When good construction goes bad in Chile

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When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by admin » Mon Jul 21, 2008 5:48 pm

Well they did it. They screwed it up.

Me and the misses are moving in to a new house in Temuco. We got lucky and found a great deal on renting a new never lived in house built by Socovesa in a fairly exclusive development on the edge of town. The house and the neighborhood is so new that it does not even appear on Google sat maps yet. We are renting because we are saving our money for building a super house out of town, and we really have no interest in buying an existing home in the center of Temuco.

As near as I can tell so far the original unmodified house is likely one of the best I have seen in Chile. Nothing spectacular by international standards. Just a good all around well built house with things like insulation and thermal windows. The design and floor plan is a typical design that makes you kind of want to slap the architect for lack imagination and ask if he has ever really lived in house, but nothing too unusual or weird by Chilean design standards. Most of you would likely recognize the floor plan if you have walked in to more than a few houses built in the last 10 years in Chile. It is just done at a higher standard of construction than most.

So, the house is new. The land lord hired some local yokos to do some of the finishing touches on the house and modifications. The most obvious was adding on to the side of house a sort of storage area / back porch near the kitchen. Among other things it involves adding an extra about 6 feet of brick wall to an existing exterior wall, and then enclosing it to match the original house.

I am not sure even where to start with the obvious list of problems I just seen.

I did see the early stages when they first started work and we were considering renting the house. Now the contract is signed and we are waiting for them to finish so we can move in.

They had about 4 pieces of 1/4 inch rebar stuck in to the top of the old wall to attache the new wall to it (a wall designed to keep people out, not support a structure). My guess is the bricks in the new wall weigh in at least 1-2 tons, built on top of another 6-8 foot wall. Total is a wall that is about 11-14 feet tall with no exterior support on the outside to keep it from leaving the house for lack of a better description. I am just going to close my eyes and hope it does not fall the other direction, or pull the house apart when it goes out away from the house. There is a good chance they did not bother spending any money on anchor bolts or the like to properly attache it to the house, so we are likely in no real danger. Just don't run out that door in even a minor earthquake.

To this they attached a new roof, and that roof they attached to the original house. In the process they broke through the exterior stucco and moisture barriers to anchor the new walls and roof to the original building. the original first floor is concrete. The new addition walls are pine 2x4's, covered by some sort of fiberglass, but not completely covered. To this they made some attempt at doing a stuco / texture thing to match the original house. They painted the stucco a different shade of green. The 2x4's are exposed at the edges to air. You can see them everywhere.

It gets better. They poured a new concrete pad for the floor. Very small, about 2 meters by 1 meter. They did it in what looks like about 4 different pours or more, and what looks like about 6 days. Some is really dry, some is really wet, and some of it looks like it is missing gravel. None of it looks like they know what a float is for. That is ok, they bought some really slick glassy thin looking bathroom tile to put on it. So, we will never see that.

Before they put the bathroom tile however, you can see what looks like a 2x4 that was used for the form that is still embedded in the concrete and is in direct contact with the ground. I hope it is just the form, and nothing they intend to be structural. My suspicion is they did not know how to keep the form from sticking to the concrete and just left it. It is already showing the early signs of decay.

That brings us to the walls. The pine, untreated, exposed to the elements at the corners wall they built. It too is showing signs of decay, as it starts to turn black with mold and is sucking up every rain drop in southern Chile. The swelling is obvious.

Now, this is just an exterior addition intended to be somewhere to store wood next to the back door. Hopefully the penetration of their "improvements" in to the main structure are limited. I did discover in the upstairs bedroom that they decided to add some wiring to put a light out back, using nothing but electrical tape to connect the new circuit.

I also found that in the kitchen they installed an intercom. Rather that correctly taping the power source in to a circuit and mounting it on the wall, they decided to drill a hole through the kitchen wall to the outside under the sink, run the cord along the exterior of the house (a little ac/cd converter type plug for a phone right), and then drill another hole through the exterior wall in the laundry area to reach the nearest plug. One of the two plugs by the way that is tasked as a special circuit dedicated to the washer and dryer.

Hopefully in the weeks to come I will get some photos of all this for you. You do not need to know anything about construction to see it it is not right. You might not know how to do it right, but you know it at glance that something is just wrong with the picture.

The funny thing is that even assuming what they did was alright, the place looks like it still needs about another week to 2 weeks to be done. The builders told us that they would be done in the morning, and just needed to sweep up. I am like O.K. man. Whatever.

Moral to this story, DO NOT take your eyes off workers as the finishing work is being done to a house. That is almost 100% of the time when all the trouble starts. That is when good construction goes bad.

I'll keep you updated.
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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by j. Ro » Mon Jul 21, 2008 6:10 pm

Wow... these stories make me want to pack up and move back to Chile and start a construction company. But I would make sure it is done right.

I have the education and knowledge on how things should be built... but I might not be able to solder a joint properly. It seems like the construction industry there needs someone to come show them how it's done. And what a NICE house is.

My wife was talking to someone of my family here the other day and was just telling them how bad the quality is in Chile. For instance her sister and her husband just bought a brand new apartment in San Miguel. With in a month the hat water leaking from the apartment above, toilets not working and doors sliding off the tracks. All because they weren't constructed properly.

Maybe in a few years when we are ready to move back they economy will be good enough that people will be a little more willing to spend the money on a quality house… not a disposable house like some else on this forum has referred to them before.

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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by admin » Mon Jul 21, 2008 6:34 pm

It is not even materials. The workers and supervisors just do not know how to use them. For the same cost or less, with the same materials, you could build a good house.

The original house is fine. My disappointment is that I thought for once we had a house that had not been F'd with (for lack of better technical term). The owners got cheap and creative it seems. They screwed up a perfectly good house.

Socovesa is still building houses across the street. I see they have like 5 construction engineers supervising for each worker. That is literally what needs to be done with the workers. You have to stand on top of them. Also keep them away from the power tools. At least with just a hammer the errors happen in super slow motion.

We are getting in writing from the owners notice that we have no responsibility what soever for that part of the house.

I am kind of at a loss for how to fix it. If I was going to fix it, I would support the roof extension they did temporally, and then rip out everything they did. Replacing the far corner supporting the roof with just one nice treated 4x4 support to hold it up. Anything else would just increase the problems. Even the concrete needs to go. It is a small concrete slab, and it is not worth saving. It is like a two year old did it.
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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by j. Ro » Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:00 pm

Save that slab as a memento.

I think understand what you were trying have built, but I am having a tough time figuring out where all the wood is. The majority of construction I have seen in Chile is brick and mortar with stucco applied to that. Why they would all of a sudden switch to something a kid could make in kinder when they are playing with paper mache is beyond my comprehension.

If it were me I would rip it down… everything including the roof, but save as much as I could to re-use (roof trusses, and any dry insulation… assuming they exist) then patch the moisture control system as best I could (tyvek and tuk-tape would do the trick here).

After the repairs are done, I would then pour a proper footing and build it back-up, making sure to tie it into the house properly for support. Shouldn’t be too difficult, my preferred method of construction would be 2x6 w/ a diagonal cross brace, properly separated from the concrete and sealed from the elements.

I know you have your contacts in Chile that you would with but I would absolutely be interested in seeing what they did and seeing what a possible solution would be.

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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by admin » Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:12 pm

well, not being our house, what should be done, what I am willing to do, and what the land lord would do about it are all very different things. My total repair is to make sure the holes in the original structure get patched to keep the mold from crawling up, and making sure the electricity system did not get messed with as I have a lot of computers to protect. Basically my damage control is going to come down to a pair of wire cutters and a tube of caulking. I might go so far if I see trouble coming with the two tons of wall to add some secondary supports to it.

The shame of that structure was it is just a wood shed. It could have been done so much better, so much cheaper. I am guessing there is no less than a million pesos that went in to that mess, and perhaps more. The same functional and aesthetically more pleasing thing could have been done for 150,000 pesos, a trip to the home center, and proper supervision of the workers. I use to build decks, roofs, and porches. Basically all the exterior landscaping related type construction on houses including sidewalks, patios, and retaining walls. It really did not need this ugly brick wall that does not match the rest of the house.
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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by Chuck J 3.0 » Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:20 pm

"...In the process they broke through the exterior stucco and moisture barriers to anchor the new walls and roof to the original building..."


Scoobie doo sez............. "Ruh Roh!?" That could be a big problem. I love these Chile construction posts. :D

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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by admin » Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:21 pm

The good news is, there should be no need for a jack hammer to get the concrete up. It will likely break up all by itself in to nice shovel size chunks.
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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by STORKLADY53 » Mon Aug 04, 2008 1:26 pm

I am Storklady's husband, a Chilean born US citizen of 30 years. Now back in Chile after 35 years. I love the US and I agreed wholeheartedly with those bumper stickers that said "America, love or leave it". I wish I had a bumper sticker that said "Chile, love or leave it". I can not understand the continuous bashing that goes on about how bad things are in Chile, from construction to breakfast food to poor workmanship to weather. What are we doing here if it is so bad? Perhaps we should all go back to Paradise!
I agree that many things are not ideal, but if you do not like them, do not belly ache about it. Do something about it, or if you cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by MarkF » Mon Aug 04, 2008 1:42 pm

STORKLADY53 wrote:I can not understand the continuous bashing that goes on about how bad things are in Chile, from construction to breakfast food to poor workmanship to weather. What are we doing here if it is so bad?
Just about every Chilean I know agrees with the observations made on this board (for example, poor customer service in stores due to employee apathy). I think the difference is that almost every Chilean I know just shrugs it off as "it's Chile." Personally I don't understand that prevalence of fatalism. But, you make a good point that others may not understand the prevalence of fatalism among extranjeros, acting like everything should be different -- when the vast majority of nationals don't. :)

I've wondered if the constant criticism by extranjeros might be annoying. We keep warning newcomers that Chile isn't for everyone, and then we constantly complain about the things that make it so. It's like we should follow our own advice. I'm guilty of that. And I've detected it in my own behavior. I've observed a couple times that when I've been away from Chile for a year or so, I miss the laid back, "who cares?" attitude. But, when I've been in Chile for a month, I get really frustrated with how slow things move, and nobody cares. It's hard to find a balance.

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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by jalundberg » Mon Aug 04, 2008 3:09 pm

STORKLADY53 wrote:I agree that many things are not ideal, but if you do not like them, do not belly ache about it. Do something about it, or if you cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Chile, love or leave it.
I think there's a confusion here about whining without aim and constructing a conversation for informational purposes. I'm quite certain that everyone here does indeed love Chile, but that shouldn't mean its weaknesses/faults shouldn't be discussed. I believe conversations such as these are the 'doing something about it' to which you eluded. This is making others aware of the problems encountered so that they might evade such situations.

I've never been a fan of the thought that one must accept all aspects of a country without question or 'leave it'. Doesn't seem constructiive; quite destructive, actually.

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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by admin » Mon Aug 04, 2008 5:24 pm

I am not sure you got the point of this forum. IT IS DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What would you like new foreigners arriving in Chile to do (or Chileans for that matter also)? Does continuing to spend $200,000+ plus dollars on a house that will fall apart help? No, it encourages the builders to continue to construct garbage. Now, if everyone that wants a new house, or wants to add on to their house knows what to look for in a good house in Chile the builders will quit building garbage and taking advantage of the people's ignorance of construction.

This house is a perfect example, of the evolution from card board box construction that where typical of houses in the area that where built 10 years ago and are falling apart, to better materials and building methods all the way around. The designs have improved, the building has improved, and so on. That is a function of people demanding better building for their money. Chileans none the less. Chileans do complain.

This goes for a million other things in Chile, and life in general.

Not complaining, not sharing the information, not helping others avoid the problems, IS not helping.

If you want a country where no one complains or has the right to complain, may I suggest you try China or North Korea. No one complains there (well, the Chinese are starting to get the hang of it), but nothing improves in those countries either.

If shutting up and not sharing that information was what we "ought" to do, then we should just pull the plug on this forum and every other expat forum around the World. Hey, better yet, we could pull the plug on half the Internet. Even better yet, we could pull the plug on communication between human all together. Because at the end of the day, communication works because of what is correct or mistaken and the enforcement of norms.
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Re: When good construction goes bad in Chile

Post by mlightheart » Mon Aug 04, 2008 8:16 pm

Discussing the pitfalls and how to avoid them is very helpful. Many forums do that. Not just expat forums. :) Charles isn't the only person who I have heard state the same thing about construction in Chile. An architect in Chile I know said something along the same vein, he had to keep an eye on how things were done in his construction projects. If he didn't then things could get out of hand.

Maybe it has to do with how things are done in Southern Chile. In Santiago the workmanship could very well be much better all around. It a matter of educating people. Insulation is good, pay a few pesos extra now to reap benefits later. Hard to sink in to people with a penny pinching mentality.

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