The transition was not painless, but it was overdue.
I remember watching it happen, one stroke of the brush at a time.
Berkley Osiowy had a knack for applying paints, stains and varnishes and, even though he was just out of high school, it was clear that his dad and mentor would do him a favour by letting the young tradesman take over the hands-on aspects of Tobo Painting in Prince George, B.C.
Not to slight the elder Osiowy. He knew the trade well and taught us young fellas all about the necessity of “having a system” that would enable us to complete jobs in record time.
|Kenton Friesen photos, Business Edge|
|Clint Ertman, above and below right, may be a wild man at heart, but he’s dedicated to the pursuit of quality and craftsmanship on his timberframing crew.|
Yet when Berkley became the point man, the workmanship bumped up a notch. Fittingly, as the northern city edged deeper and deeper into a slump (current apartment building prices in Prince George compare to 1985), Tobo’s workload went up instead of down.
When times get tough in any locale, the fly-by-night tradesmen simply fly away and only those who are true craftsmen continue to prosper. Conversely, a peppy construction industry, such as Alberta is currently experiencing, brings in all sorts of crooked hammers and watered-down painters.
One Edmonton finisher interviewed for this article says he has been tempted to hire some unqualified labour to help him keep pace with the current demand. But the finisher, who asked not to be named, still sets the bar high when it comes to the finished product and has chosen to keep his operation small and tight.
That’s not to say business growth in upbeat times is all negative, but uncontrolled growth is. Too many workers not knowing what they’re doing can drive building supervisors nuts and lead to pipes that vibrate in walls, fascia that weaves like ocean waves and weeping tile that refuses to weep – or worse.
As the quality goes, so does the worksite morale – which some say is the worst side-effect of the current high construction tempo. Perpetual overwork can bring out the less-desirable side of folks.
To sidestep the potential high-stress occupational hazards, the Edmonton finisher has been fortunate to spend the last couple of years working almost exclusively for one builder who operates with a tight-knit, satisfied group of subtrades. They are paid promptly (some builders reputedly finance parts of their construction through holding payment of their trades for more than 60 days) and supervised superbly by the company owner himself.
The operation runs in contrast to many companies where the supervision is so overworked that the quality control suffers. It could be that many builders run on such a tight profit margin they can’t afford to pay supervisors enough, or there may not be enough qualified supervisors available in the province to get the job done right.
That’s where new-home inspection, mentioned in last week’s column, comes in.
Tim Bokenfohr of From The Ground Up Inc. says that regardless of the quality of builder and/or supervision of subtrades, the inspection company will always find at least 30 things that need attention throughout the home building process.
“A lot of them are very simple fixes. It’s just a matter of bringing it to the (builder’s) attention,” says Bokenfohr. Others can be as major as a wall constructed in the wrong spot, making it impossible for the future owner to position their furniture in the desired fashion.
The inspection company offers a variety of packages, including previewing plans to make sure the future homeowner considers all the details of the plan in question. They’re also finding a lot of business in doing complete top-to-bottom deficiency inspections after the homeowner has moved in, but prior to the removal of the warranties.
During the construction process they offer as many inspections as the clients want, with some requesting up to 50.
“We shoot all the doors, floors, walls and windows for level. We check every room against its blueprint to make sure that it conforms,” says Bokenfohr. “We’ve found lots of places where the fireplace is off centre, or vents are not located in the proper places. It’s wherever a guy could save the expense of putting in an elbow on a heat duct . . .”
Though shortcuts are always there for the taking, there is always a large proportion of tradespeople who have every desire to do the job right. It’s not to say they don’t need some level of inspection, as we all can overlook things, regardless of profession or perfectionist personality. Yet, as a future homeowner, it’s the sincere tradesmen operating to the same specifications regardless of the economy who inspire confidence.
I’ve spent the better part of the last month pounding nails, sanding timbers and pouring concrete beside ‘Hit-the-Slopes-Rock-n-Roll’ Clint Ertman. At 21, he knows as much about Macho Man Randy Savage as the next guy.
But put a chisel in his hand and it’s all business. There is a focus and dedication in Ertman’s work that bodes well for any crew he’s a part of. And true to form, he doesn’t just work for anyone. He opted for his timberframing crew because of its commitment to craftsmanship.
Ertman and Osiowy, and many others like them, make it tough to evaluate a tradesman by the wrinkles in his forehead. White hair and gnarly hands do no more to guarantee a quality construction job than smooth salesmen.
Track record is where it’s at. Perhaps the only way to ensure you’re going to get what you’re looking for is by soliciting the reports of homeowners who have had homes built with your potential builder. Simply looking at the showhomes may not give you the whole picture.
Ask for letters of reference or even phone numbers of past customers. If a builder is really good, past customers will often be generous with their praise and encourage others to utilize the company’s services.
And if you’re overjoyed with the performance of your builder and individual subtrades, give them recommendation letters to pass on. We’ve got to look out for each other.