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When It Comes to the Built Environment, ‘Spend Now to Save Later’

Essential reading for anyone who ever intends to build a residential structure must include House, by Tracy Kidder. In his masterful telling of the story of one homebuilding project, the author shares insights that go far beyond the simple—but detailed—procedures that ultimately result in a  finished home.

In a chapter about framing he shares the following: “Proper and efficient framing is the art of thinking ahead with clarity, of seeing the end in the beginning and [having] made the exercise of forethought, which is the opposite of ‘thrashing’ (a disjointed set of bad procedures that lead to ‘cobby’ work), part of [the builders’] daily routine in all departments of houseraising.”

He goes on to suggest, “Most of the failures of most spare-time carpenters stem from misplaced haste. They haven’t got much time. They want to see results all at once. Apple Corps (the builder in his story) spends time now to save time later. It’s a form of deferred gratification, which the psychologists say, is the essence of true adulthood. Apple Corps has acquired the knack of looking calmly on the future.”

Anyone who has ever framed a structure knows that mistakes happen, but those who learn the underlying lessons of those errors recognize that they must be corrected as soon as they are discovered—otherwise, they will haunt the process all the way through to completion. Mistakes are always easier and less expensive to correct sooner than later.

Our current model of approaching the built environment is fundamentally broken and even though we have identified plenty of the flaws in the system, many of us continue to deliver substandard results. Our approach to that environment is all too often predicated on the same quest for immediate gratification that Kidder attributes to those “spare-time” participants who are in a hurry to pick up a check and move on to the next job without really paying attention to the results.

Inattention to detail has become the calling card of many in the building sector as they bully their way through what was once the intricate art and science of assembling fine buildings. Sadly, this reflection of the widespread loss of craftsmanship, pride and integrity throughout our society is fast becoming our legacy in too many cases.

We need help. Not just in restoring quality workmanship and value in the things we build, but in a larger sense help in restoring respect and responsibility to our modern lives. Somewhere along the way we have lost the “knack of looking calmly on the future,” and as a result, the future we see has become more and more discouraging. The HELP
WANTED sign is out.

Ron Jones is co-founder and president of Green Builder Media.

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One thought on “When It Comes to the Built Environment, ‘Spend Now to Save Later’

  1. I really like this story. We will never be able to work together and truly create a greener planet without a culture change back to responsible and accountable. All of our lives would improve if everyone put just a little effort towards learning the “knack of looking calmly on the future”. Mandates are old and outdated by the time they are even in effect. We should all remember that the new law will not be what sets us free. Working together and remembering integrity will go a long ways though.

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