Saturday, September 28, 2013

Architectural Evolution

Last week inspected a structure dating to 1916 in small town, coastal Oregon

Incidentally, history beckons. This was the crux year in WWI -- a year which hundreds of hundreds of thousands of persons in Europe died horribly in industrial-scale slaughter as generals of all sides dumped huge masses of their countrymen into battles thinking that mere numbers would win the battle, war, and day. (America did not get troops in France until early 1918, the last year of the war that ended in November.) Have read many, many first hand accounts of this year from European eyewitnesses. Some survivors; some doomed to fall writing before their battles. Now all gone. So as I was crawling around the rafters and underside of this still-stout structure that smelled of solid workmanship and age and history, in a place that has not known war, 1916's distant horrors filled my mind.  

There had been a pretty bad chimney fire in the attic of this structure over 25 years ago. Nobody remembered the fire. But there were the charred timbers and planking and blackness all around. Yet, the structure was for the most part still strong. It had history written all over its construction. 

The following a summary of, N.A., "The Evolution of American House Construction," The Old House (Alexandria, VA: Time Life Books, 1979), 8-9. 

It turns out that the framing type characteristic of this structure and many others dating to the late nineteenth century, early twentieth  centuries was invented by an American architect names A. D. Taylor in 1830 Chicago. It was derisively called "balloon framing" by critics and the name stuck.  This type of structure featured smaller size timbers that were placed closer together, often from the foundation all the way to the eaves with no breaks. (Now buildings are built floor by floor with the previous floor serving as the base for floors above them.) The buildings were well ventilated (drafty!) and hence hard to heat but also very resistant to rot as buildings are in our day. Additionally, a complete air change occurred in such structures at least once per hour, making the air healthier. People tended to have less respiratory problems than today, with our well sealed structures that hold in human pollution, moisture, and mildew. (Though heat, too!)

Two developments made this type of construction possible: the circular mill saw and the mass production of nails. The saw allowed for accurate cutting of smaller sized timbers and nailed joints replaced hand cut joints allowing for swifter construction by unskilled (or less-skilled) laborers. Previously the workmanship of the wood structure in buildings required skilled craftsmen who fitted together the pieces in a precise manner. The balloon framing method developed by Taylor took immediate hold and rapidly moved westward where it became the standard method of building structures in countless prairie towns and burgs. 

It was very fun to “monkey-climb” around this structure and see wood that was dimensionally true (a 2X4 was actually 2X4,” not shaved smaller the way our “2X4s” are today, etc.), and built with methods of bygone years. Though Taylor’s balloon framing method accelerated structure production exponentially, the quality was nevertheless much more stout than found on buildings today. What a privilege to have this opportunity to examine a piece of history. . . 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ethical Motivations for Behavior (and Home Inspecting!)

Ethics are the standards of conduct by which persons behave, live, act. From an ancient Greek word ethos that means custom, usage, habit, manner. Every person on the planet behaves certain ways and has a primary motivation for behavior at any given time.

Ethicists speak of the motivations that drive human behavior. While there is not agreement on this subject, perhaps a good summary of these motivations could be: 

1.       Egocentrism: what benefits me. (From old Greek/Latin word “ego,” or I/me.) I shall act in a manner that benefits me, regardless or with less regard of how it affects others.
2.     Utilitarianism: what benefits the most people. Often this is guised in a nationalistic context of what will benefit the singular people group (or company) without regard for individuals. (Utility – usefulness. Here applied to the greatest number of people.) 
3.     Deontological: what is necessary, proper, or right. (From another ancient word “deon,” just meaning necessary, proper, right.) People’s standards for measuring what is right differ vastly. Some are religious; some are not. From suicide bombers to gay rights to religion in schools to "just" retribution (death penalty or not) to. . . Examples are infinite. 
4.     Altruistic: helping others without regard for personal benefit. (From a Latin word “alter” – meaning “other, another.”) Putting the interests of others over one's own. 

These and other motivations could be blended. But they provide a decent starting point to consider behavior.

Have you ever received service from a provider (in any context) where the job was incomplete, slovenly, inexact, etc.? Where you sensed the provider was not so interested in you and what you needed but rather in. . .
-         His/her self? Expressed in any number of ways, but usually with reference to money. Gain. Greed. The ancient motive.
-         Company image or reputation. You the individual get disregarded or dis-serviced in lieu of a company image projected onto the public at large without regard for the individual service you had purchased.

So how does this apply to home inspections?

May Domuspect’s services be motivated by what is right. (deontological motivation). To inspect and report on properties carefully and honestly just because these are the right things to do. Not to make the most money or to protect or advance myself as the first priority. Easy to say this at the beginning of a race. May it also be said in the race and at the end.

In the Not-so-Beginning

Dear Readers. 

Summer 2013

The journey begins. Early in post secondary education I began to earn money fixing things for other people, doing large and small construction work, and the like. Owning property and doing almost all my own work on it has also added to this experience. Over the years (nearly thirty) my abilities and understanding of structural maintenance, repair, and renovation have grown proportionately. Hence, I come in to the occupation of home inspecting with a wizened, sensible attitude. But also an attitude and methodology that are committed to excellence at the expense of rapidity-for-financial gain. Financial gain seems to be the ethical fuel that has driven humanity through the ages unto the present. More on this shortly. 

There is great value in what predecessors have thought and said and done. The essence of history. Coming from an education where history was (to me) irrelevant and boring, I have over the years come to see history as a great lens that reveals the old and present (and the future) human heart. Time and again the successes and failures of the present are mirrored in the past, with all persons. 

Life is like a roller coaster that one cannot see very far in advance. Sometimes up; sometimes down; sometimes tedious, exhilarating, here, there, etc. Let's see where this current chapter shall take us. . . Would you join the ride?