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The revenge of the unpaid carpenters (and other true stories)

by Steve McKee on December 3, 2006

You hang around enough jobsites you hear things. The following incidents came to me from various builders or homeowners and are recalled here as best I can.

The dog and the pier hole
One of the best foundation systems a house can have is a concrete “pier and grade beam” system in which eighteen-inch-wide holes are drilled about eight or more feet deep into the ground at various intervals along where the foundation is going. These holes are temporarily covered with octagonal plywood hole covers but are still hazardous enough that an effort is made to fill them with concrete usually within two or three days after drilling.

I hear tell of a builder who was getting his jobsite ready one morning for the steel rebar rods to go into the holes when he noticed an unusual sight in the darkness way down in one of the holes. Damn, if it wasn’t a dog, and it was still alive.

I don’t know how they got that miserable cur out of that hole, but they did. Probably it involved a scurrying about of workers that included excited talking followed by some sort of solution that involved some destruction to the shape and integrity of that particular pier hole, not to mention extra expense experienced by the builder and some extra scariness experienced by the dog. But at least the builder got a good story out of it for his troubles, as well as the thanks of a neighborhood couple grateful for the return of their dog. It turns out the old pup was blind, but still liked to explore as dogs are wont to do.

Let’s hope the poor thing wasn’t claustrophobic. That had to be pretty terrible being jammed into the bottom of that hole for a day or two with no water. The good news is that the dog came out fine and lived to a ripe old age.

Actually, I have no idea how the dog’s life went, but it makes for a better story for me to make up some sort of an ending. (Note to self — remove previous sentence before getting article published.)

The revenge of the unpaid carpenters
Framing carpenters are a likable bunch for the most part. They’ll spend eight hours a day doing physically demanding and sometimes even treacherous things. The head guy has to be damn sharp and have an acute mind that can see in three dimensions and also see several moves ahead. For reasons like this I find it easy to respect them. I say this because I’m about to tell you about some bad apples in the bunch.

One more thing with these guys — make sure you don’t stiff them on their pay on Friday afternoon, especially if it’s the particularly volatile bunch of personalities I heard about that were framing a house somewhere in Danville some time in the eighties. (In other words, it’s nobody local that you would know.) The developer they were working for had some money difficulties and there were no paychecks to hand out on Friday. The framers had been enjoying some beer with each other at the jobsite at the end of the work week, a not unheard of practice. The news of the absent paychecks did not go down well with this group. I guess this wasn’t the first time they had been stiffed by this developer guy. The anger of one carpenter fanned the anger of the others, which in turn validated the anger of the first, in that unique spiral of rage that only a mob can do so well. The more “liquored up” they got, the less calm and zen-like they became. Imagine that.

One of them had the idea to go into the framed up structure and cut through a critical load bearing post, tie a rope to it and pull it out with someone’s truck. Apparently thinking “win-win” was not a priority at that moment. The carpenter who was retelling his involvement in these events to me paused here in his story to proudly explain how the framers would of course know exactly what post would do the most damage.

The ensuing collapse was probably not a dramatic annihilation of the entire structure in a cloud of dust, but probably more of sickly leaning complete with terrible splintering noises, a crumple in the shape of a once proud structure, a deformity that would require a huge amount of work to make right. Just picture the excited yelling and carrying-on that must have ensued as the good work of the framing crew was laid to waste by the very crew that had created it. Outrageous, eh dude?

The tub runneth over
A sheetrock contractor in Vallejo told me about a big twelve thousand dollar drywall repair job he once did in the Napa Valley. It seems a young boy was supposed to take a shower right before the family left on a trip. He started the water running, got distracted, and then left with his family for a few days.

Other than a big water bill and some bad environmental karma, this shouldn’t be much of a problem, right? Well, the house was on a big isolated lot and used a septic tank for its sewer system. As the water flowed into the large underground tank, it filled up the tank as well as all the leach line pipes designed to spread the water into the soil. But then the soil got so saturated that it could hold no more water and the pipes started to back up into the house, up to the second floor where the forgotten shower continued to run.

The family returned a few days later to find water everywhere, soaked carpets, warped hardwood, sheetrock ceilings collapsing, sagging heating ducts filled with water. (Not to mention the sickening sound of water still running somewhere in the house!) Drying the pond of water in the house’s crawl space underneath took time and eventually involved high powered fans in an effort to stave off mold. You’ll be glad to know that in Benicia we don’t do septic tanks and are not at risk for this.

By the way, the boy is in the midst of living to a ripe old age.

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