Glancing around at the walls of the living-room and the dining-room we notice that the wall-paper has cracked in a number of places, pulled up, and curled away. It is extremely ugly and unkempt, and we remark about it to the owner. He says that he is completely discouraged about it, that he has tried everything to make the wall-paper stay down, but that as soon as the winter comes on, the steam-heated air on the inside and the cold air on the outside seem to draw the paper up and away, pulling the surface of the plaster with it. He has glued large pieces of paper which have curled up in this manner back into position again, but the plaster was so weak that as soon as the paper began to peel off, the top layer of plaster pulled away with the paper. In fact, examining one example of this, we observe that the paper which had sprung loose from the wall has underneath it a thin coat of plaster about a sixteenth of an inch thick, showing that the glue had fastened the paper to the plaster, but the plaster itself had given way. This type of plastered wall is the result of using cheap materials, and it is another evidence of the extremes to which contractors will go to save money and deceive the buyer.
As we pass by one of the pockets into which the sliding-doors roll we feel a draft coming out of it, and we question the owner whether the house is cold in winter, and he admits it is worse than we suspect. He informs us that it is especially cold on the second floor in those rooms where the floors project over the porch. We ask him whether he has noticed any drafts coming in through the cracks around the baseboards and trim, and he points to these cracks, showing us bits of cotton which he has plugged into them. We suspect that what is the trouble is the omission of sheathing-boards over the studs between the roof of the porch and the ceiling-joists where this roof intersects with the house wall, and also the failure to fill with cinders the space between the floor-joists of the projecting part of the room which extends over the porch. That this is true the owner admits, for he had noticed it while repairing a few shingles on the roof of the porch. The contractor had saved a little money by this trick, and no one could tell that he had done it by merely looking at the exterior.
THE DEFECTIVE PLASTER.
This same line of inquiry leads us to ask the owner about the heating-plant, and we find that the house cannot be properly heated. We therefore suspect that the radiation is too small, so we calculate the required size of a radiator for one room, and find that the one actually installed is too small. Yet, as the owner says: "When he bought the house, how was he to know that there was not a large enough heating-plant?" We inquire then whether he has any trouble with the fireplace, which we presume he must use to help out on cold days. He admits he cannot keep it from smoking badly. So we go over to it and run our hand up into the throat to feel around, and find that there is no smoke-chamber, and, what is more, the flue is only about 4 inches by 8 inches, and is not even lined with terra-cotta flue tile. We inform him that he will never have a good fireplace draft until that chimney is rebuilt, and that the size of the flue looks more like the vent for a gas-log than anything else.
Where The Cold Air Gets In.
We then went through the house noting as many defects as we could, which were beginning to make their appearance. For example, we find that all the doors are badly sagging, showing that the blocking has been omitted from the back of the jambs where the butts are screwed on. The putty in the windows is crumbling out, as though it were clay. All the thresholds are of soft wood and are wearing badly. The trim in many places was springing and twisting, due to the use of cheap and poorly seasoned wood and the omission of enough nails. Some of the door-stiles are made of two pieces which have opened up at the joints and left ugly cracks. All the stairs squeak badly, indicating that they had been poorly built. Some of the balusters have worked loose and rattle in their mortises, and the handrail shakes when it is grasped.
We notice a number of stained ceilings, and inquire about the roof. We are informed that it has leaked badly in the valleys, where the tin is not wide enough to prevent the water which runs down one slope from washing up under the shingles of the adjoining slope and over the edge of the flashing tin of the valley into the house. We learn also that the shingle roof of the porch, which has a very slight incline, continually leaks, and looking out upon it we notice that the shingles are set nearly 7 inches to the weather instead of less than 4 inches, as they should be for so small a pitch.
We notice that it has leaked around the windows, and, observing the top of the trim on the exterior, note that there is no flashing over it to throw off the water flowing down from the clapboards. While we are examining the windows the owner volunteers to tell us about his experience with the windows on the second floor. After he had bought the house he found that only one window in each bedroom had any weights and sash-cords in it, and that he had to buy these for all the other windows when he discovered it. He says he never thought of trying each window before he purchased the place.
Just then we happen to be looking at the lock on one of the doors, and we spy one of those back-handed locks which never holds the door closed and which always catches and keeps one from closing the door unless the knob is turned. It is a right-hand lock placed upon a left-hand door. We recognize in this the contractor's efforts to use up all the second-hand odd bits of hardware which he possessed.
By this time we find ourselves so disgusted with the sharp tricks of dishonest building that we call a halt at looking farther, but we feel quite convinced that there is a real difference in quality between such a speculative house and the honest house of an architect's designing, and, what is more, we feel convinced that there is a real reason for the architect's house costing more in the beginning than such a house, but that in the end the cheap speculative house is the most costly proposition which a buyer can invest his money in.