The Things Contractors Say

Water Main

Shortly after I started inspecting construction almost thirty years ago, I started realizing most contractors have the same response to similar situations. When I was younger and asked a contractor to do something, the typical response was something like, "Honey, I've been doing this for thirty years, and …." Then they would go on to tell me why I was wrong and they were right. Or they would try to reassure me that whatever they did would be ok, and they knew this because of their vast experience – obviously I could not know that because I had not worked as long as they had.

Of course, not all contractors try to convince you that they know better or you just aren't experienced enough to understand what should really be done. Some are very open about not wanting to do what you ask. In these instances there's the straighforward responses of, "you and I will be long gone when this fails" or "don't worry – it's getting buried – no one will see it."  At least with these they are honest about admitting something might not be right, but are hoping that you don't care enough to require them to do it right. I always liked the one, "you'll never see it from (insert next town over)." And one that always annoyed me was "we ain't building a watch."

Fortunately for me, I was usually confident what I was asking them to do most definitely needed to be done. So the subtle intimidation never really worked with me. My experiences working for cities had given me opportunities to see the failed results of poor construction. And you don't have to wait 30 years to see failures when you work in public works. So most of the time, I could describe exactly what would happen if they didn't do what was required. And I was also fortunate to work with some really excellent contractors who never used those responses and brought a lot of value to a project. 

But after all those years and having thought I'd heard every response in the book, the other day on my construction job I heard a new one. The foreman on my water main job had neglected to follow some of the specifications. And when I called his boss to try to straighten everything out, he obviously did not like me calling to complain and asking him to fix things. So his response to me was, "you better watch it because you're going to get yourself a reputation." I'm still not sure what he really meant . But whatever it was, I do know it was obviously a response he felt would scare me enough for me to change my request or not bother him anymore. But instead of intimidating me, it made me think, I really need to start writing down the things contractors say.