It would be an endless task to list and describe all of the possible faults of construction which an unscrupulous builder might use in the erection of a small house, and, indeed, it would result largely in rehearsing all of the details of good construction, and then reversing them, showing that instead of doing the correct thing it was done quite the opposite way. But there are certain obvious and glaring faults of construction which are employed by speculative builders with one purpose in mind, namely, to reduce the cost but maintain a good appearance.
An intentional and clever disguise of poor construction is, at heart, the dishonest thing against which this is written. The defects of construction which are either the result of ignorance or unskilled labor, while they are bad enough, are not malicious, but those defects which are intentionally planned are simply systems of stealing, and they are usually found in the so-called speculative house, which the unwary public buys in preference to securing an honest house, designed by an architect. And it is this system of dishonest construction that makes the speculative house seem, on the face, cheaper than the honest house.
Indeed, it is the whole intention of such dishonest methods of building to make the house seem, on the face of it, substantial, good-looking, and honest, but to hide, beneath the glamour of its exterior, weaknesses of structure which will cause all kinds of failures after a few years of standing. So long as the house stands together until the builder has sold it to some unsuspecting buyer, that is all that interests him.
In observing some of these dishonest methods of construction it is well to keep in mind that they will appear on the exterior well done, but that their faults are hidden, and intentionally planned to reduce the cost for the builder.
In order to systematize our observations along these lines let us imagine a house which we will inspect in an orderly fashion. We will begin with the cellar and proceed upward to the roof. This house is an ordinary frame dwelling upon a stone foundation.
Entering the cellar-door, the first thing we notice is that at the base of the stairs leading to this door is a puddle of water left from the last rain-storm. Upon inquiring concerning it we learn that in every rain-storm, and especially during the winter when the ground is frozen, the surface water flows down the steps, collects in the areaway in front of the cellar-door, and overflows the sill into the cellar itself - all because the builder had omitted a drain-pipe in the centre of this area to save money. Becoming interested in this matter of drainage, we look around at the areas under each of the cellar-windows and find that the drains have been omitted from these, and that a few broken pebbles were thrown into the bottom to give the impression that the water could drain off into the soil, and all this to save money and deceive the buyer. Inspecting the ground around the foundation wall we notice that about each leader the earth has been worn down by dripping water, as though the leader had backed up and the gutter had overflowed.
Inquiry shows that such is the case in every rain-storm. Apparently the outlet for the leader has been stopped up, so, in order to find out whether this is true, we need to remove the lower section of the leader from the terra-cotta pipe to look into it, for often it becomes clogged at this point with leaves and dirt. Breaking away the cement joint and pulling gently upon the sheet-metal leader, we suddenly find that it crumbles in our hands, and that the leader consists of a coat of paint holding a few particles of rust together. Yes, cheap, thin, so-called galvanized-iron leaders to save money and deceive the buyer! But continuing our search for the stoppage we poke our cane into the section of terra-cotta pipe projecting above the ground which received the leader, and find that it stops short. Twisting it around to remove the material which seems to block the pipe we find, much to our surprise, that the entire section of terra-cotta pipe breaks off, and then, looking closer, we find that this pipe does not connect with a cast-iron drainage-pipe leading to the plumbing system or to a dry well, but had merely been stuck into the ground to give this appearance and to save money and deceive the buyer. No wonder the leader backed up and the gutters overflowed in a rain-storm!
The Fake leader.
ThePoorly Made Floor.
By this time we have become very suspicious of the house, so that when we finally go down into the cellar our attention is attracted to a section of the cement floor near the furnace where the large ash-cans are standing. The top surface has cracked under the weight of the cans, and it appears to be in thin slivers of cement. Leaning down and prying under one of these cracked pieces with a knife, a thin slab of concrete, about a quarter of an inch thick, is lifted up from the floor, and beneath this slab we find about 2 or 3 inches of tamped ashes, and then dirt. We marvel that this floor has lasted even as long as it has with so much water running into the cellar in damp weather. Think of it, 2 inches of ashes and a quarter of an inch of cement mortar on the top, when the correct method of building is to lay about 6 inches of cinders for a foundation, then 3 inches of concrete on top of this, and finally a top coat, 1 inch thick, of cement mortar over all.
Looking up from the floor we are rather impressed by the clean, whitewashed effect of the walls of the cellar, and one would hardly believe that it was a damp one, but around the windows and at certain points in the wall the whitewash is streaked with black, as though water had leaked in. Going over to these places in the wall it is quite evident that during the winter and damp season water has soaked through these crevices. Poking around with a penknife we are amazed at the ease with which the knife penetrates the mortar between the joints of the stones. Working at it a little harder with the knife soon shows that if the cellar were a prison it would not be very hard to scratch one's way out through that wall. Suddenly, without warning, one of the stones in the wall drops out onto the floor, and we get a view of the construction within. For certain it is one of those stone walls built up with two faces, not bonded together, except by mortar which seems to be made up of mud and a small trace of lime, which lime has disintegrated with the constant dampness to which it has been subjected. A piece of the mortar we find can be crumbled easily in the hand. This is evidence of the employment of the cheapest kind of labor for the masonry work and the cutting down of expense in using poor materials. We only have to look closely to see that there is developing a long diagonal crack in the wall, and we can imagine that if the contractor built so poor a wall above the ground, the chances are that there is no footing beneath it. Near at hand a large bulge is noticeable, and when we hit it with a hammer the whole thing has a rotten sound, for the inside face is bulging inward from the load upon it and the uneven settling of the foundations.