Monthly Archives: September 2009

Apologizing for my Industry

I recently spoke at a conference for the New England chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). My speech was on the second day of the conference and directly followed a lengthy and detailed presentation about inspecting plumbing systems and fixtures. After I spoke, there was a presentation about high efficiency boilers and furnaces. My talk therefore made up a sort of reverse sandwich. I was the bread between layers of meat.

I realized the role I was playing and opened my talk with an apology. I didn’t apologize for the less weighty content of my presentation, but rather for the underlying implications of a professional builder making aspeaking appearance before an association of home inspectors who were gathered primarily for educational purposes.

You see, ASHI not only requires testing and certification, but also continuing education. The attendees at this conference were getting credits for their continuing education requirements. What I apologized for, therefore, was this: if I was speaking to a gathering of New England builders, it is likely that less than half of them would be licensed in any manner whatsoever and none of them would have been formally getting continuing education credits because none are required.

I hadn’t thought about this in advance of the conference, but as I sat through the lecture on plumbing inspection and learned some things I didn’t know, I became increasingly uncomfortable and embarrassed. It’s absurd that there are more requirements for the qualifications to inspect a house than to build one. In other words, the person who buildsyour house doesn’t necessarily have to know anything, but the person who inspects it long after it’s built is required to earn a license and maintain ongoing educational updates.

Houses have always been complex, but the complexity is increasing rapidly. “Building Science” is trying to improve the thermal performanceand control moisture migration; structural engineering is attempting to overcome the tragedies of natural events like hurricanes and earthquakes; and mechanical systems have increasing sophistication to increase energy efficiency and improve air quality. But the builders andtradesmen who would supposedly implement all of these advancements havevery few places to go to learn about any of this and absolutely no regulatory pressure to do so.

Until the homebuilding industry gets serious about raising the standardsof knowledge and skill within the building trades, we can’t expect goodquality homes to be the American standard. Quality can’t arise from a sea of ignorance and poor discipline. In that respect, the current homebuilding downturn is a blessing in disguise. My hope is that the housing recession will force much of the untrained, unskilled and uncommitted work force to find jobs in some other sector where less damage will be done.

I didn’t go to the ASHI conference unprepared for the topic about which Iapologized. In many ways it was my topic. Here is one of my slides, which speaks for itself.

Dissing the Homebuilding Industry