Postcard from House construction

I've long been intrigued by construction sites, and not just the huge commercial ones, the fenced off areas where one or several homes are being built are every bit as interesting.

I used to pay a lot of attention in the UK, even though, contrary to the view you can get from Grand Designs , most construction is for groups of almost identical houses, from twenty to a thousand or more. Over here, I built two houses in Perth and was able to get far closer to the process. I saw a lot of differences between the two countries, one of the biggest being the roof.

In the UK a tin roof would be the sign of an industrial or farm building, there's no domestic acceptance of Colourbond or it's kin. The houses I built here had individually constructed clay tile roofs. By that I mean at some point in the build process a truck delivered a stack of timber and left it in the rain for a couple of weeks until a group of tradies arrived.

They took the wood and measured, cut to length and constructed a roof to hold the tiles, and I was amazed! In the UK no-one would ever consider doing that, every time, the roof trusses are put together in an industrial unit, loaded onto a truck and delivered to site. A small crane lifts them into place, and you have your roof.

When I asked the builder why it was done on site rather than in factory, I was told that because Australian houses weren't rectangles (true) the complexity ruled out factory construction (rubbish). Both before the tiles went on, and later after we had moved in, I looked closely at the roof construction, and although it's clearly sound, it looks amateurish. The joints are poorly made and there's far more wood used than there needs to be.

Builders use software to help them, it would be impossible to do a proper design without it. I have a friend who uses 3D modelling software and it produces cut lists at the press of a button, and I'm sure that the software the builder uses can do the same. With a cut list, even without a CNC machine it's easy enough to produce the right lengths regardless of how complex the roof shape needs to be.

Clearly the real reason is the bunch of guys who enjoy making roofs, and I have no problem with that. I also don't know if what I saw was specific to that team, or Perth, or the whole of Australia, but the result wasn't impressive.

But what do I know, I'm not a builder!

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