The Root Cause of the Decline in Residential Construction Quality in the Caribbean

For hundreds of years, proper building methods were passed from masters to their apprentices. The last building boom in the Caribbean started around 1996. It appears to have been started and sustained by banks and other mortgage institutions offering 95% to 100% mortgages to build houses. This created a high demand for artisans in the residential construction sector.

The master artisans were generally working in the commercial and public sectors where quality control inspections by structural engineers were required by law in some Caribbean countries (like Barbados) to protect the public from unsafe buildings. However, in the residential construction sector, such quality control inspections were not required, resulting in inexperienced and unsupervised artisans receiving masters’ wages for substandard work.

The building boom also provided an opportunity for designers to prematurely leave the employment of their mentors and start their own design practises. However, while the structural designs of their commercial and public building projects were required by law in some countries to be designed by engineers, there was no such requirement for their residential projects.

This breakdown in mentorship created the perfect storm for houses to be both designed and built in a manner that left them vulnerable to significant damage during earthquakes and hurricanes, and attracting higher than normal maintenance issues. A visit to any post 1996 housing development in the Caribbean will likely find no houses built with the critical life-saving shear walls as specified in the Barbados National Building Code (1993). A visit to any residential construction site will likely find persons bending steel reinforcement to the point of failure, and then installing this useless material in the house.

To design the safety shear walls, and to bend steel safely, costs the designer, building owner, and contractor no additional money. So why don’t they do such minimally responsible actions? Incomplete mentoring results in persons not knowing that they do not know what they ought to know. The Haiti 2010 earthquake examined the confident quality claims of designers and contractors, and proved that tombs were actually designed and built for the 316,000 occupants who perished needlessly.

To address this knowledge deficiency, Walbrent College trains construction supervisors to build safe and durable houses in the Caribbean. Any person building in the Caribbean should check Walbrent.com to ensure that their contractor’s foreman is among the over 250 persons already trained to build properly.

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