Builder’s Grade vs. Your Grade

My first home was a little mid-century condo in Pasadena. I was very spoiled by that experience. I lucked into a beautiful neighborhood in a well-maintained building with great neighbors. Looking back, I didn’t realize how swanky some parts of my house were. Things might have been a little dated but they were nice. They were good quality.

Fast forward to now and I’m in a little 70s ranch home in Oregon. It’s a cute little tract home in a cute, modest neighborhood. There have always been things about the house that kind of niggled at me. Nothing was bad enough that I felt compelled to make them a priority. Heck, in my busy life, there have always been plenty of priorities at the head of the line. Something that wasn’t quite right just didn’t demand attention.

Good enough

In the last three months I’ve learned more about houses and construction than in all my previous years (and there are a few stacking up there). The most surprising, and game-changing, was that my home, and many homes that are products of inexpensive building booms, are built using really inexpensive materials.

My contractor sneered at my new Ikea cabinets but they are nicer than what I had.

I know most of you are probably saying, “No duh!” but seriously, it never occurred to me that it could be SO cheap and flimsy. I have heard the term “builder’s grade” and I assumed that meant good quality. After all, they are the pros. They know better than I do what is good and what is not. In actuality, builder’s grade usually means the least expensive materials. That doesn’t always mean crappy. Something can be inexpensive because it is manufactured on such a large-scale but it is not a quality you strive for.

I hesitate to say I did not know this because I really didn’t think about it much. I heard the term and just assumed a definition and didn’t explore it further. This is a tough thing to admit to you because if you are the kind of person who reads DIY blogs than you have already figured this out and have rolled your eyes at me by now. In my defense, I’ll bet there are a lot of people out there like me. I’m not a decorator and I’ve never done this kind of thing before. I trusted the pros. What I failed to factor in, is that the pros are in business and a business must make money which means spending the least amount possible for a higher profit margin.

Notice the light fixture is way off-center towards the closet. That is because there is no light in the closet. I think the builder believed he could kill two bugs with one light fixture. This is supposed to be the room light as well as the closet light. It doesn’t really work that way.

This is not a criticism. Far from it, actually. I completely understand that and I have a sense of freedom now that I didn’t feel before. If my home is made up of builder’s grade materials then I have something that works for now. I don’t have to rush to change anything out because it is good enough to get along. It also means that I don’t have to protect anything precious or historically significant. I have a blank slate that I can shape to best fit my needs and whims.

This kitchen renovation project has been frustrating because I want to do it right. I want smart decisions made and good changes. The contractors just want to do it and move on. I find I have to insert myself at every step because they make assumptions and cut corners.

You can see the paint line where the old trim used to be as well as a nail hole. That trim was replaced by the previous home owner, when he installed this floor, with this single piece of quarter round which doesn’t match the old trim when ever it meets at a corner.

They assume we are going to put the same quarter round back even though it doesn’t match the floor and looks ridiculous by itself. They only finish part of the ceiling because they assume it will be covered with cabinets. It isn’t covered by a cabinet and I honestly think they would walk away from the job with the ceiling like this unless I insist it gets fixed.

See the big patch of unfinished ceiling and the big gouge in the wall?

I find that I go around at night taking care of little details they could have easily done but blew off. I spackle holes they ignore even though they patched a hole three inches away. I sand down the trim we are reusing because some wall paint has come away with it and is all clumped along the top.

At first I was really angry. I’m resigned now. I understand that no one cares about my house as much as I do. To me it is a home. To them it is a job. I don’t blame them really. At this point, I just want to get the kitchen put back together and then I can go back and fix the details.

The little things about the house that used to bother me now feel like an opportunity. I understand what is bothering me and now I feel like I can do whatever I want to change it. Don’t like the base trim? Don’t worry. It wasn’t expensive, you aren’t foolish to just throw it out and get new base trim that floats your boat.

It seems odd that I’m having this revelation now, this far into the project and AFTER I started blogging about DIY because I think I just discovered the reason to DIY. No one has your interests and home in their best interest more than you. The most appropriate person to feather your nest is you.

Not every project has to be as tough as re-doing a whole kitchen has been. The great thing about a kitchen re-do though? (aside from having a beautiful new kitchen) All the little projects I’ve always wanted to tackle but seemed like so much work; seem like a cake walk now!

I’m sort of drunk with the upgrade possibilities. I can change my doors! I don’t have to stick with these doors. They aren’t so great that I’m wasting anything. New doors. Huh.

My light switches? I can do something different. They have some awesome new options for light switches now. I can have high tech light switches. Cool. I don’t ever want to be in the position of relying on someone else to do the job the way I want it done again. I don’t ever want to be made to feel that I’m a nit picky, interfering busy body again because I can see there is going to be a problem and I point it out.

I’m going to teach myself as much about working on this house as possible so that I can do the job the way I believe it should be done and builder’s grade becomes my grade. If you need me, I’ll be wandering the aisles of Home Depot and Lowes.

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One Response to Builder’s Grade vs. Your Grade

  1. Sue says:

    I grew up in a 1920s, small but well-built home that had undergone some interesting remodels and work over the years. I find my 1950s post WWII tract home, with its equally interesting remodels, to be so much less well-built and rickety — I’m guessing less than builder’s grade here.

    You’re to be applauded – you are making your house your home. I think that is the point of DIY, as you state, you are the only one who really cares about your castle. It is up to you to make it what you want. Only, I wish I wasn’t so lazy and lacking in hand-eye coordination.

Talk to me!