I recently stumbled on a cluster of half built McMansions in a failed subdivision while visiting relatives in a distant suburb of Los Angeles. I found myself drawn to the structures and engaged in a bit of impromptu archeology. At the top of the market circa 2006 homes like these sold at a premium to buyers in search of space and prestige. Back then, with a little creative financing, you could have bought a 6,000 square foot Tuscan style villa. Through a twist of fate these particular specimens were trapped in amber by the crash and reveal the construction methods and materials used in their manufacture.
These homes look pretty good from a distance, perhaps from the adjacent highway driving by at 60 MPH, but if you pay any attention at all you realize these places were shot out of a hose by minimum wage day laborers. Looking at the “kwality” workmanship it’s pretty clear what the builder was thinking. “Don’t worry about the framing. The drywall will cover it up.” “Don’t worry about the subfloor. The carpet will cover it up.” These homes began to self destruct before they were even completed, but they only needed to last long enough for the sale to go through. On the other hand, you could land a helicopter in the bonus room above the four car garage.
The most instructive little tidbit I discovered involved a pile of extruded polystyrene components I found in one of the garages. At first I assumed they must be some sort of packing material but later I saw similar chunks of foam half installed (with tape) as exterior pillars. Once covered with pre-tinted synthetic spray-on stucco they look just like Roman columns. Really. Window and door trim were made of the same material.
These homes represent the culmination of decades of material manufacturers and production home builders working together to create homes that meet market demand at a price people are willing to pay. The fact that these buildings are complete crap and are being built in places with no future is something that society will be dealing with for a very long time. In the end most of these homes won’t be saved. They’ll be taken down for scrap or they’ll become the new slums. I could see this place rehabbed into a group home for registered sex offenders – assuming someone could get it connected to some source of potable water…