I published this article about a month or two back, but two items converged upon the calendar which made it appropriate to republish, slightly update, especially for those readers who might have missed it the first time.
The main news that made me think about a redux was the happy news I just read that good blog friends Bob and Carol Hammerslag have just about complete their custom, build your own home project in Iloilo. Congratulations Bob and Carol, we’ll be down for a “building inspector’s” tour someday soon I hope.
Recently I’ve been following a tale of several BBQ grill projects on Bob Martin’s Live in the Philippines site. see Bob builds a Philippine BBQ grill, Bob rebuilds his grill to make it better for Philippine cooking, the first installment of Paul Thompson’s grill project and the second installment of Paul Thompson’s grill project.
I also recently was in a conversation on a forum about moving to and living in the Philippines where there’s been some discussion on home improvement items and such.
Also I’ve been following my friend Bob Hammeslag’s blog series on building his own home in the Philippines.
So I thought I would throw in a few personal experiences to give a bit of the “flavor” here as it really is.
Tradesmen (carpenters, electricians, plumbers and such) are very easy to find here, and their labor costs, by American standards are laughingly cheap. I use a local fellow who is a passable carpenter, concrete man, tile setter and welder for about P600 a day … less if I can catch him in a vulnerable (no beer money in his pocket) mood. A plumber or electrician will be in the same price range here in the Metro Manila outskirts … often less farther out in the provinces.
How good are any of these guys? “aye, that’s the rub” as the Bard once said. If you don’t know something about the building crafts before you come here, it’s best to ask around and see if you can find someone whose work you can examine before you think about ay significant projects. Better yet, hire the guy to replace a light switch or fix a sticky door first … and then you’ll know pretty quick if you want to trust him for larger assignments.
A few things are nearly a certainty, though.
1. Expect to loan screwdrivers, hammers, measuring tapes (and very important for plumbing, Teflon joint tape) as a matter of course. It is the way it is.
2. Expect that explicit instructions are not going to be followed … language issues aside. You must follow-up on every step and again, never start something big unless you already have confidence based on something small that turned out OK.
3. Expect to be given a list of materials and told to go get what is needed. This, to me, is the antithesis of the usual foreigner preoccupation with the fear of being cheated on price, paying a “long nose tax” and all the other negative stories that continually make the rounds. However it really has nothing to do with foreigner/Filipino relationships, in general, no Filipino will trust a tradesman to give the correct price on purchased goods, so (at least where I live) it just is the default standard practice. After my first few attempts at being my own supply boy, though, I refuse to do it. Why?
First of all, I’m hiring him, not vice versa, and I don’t want to stand around in hole-in-the-wall building supply stores trying to convey to the clerk what a ‘left handed statisframmer” is.
Second, once the clerk determines what I have been sent for, (you can make book on this), two (or more) different “statisframmers” will be displayed along with the question, “Which one do you want, sir”? Would it surprise you to know that almost invariably the hapless homeowner will choose the wrong one? Yep, and that fact won’t be discovered until hours later, necessitating yet another trip to the same store. And di I mention the fact that most stores won’t give refunds or exchanges? Yep. All sales final is a very common rule.
Ever look at a display of 20 different circuit breakers, trying to imagine which, if any, fit the circuit breaker panel in your house … while the electrician sits in the shade and waits for you to return with your “bargain” purchase? Not me, my friend. I send the electrician to the supply shop and if the part doesn’t fit, it’s his problem. Did he charge me 225 pesos for a circuit breaker that should have cost me 200 pesos? Don’t know, don’t care, and at (almost) age 65, don’t need blood pressure medication either … the lack of stress involved with now having a properly functioning circuit breaker, first try, is worth way more than the 25 Pesos I might have saved.
4. One issue I don’t now the cure for though, is the quantity issue. If you are building something with a large quantity of consumables, say welding rod or ceramic tiles, expect to be frustrated by the Filipino trait of “making simot” … using the last remnants of mayonnaise from the mayo jar.
Bob Hammersdlag had an interesting take in his wrap-up article on building his own house in the Philippines, recently:
You will be responsible for finding, paying for and delivery of every bit of material for your project and for ensuring that it’s on site when needed. Don’t expect anyone to let you know what will be needed when. You have to plan ahead. If materials are not available when needed, your crew will try to keep themselves looking busy, but you’ll be wasting time and money. Further, most workers are happiest and most productive when they have an assignment and the tools and materials they need to carry it out. As soon as you return to the site with new supplies, there will be a request for something else they should have told you was needed. Count on it. You may think you’re the boss, but mostly you’ll be the gopher and slave.
I had Bernardo do a significant project on the back of our house … building on a covered patio for storage and a “dirty kitchen” area. The walls and roof were all made up from welding together steel bar stock and the major building material of the Philippines it seems, concrete rebar. After long discussion I got Bernardo to order what turned out to be almost enough steel … but welding rod? Welding rod is sold typically by the kilo, 2.2 pounds. I think he started with a whole 2 kilos. If you saw the scope of the project, I’m sure even the non-welders among you would know how pitifully small the quantity was. Day after day, yet another trip for more rod. Exasperating at times.
And mind you, this wasn’t because he was running up the clock on me, we had struck a deal for a flat rate for the labor involved, so these constant interruptions were coming out of his pocket, not mine. The concept of “biting the bullet” and just ordering what was needed at one time is just beyond the beyond for many, otherwise quite intelligent tradesmen. Expect it, because it’s going to happen. Living here is what it is.
One part of the project involved what we in the project management business used to call ‘scope creep”. Part of the enclosed area consisted of a rough concrete workbench/counter sort of affair that was built years ago by a former tenant or the original owner. My wife Mita and I decided that we should have Bernardo smooth up and reinforce the counter and cover it in ceramic tile to make a clean, useful work space.
So we three discussed what was required, agreed on a very reasonable increase in the labor charge, and I let on to Bernardo that I had already measured and decided that we needed 286 (nominal) 6 x 6 tiles to do the job. He measured (with my tape, of course), did a little chicken scratching on the back of an envelope and pronounced that my figure were way off and the job would not take more than 270 tiles.
After many more minutes of discussion, which, as I recall included the phrase, “It’s my money, damn it and I’ll buy what I want”, Bernardo reluctantly agreed that we should order 280 tiles … mainly this was a grudging peace-offering to accommodate the clearly insane “kano” who simply wanted to burn his money to show off how rich he was.
Need I finish the story? Along about the 170th or so tile, Bernardo could no longer kid himself that he wasn’t running out of tiles, so he sheepishly told my wife (he surely wasn’t going to tell me 😉 ) that he was running out of tiles and would need 5 more. (total 285 if you have been counting). To save time, and avoid any possibility Bernardo and I might have gotten into a heated, “I told you so” confrontation, dear, peace-keeping Mita went and found a tricycle, had the driver take her to the tile store (about P30 fare each way) and realizing what her hubby had said back at the beginning, bought 6 more tiles and brought them home, just as Bernardo was installing the last tile on hand, number 280.
By this time I had found out what was going on and I just sat in the background on an old chair watching Bernardo work. Number 281 went in, number 282 and so on until … you guessed it, one tile was left and the space remaining un-tiled needed just one more … which had to be trimmed slightly to fit.
Kachink! Having expertly set 285 tiles without breaking a single one, as Bernardo trimmed the very last (number 286) tile, something slipped and it shattered.
Knowing that the mortar couldn’t stay useable forever, Mita quickly ran out to find a tricycle, hopped in, and another 60 Pesos in fares later arrived with a half-dozen more tiles … just in case. Bernardo set the last one and then went on with grouting and other finishing work. He never said another word about my estimating skills, and I never said a word to him, either. I might need him again for another project. It’s very important to remember the Philippine concept of “hiya” (saving face). He knew full-well I was right, to call attention to that fact or ‘rub it in” would be entirely uncalled for. Life here is what it is
Such is home improvement in the Philippines
By the way, in case you are wondering, the tiles cost a whopping 6 Pesos each, yet all this time and transportation expense was incurred just to ensure there weren’t a couple extra left when the job was completed. Now do you understand why the most important question about whether or not you can live happily in the Philippines has nothing to do with the usual “How much are your monthly expenses” variety?
And if all those grill articles made you hungry?Labor Day Weekend is approaching like a freight train. The end of summer (for you, but not for me). The return of Old Man Winter, heating oil bills and all those other reasons you have been “thinking about” moving to the Philippines all these years.
“Who Else Wants to Discover Simple Secret Recipes for Mouth Watering, Fall Off The Bone Ribs, Chicken & BBQ Sauce So Tasty You’ll Be the Envy of the Neighborhood….”
- 0.1 “Who Else Wants to Discover Simple Secret Recipes for Mouth Watering, Fall Off The Bone Ribs, Chicken & BBQ Sauce So Tasty You’ll Be the Envy of the Neighborhood….”
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