And being builders, and therefore resourceful, it is sometimes difficult for us to appreciate the bewilderment of civilians when they interact with the built environment. Here are some extracts from readers' letters sent to me at The Sunday Telegraph:
"I have had a kitchen extension built and the concrete floor slopes by up to two inches from one side to the other. My worry is that because the washing machine is not level, it bounces around and hits the sides of the cabinets. The builder says this slope is required by the Building Regulations."
"I've got a damp patch on my wall. It's about three feet off the ground, and about the size of a dinner plate. What is causing it?"
"I recently moved into a bungalow and the water pressure is very poor. It takes at least half an hour to fill the bath. I have had two plumbers in, and they say this is normal in a bungalow. Is this true?"
"We have been in our brand-new house for 18 months and the upstairs floors squeak and creak loudly when anyone walks on them. The noise is so loud that my wife has stopped visiting the bathroom in the night, and is becoming quite neurotic about it. The builders say there is nothing wrong. This was supposed to be our "dream" retirement home. What can we do?"
I have read out these and similar extracts at Chartered Institute of Building meetings, lunches and after-dinner speeches over the past couple of years. My purpose has been to try to illustrate the gulf between us, as builders, and our clients. The result, I am afraid to say, has usually been laughter. It seems that construction professionals find the idea that householders are troubled, bemused, worried, or driven to neurosis by faults in their homes to be an absolute hoot.
I am being slightly unfair, of course. The laughter is usually fuelled by the alcohol, and the Boys' Own environment of these gatherings. And the fact that when you read out details of others' misfortunes, some people will always take it as a joke.
The most troubling theme is not the writers’ ignorance of their homes, but that they don’t know who to turn to
But looked at more closely, the letters are tragic. These are people who have worked hard all their lives to pay the mortgage, buy the house, live the Thatcherite dream, but who don't understand what their walls, floors and roofs are made of, or how they are held together. The population depends on builders to provide them with shelter. If they don't understand how those shelters work, then we should, firstly, be sorry for them, and secondly, be glad that they will be in need of the services of the building industry.
Perhaps the most troubling theme underlying these letters is not the writers' ignorance about how their homes work, but that they haven't a clue who to turn to for help. A common phrase is, "I have been told that my x, y or z needs replacing – what do you think?" But told by whom? On the occasions when I have entered into correspondence with the questioner, the whom often turns out to be a builder who needs the work, or a salesman for the company that wants to do the replacing. As in, "My house is 12 years old. I have been told that because of limescale deposits, all the pipes need replacing."
It's easy for us to joke about the wiles of double glazing salesmen, but in most cases these guys don't have to do any hard selling – the neighbours have done it for them. People buy houses and expect to have to replace the windows, along with the kitchen units. So they don't even bother to look at the existing ones to see if there is anything wrong.
Jeff Howell writes a column for The Sunday Telegraph