And that brings us to the real point of the story. Here are some of the things that will not be supplied at the cheap price. And here also are some of the things that happen to that flimsy construction.
The building may not have a good foundation. The sand or gravel used in mixing the concrete may not be clean, not enough cement will have been used, too much water may be employed in the mix, the footings, designed by guess and not by science, thin, not spread far enough, not adjusted to changing weights in the walls. Separate footings may not be prepared for the basement posts or columns that support the superstructure. Concrete bases raised above the level of the basement floor may not be devised for the setting of wooden posts. The wall may not be made water tight. Footing drains may either not be installed or not pitched properly. The backfill may not be made of well graded material beginning with coarse stuff to insure wal drainage. The mortar between the wall units may be thin, left unpointed on the outside where it must be pointed.
Then what happens? The walls will crack from uneven settlements, spring floods will come through the walls, the base of wooden posts not set above the floor level will rot, plaster will crack, floors will sag.
The superstructure walls may not be good walls. If these walls are of wood frame construction the braces and bridging that science has shown to be essential for sound wooden walls will probably be omitted. Sheathing will be put on crosswise instead of diagonally, in spite of the fact that every capable contractor knows that diagonal sheathing is essential to the life of these walls. Two nails will be used at the base of studs where four should be used. The walls may not be designed to eliminate horizontal timber and consequent shrinkage to be followed by cracks and settlements. If the walls are of masonry the mortar may be thin and weak, the brick courses not straight, the bricks themselves not fully imbedded in the mortar. Window frames set in these masonry walls may not be caulked with oakum, or the exterior joints sealed with caulking paste. Frames may not be secured in the masonry wall. Mortar joints not pointed smoothly. If siding is used to finish the walls an inferior kind of wood may be used, wood with knots, not thick enough, not accurately mitred and nailed at the outside corners, the nails not set below the surface of the wood to receive putty. Adequate insulation may be omitted from these walls, or if used may not be sealed tightly so as to be really efficient. Sheathing paper may not be constructed so as to provide real wind proofing nor tightly flashed about the openings. Proper metal flashings over window caps may be omitted.
Then the wall will get out of plumb, plaster will crack, the mortar will wash out, the brick work will look crooked, ungainly - an offense to order. Siding boards will crack. Pitchy knots and sap will ooze and stain the paint. Cornices will open. Walls will be damp inside. Cold walls will collect condensation and heat will be lost. The furnace will be fired more often. Burning fuel costs money which might have been saved if put into the walls. The house will get old and cold before its time.
This cheap house may not have good beams or joists. Bracing and bridging may be omitted. Inferior grades of lumber may be used with sizes too small to support the load adequately. The joists may not be doubled under partitions, or around chimney stacks, or around stair wells. The plumbers and heaters and electric wirers may cut joists where they desire without respect to consequences. Subfloors may not be laid diagonally, again insufficient nailing will be evident.
If the floors sag and crack the plaster on them will certainly crack. If the contractor uses 2 X 8's in place of 2 X 10's, as the architect required for second story floor joists, he is saving one of many little items that must go to make up the $1,000 difference. The saving may be important to him, but one finds these savings afterwards in depreciations, in cracked plaster. Heavy partitions not properly supported must make joists sag. That cracks plaster. Light pieces of framing to support heavy loads can not be seen when painted or plastered over, but they certainly show up later on.
The cheap house may not have good plaster. The lath may be spaced too closely to get plaster keys. They space them that way to save plaster. Some lath may have bark upon them or pitchy knots. They may be twisted. They may not be thoroughly wet down before the plaster is applied. There may be no metal reinforcements at angles and corners or over wide expanses of ceiling. The plaster may not be forced thoroughly onto the lath so as to squeeze between them and make the essential keys. It may be too thin. It may not be finished straight and true. Tool marks may show. It may not be run beyond the edge of casings so that rough plaster shows around these margins. The plaster plane may not be furred away from chimney stacks.
Common plastering would probably not be considered in the category of the fine arts. But it is nevertheless true that fine plastering is by no means common. In these cheap houses we recognize cheap plastering from cracks, bulges, loose areas and, in time, areas fallen off. Poor lath stain the plaster. Where reenforcements are omitted there will be cracks. Rough places in the plaster always show. Plaster applied directly to chimney stacks gets damp, discolors. Cracks show where chimney stacks join the walls.
The cheap house may not get good roofing. Thin, flat sawed, wooden shingles may be substituted for the thick, edge grain quality that good contractors use. Light weight felt and asphalt composition shingles may displace heavier weights in this type of roofing. Metal flashings may not be turned under the siding or into the brick work. The rafters may be too light. The drain troughs may be of light metal, not properly pitched to drain.
Then the shingles will curl and let water down into the house, or they will catch brands and there will be roof fires. The metal will rust. The gutters will leak. The thin asphalt shingles will look like feathers on a fowl in a gusty wind.
The painting may be inferior; put on too quickly, or in coats that are too thick. Substitute ingredients may be used. The paint film itself may be of poor quality and the workmanship hurried. It may not be well brushed into the wood. The nails set below the surface will not be puttied over. Sanding between the coats may be omitted.
One can tell a cheap painting job every time. Such paint films graze, chip, fall off, peel. They collect soot and dust too quickly, knot holes and nail heads show through. The varnish wears out too quickly. It is unreasonable to expect the subcontractor who has to do his job in hurry up time to wait long enough between coats to allow them to oxidize, or to sand them carefully, or to keep the wind from blowing upon them, or to struggle with the dust problem. Part of the $1,000 has to come out of paint. It comes out of materials and proper workmanship.
These cheap houses may not have good millwork. The wood finish then will be rough and splintery. Pieces that should be housed together will only be nailed. There will be no attempt to match grain. Long casing strips will not be lap jointed. Hammer marks will show. Doors and drawers will not move freely. Stairways will be put together with nails instead of with wedges and glue. Flooring strips will not be driven up closely together. Pieces will not be selected to avoid over contrasts of color. The floor will not be sanded carefully. The woodwork will not be thoroughly kiln dried or handled in the building so as to get it in place quickly from the kiln. It will be put on the walls before they are dried out.
Time must be saved. There is as much difference between grades of millwork as there is between automobiles. The cheap contractor must buy his millwork where it costs the least. He must put it in place quickly. Of course it will be splintery; drawers will not slide readily; veneers will peel off; stiles and rails will show open joints; cracks will appear between the flooring strips; the wood in the cabinet work will shrink and fall apart. Your cheap and inferior wood working mill can supply a bill of finished work for a six-room house for more than $200 less than the good mill must ask for it. Unless one is initiated he cannot tell the difference. To the expert the difference is apparent at the very first. To the uninitiated the difference shows up later on. That's the pity of it.
The cheap house may not have good plumbing. Joints between pipes may not be tightly caulked. Faulty piping may be used. Drains may not be properly pitched to avoid future stoppages. Cleanouts may not be installed where drains change direction. If the frame work of these cheap houses is not designed to take the horizontal runs without cutting the joists, the plumber will have to cut them. Most of the time they do get cut. In the cheap house they always get cut. The fixtures themselves may be of low grade, rough enamel, inferior mechanisms, noisy. Steel piping may be used where brass or copper should be employed. The service water heater may be inefficient.
Then one looks for leaks and ruined decorations. The home owner calls in the plumber to clean out stopped piping. He worries over fixtures which he thought were to be the best. The hacked out joints may fail.
Your cheap house may not have good heating. One may pay $200 for a warm air furnace or one may pay $600 for it. They have much the same external appearance. A cheap furnace may be too small. The castings will be too light. The leads may not be taken off the bonnet proportional to the requirements of the rooms served. The radiators will not be leak proof. Returns for recirculating the air may be inadequate, improperly located. The casings may not set properly and may not be made gas tight. And if the heater is for hot water or steam the pipes may be too small, not properly pitched to drain. There may be an insufficient amount of radiation, awkwardly set radiators, thin pipe covering or none, inadequate insulation on the heater itself, the heater may be too small.
These inadequate house heaters installed may look like the finest job, but when they leak gas and smoke they ruin draperies. When they must be forced to keep the house warm the over heating warps casings, ruins grates. Improperly pitched pipes make radiators knock. Undersized pipes or those not designed for the load upon them make radiators heat unevenly or not at all. Omitted insulation throws heat into basements and is lost.
Your cheap house must have cheap hardware, cheap lighting fixtures, insufficient outlets. Spun brass substituted for solid bronze may be finished like brass or bronze and when new is undistinguishable from the latter, but the finish wears off. The black wire screening that replaces bronze must be replaced itself after a few years. The cheap house does not have well-fitted storm sash. It does not have tile flue liners. It does not have thick stucco planes. Good cement work is a rarity. Hundreds of items like this make up the $1,000 difference.
As one reads over this list no doubt one can readily see that they are principally matters concerned with workmanship, though in some cases of inferior materials. Unless the house owner who builds the house is technically trained and knows materials and workmanship, or unless, realizing his inadequacies, on these subjects, he has someone on the job who does know about these things - an architect - the cheap contractor can do his worst almost without the home builder being aware of it. Thus, I say the lowest bidder may be the most expensive one.
The man who offers to build the house for $1,000 less than the others is no more efficient, has no better ability to buy his materials at lower cost, probably does not figure to take any less profit on the building of the house. He gets the job by under cutting the price with the intention of getting out without loss by beating the game a little on every contract and subcontract, on every item of workmanship and materials. There are thousands of houses built like this in every large city of the land. The upkeep on these buildings is enormous. The strain on the underlying financing would make our mortgagees grow grey before their time if they could know how thin is the margin of their security. When the home builder takes a house like this, with its inflated future depreciation and high cost of upkeep, it is only fair to say to him that his house ownership will be more expensive to him than paying rent.