When I started my little home inspection business back in the mid-’80s, most of the crews I saw building new houses and condos were made up of local folk. Then, right about the time that Saturn moved into Spring Hill and the airport expanded, the construction-worker demographics changed. Almost overnight, the folks building the houses were mostly from south of the border. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I didn’t give it much thought until one day when I was doing a home inspection for an African American Saturn exec. After I finished the job and explained everything I knew about his house-to-be, he said, “Mind if I ask you one more thing?”
“Go ahead,” I said. “I’m all about answering questions.”
“Tell me this,” he said. “Why don’t I see one brother working in this subdivision?”
“Good question,” I said. “And an astute observation. They were here a few months ago. They were the go-to guys for good brick, stone and concrete work. Now we’ve got new guys. I don’t know where the brothers went.”
For the last 20 years or so, most of the construction workers I’ve encountered on residential jobs are hardworking folks who speak Spanish. In recent years—and recent days—the presence of immigrant laborers has been a hot-button political issue. Just last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 23 undocumented workers in Maury County. Most, if not all, were arrested at residential construction sites, according to reports from Channel 5.
My political views are pretty simple: the government ought to defend the shores, and hand the post office over to FedEx so I’ll actually get my mail. The government should also confiscate all tobacco products and air-drop them into terrorist strongholds, along with porn DVDs, vodka, celebrity gossip magazines and all manner of vibrators. (Especially the vibrating Gillette Fusion razors. That would not only please the frisky terrorist women, but also give the terrorist men a new and exciting shaving experience.) Under my plan, the terrorists would focus their energies on adopting decadent Western lifestyles, which would take their minds off improvised explosive devices. Elect me as your next president, and I promise I’ll do all of these things and mess up John Edwards’ hair during a nationally televised debate.
But I digress. As a professional construction critic, I can tell you this about immigrant labor on local residential construction jobs: with few exceptions, if any, the laborers aren’t adequately trained or supervised. Now before any of you folks start saying bad things about Mexicans and Guatemalans and all the rest, I suggest that you focus your attention on the homegrown Anglos who are using these immigrant laborers to make a quick buck, at your expense.
For the last 20 years or so, local construction supervisors have been handing nail guns and roof shingles to laborers who’ve never seen a nail gun or a shingle-nailing diagram, and sending them up ladders with no safety equipment (tie-offs, guardrails, etc.) that might keep them from falling off roofs. The same supervisors hand off cases of caulk to roofers rather than teach them how to fabricate metal flashing—which, unlike caulk, would actually keep water out of a house.
I could go on and on. Nobody’s teaching the immigrant bricklayers how to install brick veneer the right way, with a leak-resistant drainage plane behind it. If I could line up 100 construction supervisors and 100 immigrant bricklayers and ask all 200 of them to tell me what a drainage plane is, I’d bet none would have a correct answer.
Nobody’s teaching the laborers how to install windows so they won’t leak. Nobody’s teaching them how to level and square a foundation before they start building a crooked house on top of it.
Heck, nobody’s even teaching the landscapers how to plant a baby tree. Most of the newly planted trees I’ve seen were planted too deep or too shallow, or were smothered with too much mulch.
And there’s the comical but pathetic scene I’ve come across so many times: a lawn sprinkler drowning the new plantings, while simultaneously driving water through the brick veneer and the unsealed openings around doors and windows.
Nobody’s teaching the laborers how to build a deck. Every deck I’ve seen on a new house has had something wrong with it.
It doesn’t matter if the laborers are from Mexico, Mars or MIT. If they haven’t been taught how to build a house right, they will screw things up. If their supervisors’ only concern is building a house quick and cheap, and selling it fast, the laborers won’t have the time or the skills to build the house right. If you’re going to get mad at somebody, get mad at the corporate builders who buy their labor cheap—and sell their houses high.
Low-cost unskilled labor keeps the cost of building down, but it drives the cost of maintenance way up. Believe me when I tell you, if you want to live in a house for more than about four years, it’s cheaper to build the house right than it is to find and fix all the defects that the unskilled laborers left behind.
If you want a new house, I say hire a well-respected, low-volume local builder who’s had the same crew for a long time.
"I used to be terribly relevant. I won scads of awards for being smug and…
The show is coming back. End of story.
The old Nashville Banner column was "Why do the heathen rage" or something like that.
Google the George Strait 60 for 60 campaign. It worked.
Reading comprehension hasn't informed yours, Fool.