Slick wordplay has become the jewel of fast-talking marketers and politicians. For instance, when a politician talks about increasing revenues, what he really means is he wants to raise taxes. In the construction industry, the term "value engineering" doesn’t mean building to higher quality but rather taking a shortcut to meet bare minimum standards in order to save money.
Since the collapse of the housing market, appraisals and home values have plummeted. As a result, builders across the country have been forced to value engineer projects to make deals. "Who is the cheapest?" has been the mantra instead of "Who has the best quality?" Ultimately, the consumer gets a lower-quality product.
How can you tell if your new home or remodel project has gone through the value-engineering process? First, look at the windows. New energy standards in Florida are such that most new homes should be constructed with vinyl Low-E windows based on product energy codes, however, some builders are value engineering homes and remodels under an energy calculation process and performance code so they can install cheaper, lower-quality aluminum windows.
Look at the balancers on the inside jambs of the window, which are used to lift your window sashes and hold them up. If you see anything but a metal balancer, you can assume your home has been value engineered. Most window experts believe that aluminum windows will become obsolete within the next few years.
Another area where value engineering rears its ugly head is in exterior doors. In Florida, old-fashioned steel doors with regular wood jambs ding, rust and rot. Most high-quality builders use fiberglass door units with jamb-saver materials that are rot resistant and more durable, however, some builders prefer to save $70 per unit.
Roof trusses are one of the most value-engineered items in new home construction. The driving factor for some builders is price, and the only concern is that the trusses meet bare minimum standards. The problem with roof trusses that are designed too close to engineered roof load calculations is that they become strained when items are stored in the attic, the house settles or a bad windstorm occurs. The ugly results can be large cracks in the ceiling or substantial truss dips in the roof.
Value engineering occurs in metal wind strapping, flooring, plywood decking, roofing and concrete foundations. Wherever a buck can be saved, products are value engineered. At the end of the project, the poor consumer ends up with a cheaply built home rather than one of lasting quality.
Some believe local building inspectors are watchdogs for homeowners, but quality of construction products is not their area of expertise and does not fall within their scope of work.
There is nothing wrong with saving money in construction projects, but value engineering at the expense of the homeowner, without their knowledge or consent, is not acceptable. The standard used to be that architects (or draftsmen) specified the product and construction methods. But in today’s economy, money seems to be in charge. In home construction, low price rarely equals value for the homeowner.
Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Radio Show heard every Monday at noon on My790AM WLBE in Leesburg.