel free to substitute the word "Developer" for "Contractor".)

While the designs are builder-esque, the craftsmanship of the work seems very solid. Check your local listings for air times. (In Chicago, the show is on cable TV daily, with several repeats during the day. How did I miss this show the first 6 years ??) Alternatively, you can buy the DVDs from the previous 6 seasons from

A lot of people think I'm crazy when I tell them I've never NOT had a contractor lie to me about some aspect of a project. And it doesn't matter [to the contractor] the client demographic, location, project size, complexity, dollar value (of the project), nor project type: public vs private, commercial nor residential.. I have found that nearly all contractors lie -- at least here in the state of Illinois. It must be a genetic requirement for being a contractor. Nonetheless..

Newbie homeowners (and those looking to work with a contractor) really need to educate themselves before they buy into a development or hire a contractor. When you don't, this show explains just how badly a project can go when an incompetent contractor is hired by an unprepared homeowner.

SouthSide Blogger

I stumbled on a fun blog that Chicagoans and Condo owners (regardless of locale) should check out: "I Hate My Developer".
(found at

"I Hate My Developer" chronicles one southside Condo Owner's trials with her Condo Association's developer, city officials, contractors and neighbors. It's smartly written, and very funny. It's both comedy and tragedy (in a good way.)

See, I too, live in a Condo.. and I've often thought the story of the shenanigans in my not-so-little condo community would make a great 21st century reality TV show. If we could get Hollywood to document (and pay us) for all the drama we get to live through as residents, all of our Association's financial problems (and special assessments) would be alleviated in the first season's airing.

Think: Melrose Place (the 1990s TV Dramady soap opera) with all the racial conflict of a Clinton / Obama Democratic primary battle, set in Chicago's multi-cultural Hyde Park. This show could be good stuff, people.

First, you have to understand that I live in a LARGE, 700+ multi-unit complex-- which makes consensus gathering nearly impossible. Competing agendas and wide-spread incompetence makes for lively Association meetings. Don't get me wrong, as an architect, I love the architecture of the building. The complex is done in a sort-of International, Miesian-lite kind of style.

It's a late '50s modern high-rise with a largely glass facade, and NewYork styled, tiny galley designer kitchens without the starchitect pricetag.
Who needs to live in the high-priced Mies van der Rohe 860-880 Lake Shore Drive apartments when you have Meisian-lite here on the southside? All the drama, but none of the property tax, gawker tourist problems. The southside is such a bargain.

Secondly, we have all the cliche reality show storylines that make for a hit show. We've got generational, race and class issues, prostitution, comic relief (from incompetent Board Members, employees and residents), we've had murder, suicide, domestic violence, and the occasional resident celebrity siting.

As a prequel to the series, we'd have to re-enact the episode where a 50+ year-old Board member tries to open-flame bar-be-que in one of the apartments. (Did I mention we don't have balconies-- and this person was cooking on a carpet and claims to be a Univ. of Chicago graduate ?) That episode would probably earn high ratings, ala the Jessica Simpson Chicken-of-the-Sea Tuna type humor. So many story lines are possible...

Our "building" is home to a cadre of D-list (mostly local) celebs, authors, TV/radio personalities, and we even have a few "has-been" national celebs. Our building is often used for TV/ movies shoots, and we have some of the best lake-front views of the City of Chicago. (I have a wonderful view of Lake Michigan.) We're a stones throw from the University of Chicago campus, the World famous Museum of Science & Industry, the DuSable Museum, and Presidential Candidate Barack Obama lives in the neighborhood.

I have episode outlines...I just need someone to option the show. Takers?

©2008 All Rights Reserved.