Wanderings – The good and bad of cutting corners

This past weekend I had to work on a small home renovation project. I was up against a deadline and this work had to get done to fix my error in cutting a corner.

Last fall, I built a replacement front deck. It was not a huge project, but it was definitely needed as the previous incarnation was ready to be retired. I followed the proper procedure from the local municipality and applied for a building permit for the project.

The project took longer than I expected and I was competing against the weather. To finish before the first snowfall, I left one detail to be completed in better weather the following Spring. Calling the project a success, I moved on – forgetting there was this one more thing to do. That was until this Fall.

For those unaware, a building permit has a shelf life and as the best before date neared, I called for an inspection to complete the municipal process. I failed the inspection.

Now with a week to go before the best before date, I had to tear apart some of my handiwork. I thought when I built this, skipping the step or cutting a corner would be easy to go back and add later when it was warmer out. No, it was not. I spent all day working on the project. In the end, I spent seven hours taking apart, redoing and fixing things properly. It would have only taken two hours to do the work right the first time. Cutting a corner cost me a net five hours – and the added stress of worrying about this. This is not the first time I’ve had this lesson, and it won’t likely be the last.

We’ve all had these kind of lessons. Rushing through a recipe and skipping a step – who needs baking soda in those cookies? In my case, skipping a step had the potential of running afoul of the building department and some potential fines. Skipping the baking soda means having flat cookies – still edible. There are so many examples to choose from where cutting corners cause lasting issues and expenses.

I live in a community built on cut corners. Half of the village was transplanted to make way for a massive power dam and shipping project. The work was completed in the 1950s by government agencies that trampled over people’s property rights. Those who didn’t take a small amount of cash to move away had their houses moved to new parts of town. Model 1950s communities with sidewalks and a chicken in every pot. But there were corners cut.

Building one new town in less than four years is an amazing feat. Building four new towns and moving thousands of people in less than four years means there were a lot of corners cut.

I wasn’t around back then, but sixty-plus years later, I can attest that residents of those Seaway villages feel the effects of cut corners every time a sewer line fails, or a replacement project comes in way over budget. There were a lot of things discovered that were not on those 1950s plans.

It worries me a bit that our current housing crisis has the potential of many corners being cut. We’ve already seen some that were walked back.

A bunch of land deals in protected areas for developers that – once found out – were reversed, clearly points to corner cutting. The buck stopped at Queen’s Park, but it begs the question if one set of corner-cutting issues was discovered – how many more have not yet been found?

Furthermore, with Ontario being short 1.2 million homes now, and Canadian immigration adding 500,000 people to the country each year, playing catch up means a high potential for corner-cutting on all sides of the problem.

Corner-cutting is easy to do and often hard to discover – like the person who built my home in the 70s using only one nail on each end to fix a 2×4 to the top and bottom plate of the walls, instead of two nails. Those extra couple hundred nails add up you know.

I cut a corner on my project because I was being lazy, it was getting cold, and I was disinterested in working on the project. I was also called out for it and had to do the work correctly. Others do so to save money, a lot of money, or to benefit their friends.

It is a shame that there is a good system for accountability on things like deck railings, and not for land deals or developers. Another corner cut.

This column was originally published in the October 18, 2023 print edition of the Morrisburg Leader.