Tuesday, January 2, 2018


Wait a minute—didn't this room used to have a window?
Nobody’s perfect, they say.  Heaven knows it’s true of architects, but did you know that contractors make mistakes too? Since contractors are only human, construction projects occasionally end up with, shall we say, minor shortcomings.  Some get fixed before the client ever notices;  some don’t. Only a chosen few, however, achieve legendary status among contractors and become fodder for late-night story swapping.  

Most construction errors happen when the contractor or in a big hurry—in other words, all the time. No contractor has time to supervise his workers every minute of the day, so little things can sneak past. Moreover, a tradesman will sometimes ignore his own error in the fervent hope that the following trade will fix it. That never happens, of course; the trade that comes in later leaves the error alone on the sound premise that the guy who screwed it up will get the blame.

A new meaning for the term "hot seat".
A contractor friend of mine recently recalled a favorite house project in which the harried drywall contractor had unwittingly sheetrocked over the doorway to one of the bedrooms. To top it off, rather than opening the doorway up again, the tradesmen that followed the drywaller simply went in and out through the window instead.

When it comes to construction hijinks, in fact, drywall contractors seem to be in a class by themselves. In a tract house I designed some years ago, for instance, the general contractor was puzzled by how poorly the heating system worked.  Finally, he noticed that the return air grille in the hallway ceiling had been covered over with drywall. Not only that, the subsequent tradesmen, ignoring the obvious bulge in the ceiling where the grille was, had textured and painted over it as well.   

But drywall contractors mustn’t hog all glory. In the rush to get the job done, it’s not unheard of for plumbers to lose track of which pipe is which, thus providing another fertile ground for mixups;   d waited patiently for hot water to arrive. Only after running the faucet for several minutes, with uniformly cool results, did he finally concede that it was connected to the cold water line.

The result of mixed-up mixing valves.
An even stranger case was related to me by a client who had just moved into his new house. He noticed that whenever the toilet was flushed by several people in succession, wisps of vapor would rise menacingly from the bowl. Toxic fumes? A potentially lethal chemical mixture? Neither, it turned out. By gingerly dipping a finger into the bowl, he quickly discovered that the plumber had connected the toilet to the hot water line.

Perhaps the unkindest plumbing surprise of all lay in wait at the house I lived in as a teen.   The single-handle shower valve had been misconnected when the house was built, so that turning the knob to “hot” yielded “cold” and vice versa. Our family eventually grew used to this idiosyncrasy, and so we never bothered to correct it. On one occasion, however, we forgot to warn a visiting relative of this quirk, and I'm sure it was the most refreshing shower he ever experienced.

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