Builders Blog

Why Details Count!

“A man’s actions are a picture book of his creed…” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote is a phrase that describes my life.  Possibly a more coarse statement might be “to put your money where your mouth is.”  While it is easy to talk about quality, it is another thing to live it.  I live it!

I am the bane of a poor craftsman, and real craftsmen love me.  I am extremely careful with all of the details in my work, even those details that most people would never see or even care about.  So why do I care so much?

I must admit that I am a little obsessive about certain things.  Just ask the electricians whom I have worked with for years!  They know that I like to pull the covers off of the electrical panels to see how the wires are arranged inside.  Even though there is no code that says the wires have to look like a circuit board, there is no operational benefit to the electric coursing through those wires, and the harmonic convergence of radio waves is not affected by making things look better, it simply makes me feel good when I look at a neat arrangement of wires.

In addition, the framers I work with often wonder why I get so “nutty” about how deep a framing nail is set in a piece of plywood, while the trim carpenters inquire as to why I constantly make them adjust the depth of the nail shots on their nail guns.

Some will say – and many have even said – that I am just an anal retentive jerk.  However, there is actually a core belief at work here.  This is how I do things and I honestly believe that it makes a better house.

Here is my logic, explained for you:

Workmen (and workwomen) need to know that what they do matters.

Frequently, the tradesmen are pushed so hard for production that quality becomes a secondary metric, thereby allowing them to think that if no one will ever see it, or notice, then why does it matter?  I believe that workers do higher quality work when they feel their efforts have meaning and purpose.

I once praised an “old-timer” carpenter who was installing some very basic shoemoulding.  His “coping” of the wood joints was a quality of work that I appreciated.  Coping is a small, time-consuming method, done by hand, for shaping the trim so it fits better, as opposed to using a fast and easy mitre-saw.  He told me that I was the first builder who had ever thanked him for doing his job this way.  I was thankful that he cared enough about the quality of his work to take the time to do the longer method, especially since most carpenters work as piece-work, therefore getting paid less.  The impact to the home construction for coping the joint is minimal, but I can assure you that the carpenter made sure all the trim work on the job was of the highest quality, because he knew that somebody cared about his efforts.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that if you treat the workers like the gifted creations they are, then they will rise up to that expectation.  Conversely, if you treat them like pigs, do not be surprised if they act like pigs.

Details are cumulative and multiplicative.

The sum total of the excellent details adds up, and also multiplies into many trades.

When you go through one of my finished houses, you will see that the screws on the light switches all face the same direction.  It is a little teeny-tiny detail that I have reinforced with my electricians over the years.  And guess what?!?  I think they are exceedingly proud of their work – not just what you see, but also what is inside the very walls!

When my steel fabricators erect columns or beams, most people do not see their work, unless, of course, it is a contemporary project.  However, I make sure that I see every column or beam that it is installed.  I use a soapstone crayon to sign my name and date it.  This act reinforces that someone cares about their work.

I also encourage my workers to sign their framing or to leave notes as to who they are and what they did.

I hope the Bob Vila of the 22nd Century opens up one of my houses and see these notes!

Excellence Spreads.

Workers who show up to a project will immediately pick up on the quality expected, and, in turn, produce accordingly.  Those who do not pick up on this requirement for excellence typically have to re-do their work several times, or simply get fired.  Regardless, each tradesman I work with is guaranteed to learn valuable life lessons about quality in the process.

My clients may never see the attention to detail that is possessed by both me and my team, but I hope that each client can feel it, and I believe that most do.  It is this attention to detail that will ensure your home will withstand the test of time.


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Janus Associates Construction Management