The House that Jack Squat Built 1

There’s a story of a builder with a wealthy friend who asks the builder to build him a house. The wealthy man gives the builder a large sum of money and tells him to spend all of it, sparing no expense in materials and craftsmanship, to create a beautiful and sturdy home for his family.

The builder goes to work on the house, but with a scheme in mind.

Thinking his wealthy friend will never know the difference, he uses cheap materials and cuts corners wherever he can, pocketing the leftover cash. The builder completes the house and presents the keys to his wealthy friend.

The wealthy friend hands the house keys back to the builder and says, “Surprise! I had you build this home for you and your family, my friend.”

I think I live in that house—minus the wealthy friend who financed it.

We’ve lived in our lovely home we built out in the country for six years now. Six years is long enough to be lived-in, but not really long, as residency goes, and I understand that there is going to be normal wear and tear on a home over time.

I could deal with normal wear and tear. What I can’t deal with is how many things we are finding out about this house that were done shoddy in the first place.

Since I live out in the boonies, my house is on a propane tank instead of a city gas line. We bought a gas stove for the kitchen in order to take advantage of the efficiency of our propane fuel source. It’s my first gas stove and I’ve loved it. But since it’s my first, I wouldn’t know that bursts of flame at the back of the oven throughout the cooking process were abnormal, even for a gas stove. It’s done that ever since it was brand new and hooked up, or not hooked up, as we recently discovered.

Last week, I had just made a quadruple batch of chocolate zucchini muffins to finish off the last offspring of my fertile Myrtle plant, but I couldn’t get the oven to heat up past 200°. When the repairman came, he told me a sad tale. The stove had never been hooked up to the propane. For six years our gas stove has been generating the gas necessary to heat up with high volts of electricity through bursts of flame. It will work that way, but it uses enormous amounts of electricity and wears out the igniter much much faster. The repairman explained that it takes a special propane conversion kit to hook up a gas stove to propane and whoever installed it probably forgot to bring a kit along for the installation, so they just went ahead without it.

Of course, we wouldn’t know this because we’re trusting and stupid thinking the “professionals” we hire are actually going to do their job correctly.

$286 later, and who knows how many hundreds of dollars in wasted electricity over six years, and hours of scrubbing accumulated soot off every nook and cranny of my oven from the excess flames, my gas stove was working how it always should have been working.

Sure, I could call the dodgy company that installed my stove and rip them a new one, but they’d probably say the job was done by some part-time punk who’s long gone  and “We’re so, so sorry.” I could take them to small claims court and have Judge Judy hash it out, but it’s not worth the time and effort.

If I took every contractor we’ve found out ripped us off in the past six years I’d have to move to LA and camp out on Judy’s lawn.

A few of years ago, I noticed an unseemly smell coming from our storage room. I moved some bins to find a large brown stain forming on the carpet by the wall. When the plumber came, he told me a sad tale. He ripped out the carpet and the sheet rock to find that a sewage line in the wall had been punctured by several nails when the sheet rock was hung. Every time a toilet in the house flushed, some of the “matter” seeped out of the nail holes and onto the floor. The plumber said he was surprised that whoever installed the sheet rock didn’t check for pipes before nailing.

I wasn’t surprised.

Only a few months before the sewage incident, we were having problems with a smoke alarm in our downstairs family room going off every time someone showered in the nearby bathroom. It’s a basement bathroom so there aren’t any windows, but there is a ceiling fan and I made sure the kids kept the door closed and the fan on whenever they showered to contain the steam. We limited showers to a military three minute scrub because that’s how long it took for the steam to reach the smoke detector and set it off. But kids will be kids, and they went over three minutes many many times.

It was annoying.

When the electrician came, he told me a sad tale. He removed the fan to find that it was merely sitting in a hole cut in the ceiling with no outlet for the air. The fan was just spinning air around and around instead of sucking it out of the house like it’s supposed to. In this case, it was the same electrician who wired our house in the first place and he was mortified. He swore he meticulously trains his crew to be thorough and he’d never had this happen before—that he knows of. How does he know that there aren’t bathroom fans monotonously spinning foul air in homes all over Cache Valley who’ve never checked their fans? He said the job was probably done by a part-time punk whom he let go a long time ago and he’s “So, so sorry.”

At least he didn’t charge us, not that I would have paid him.

But that is not all. Oh no, that is not all.

Since I live out in the boonies, my house is on a well instead of a city water line. The well has a controller unit inside the house in a utility closet. Shortly after the fan incident, our water turned off unexpectedly one day. When the well technician came, he told me a sad tale. He said the closet where controller was didn’t have enough ventilation, so the motor overheated and burned out. He said he was surprised the house passed inspection with the controller in a space that wasn’t up to code.

I wasn’t surprised.

I was mad.

I was sick of getting ripped off. The $2200 unit that was supposed to last thirty years had gone out in four, so I found out who did our home inspection and called him for a tongue lashing. He said the closet had plenty of ventilation and he wouldn’t have passed the house if it wasn’t up to code. He said the burned out motor had nothing to do with the ventilation, we must have gotten a faulty unit. I called the well technician and told him what the inspector said. The well tech said the inspector was full of it and just trying to cover his behind. The inspector said the well tech was the one who was full of it and trying to cover his behind. I said I didn’t care whose behind was covered or uncovered, but I wasn’t going to take it in the behind this time so someone better get it fixed fast and free! I don’t know what they figured out, but it was taken care of.

Besides all the big things we’ve discovered, there are door hinges that have already come loose, towel racks and toilet paper holders pulling out of the walls, cabinet hardware falling off, and “unseen” panels of doors and moldings that were never painted.

Who knows what other time bombs lurk within these walls?

This was a custom built home and we didn’t just go with the cheapest bidders. We hired, what we thought, were quality craftspeople.

Doesn’t anybody take pride in their work anymore? Or is everybody trying to get away with something, knowing most of the time the duped are too dumb to know better or powerless to do anything even if they do know?

And the corruption hasn’t stopped at our house, it has seeped over into our cars!

This summer we bought a new van because when our old van broke down on the highway, the mechanic we towed it to told us the transmission was shot. It’s a 13-year-old van with 250,000 miles on it. We’d already replaced the transmission once before and we didn’t want to dump three grand into it again, so we towed it home and parked it with plans to sell it for parts. But as school started with two cars and three drivers, one of which is our 17-year-old daughter with a very busy senior year, we were having to face the reality of getting another car. As we started pricing vehicles, we found that anything decent was going to be about the same price as fixing the old van, and with a new transmission it would basically be a new car.

We towed the van to a local mechanic this week to fix ‘er up for our daughter to drive. When the mechanic took a look at it, he told me a sad tale. The transmission wasn’t shot. A pump had just gone out and could be fixed for about $400. You’d think this would be happy news. It was, but we’d bought a new van because we were told the old one was shot. The other mechanic probably thought we were going to have him replace the transmission there and we’d never never know it wasn’t necessary. Or he’s a really crappy mechanic.

Either way, we got screwed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to get another running vehicle for only four hundred bucks and I love my new van, but I didn’t have to have one right now. If we’d have known we could fix the old van for a few hundred bucks and bought a beater get-around car for our daughter to use for a couple grand, we’d have saved oh, about $25,000.

Why does this happen?

Because I’m not a plumber, or a stove installer, or a sheetrocker, or a well technician, or an inspector, or a mechanic. Because I don’t know everything about everything so I have to trust the expertise of others who claim to know what they’re doing.

I don’t want to be a jaded person.

I don’t want to mistrust everyone, thinking they’re all trying to scam me, but it’s getting hard not to be constantly suspicious.

So, if you see me going around pulling at people’s faces to check for masks, don’t judge me.

One comment on “The House that Jack Squat Built

  1. Reply Todd Nov 13,2012 8:52 am

    I am so glad i am not the only one with all these problems! I could really choke some people!

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