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Classic Construction

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Classic Construction

If you ever want to start a heated discussion among homebuilders that will rage for weeks if not months, just ask them a simple question: “Are we building better homes today than one hundred years ago?”

We’re certainly building different homes— accommodating new technologies from air conditioning to cable/Internet wiring. We’re using more advanced materials such as engineered wood and non-organic drywall. And we’re using high-tech computer software to design homes that meet the most exacting industry and government standards.

But are they better?

There’s a reason some homeowners continue to seek out turn-of-the-century houses, even though we’ve already seen another century turn since their construction. It’s hard not to fall in love with the craftsmanship. Huge, gorgeous planks of cedar and cypress were commonly used throughout the home. Nearly indestructible slate or tile roofs were the standard. Carpenters and other professionals took the time to perfect every detail.

On the other hand, there’s no shortage of myths about the olden days. First, it’s easy to forget that only the highest quality homes have survived. The rest were torn down and replaced or succumbed to age, fire, weather, or earthquakes. The examples you see today represent the best of the era.

Second, while construction professionals took more time building each home back then, that wasn’t exactly by choice. Homebuilders typically kept construction times to a minimum, just as they do today—it’s just that the minimum was longer. Pride in craftsmanship was no more prevalent than today.

Third, homebuilding practices were much less precise. Extraordinary variations in building materials were common, but even more important was the variation in practices from one builder to the next. After all, the first building codes were not enacted until 1927. Before that, there were no minimum standards.

Beyond safety issues, the amount of wasted lumber would be staggering to today’s homebuilders. High-quality natural wood remains prohibitively expensive today because wood from large-diameter trees is less available than in the past.

In addition, some old-fashioned construction techniques wouldn’t pass the laugh test today. Fragile terracotta pipes? A complete lack of insulation? Plus, old-fashioned nailing schedules and joint spacing would be completely unacceptable by modern standards.

Unlike so many old-fashioned homes, many of today’s houses are built to last, incorporating engineered wood products, which weren’t available 100 years ago.

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