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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask the Builder: Reflections on 25 years writing about home improvement

Major building product improvements have happened over the past 25 years like these bi-directional wood grain insulated steel garage doors. (Tim Carter)
Major building product improvements have happened over the past 25 years like these bi-directional wood grain insulated steel garage doors. (Tim Carter)
By Tim Carter Tribune Content Agency

Tuesday is the 25th anniversary of my Ask the Builder syndicated newspaper column. I’m very proud of surviving this long as a writer and publisher, and I thought I’d share some of the good and the bad I’ve seen since that morning I waited outside in the dark for the newspaper carrier to hand me a copy of the Cincinnati Enquirer with my column in it.

It’s funny, but it doesn’t seem that long ago that I made the transition from a full-time custom home builder and remodeler to writer and then publisher. I’m often asked by readers and subscribers to my newsletter how I made the successful transition.

The simple answer is I took failure off the table. I was determined to make this new career blossom because I knew that if I continued to work with my hands, back and knees as I loved to do, I’d be crippled or fully disabled by now. As it turns out, I’m still building, but using electrons instead of concrete, wood and steel.

I’ve seen many good things happen over the past 25 years with respect to building products, and I’ve seed disturbing trends emerge with respect to product longevity and the quality produced by tradespeople who build your new homes and additions, and who install new roofs.

One thing I’ve discovered is that it sometimes pays to wait before you buy a brand new product that hits the marketplace. An example is composite decking. I’ll never forget when this product made its debut. Homeowners swooned over it. However, it took nearly 20 years for the composite deck industry to finally figure out how to make a fantastic product that will last and looks great.

I witnessed the painful growing pains of low-flush toilets. Government regulations forced manufacturers to create toilets that used far less water than ones that had worked so well for decades and decades. Most of the new toilets wouldn’t flush right. It took years for some engineers in the industry to finally figure out how to get less than two gallons of water to create a powerful flush.

Technology has also overtaken the home building and remodeling industry like an army of steamrollers. Some argue the changes are for the better, and some (like my wife) despise them. I constantly test new products around my own home, and Kathy hates the recessed LED light over our kitchen island that has a speaker in it. The speaker can play music from my smartphone via Bluetooth. Kathy feels the speaker is also snooping in our conversations.

She also wishes she could take a hammer to my doorbell and floodlight. I can see and hear what’s happening around my home from anywhere in the world with these devices as long as they’re connected to the Internet. Kathy hates that I can spy on her as she walks around the yard enjoying her flowers and plants.

I’m upset at the alarming and growing trend of lower quality in some building products. Hybridized framing lumber engineered to grow faster has vast amounts of less-dense spring wood growth in it. This makes the lumber more susceptible to rot, bowing and twisting.

Fiber cement siding, a product that’s been around for over 100 years, has wood fiber in it now instead of waterproof fibers. Old fiber cement sided houses look as good as the day they were built, while my newer fiber cement siding is crumbling. Why the manufacturers don’t incorporate inexpensive fiberglass fibers like we do in concrete baffles me.

The straw that broke the camel’s back at my house was asphalt shingles. My 30-year-warranty asphalt shingles started to go bad in just 10 years, and I had to replace them a few years later. I was so upset I wrote an expose book, “Roofing Ripoff,” that explains why your roof and mine are falling apart long before they should – and, most importantly, how to avoid premature shingle failure. It’s my opinion that ethics seem to be in short supply, or missing, in the boardrooms of certain manufacturers.

Perhaps the most disturbing trend of all is workmanship quality. One could write a book on all the possible causes, but first and foremost is the removal of the incentive in high school for young people to choose a trade as a rewarding career path. That’s a grave mistake, in my opinion, and you and millions of others are paying for it by dealing with more and more inept, uninspired tradespeople, who seemingly are the new normal.

If I could wave a magic wand right now, I’d make two things happen. I’d bring back and expand all of the vocational school programs. Home building, as well as all trades, would be encouraged as a career as early as grade school.

I’d also make ethics a mandatory course in high school and college, and a core topic at all business schools. The quest for higher and higher profits seems to put far too much pressure on the ethical aspects of business.

I want you to know that you’re responsible for the overall success of Ask the Builder. You continue to read my column and write letters to your papers’ editors sharing how I’ve helped you. You visit my website each day to find all of my past columns and videos that are filled with money-saving and time-saving tips. I say we keep on going for another 25 years!

Tim Carter can call you on the phone for FREE to solve your problem. Go to his website and fill out the form on this page:

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