The Poor State of Chinese Building Materials

After I read Shanghai Scrap’s Adam Minter’s account of the collapse of a radio tower outside his apartment on Christmas Eve — and the death of the migrant worker that it caused — got me thinking about the poor state of building materials in China and how they have gone down hill over the last couple of years. Enough that I mentioned it to Adam in the comment section his post.

When Adam replied to me he mentioned a couple of reasons:

  • Corruption (people skimming money off the top by using cheaper materials)
  • The rising cost of materials

The rising cost of materials is a big issue. Particularly as the fact that costs are rising dramatically while the cost of labour is not.

Last year, my company did an interview with the head of B&Q Asia and he said that one of the biggest barriers the company has to growth is the fact that there isn’t a cost-savings incentive driving China towards a DIY culture — it’s still cheap enough to hire a labour to renovate a flat than take the trouble to do it yourself. So the way that B&Q is making money in Asia is through design consultancy and contract sales.

B&Q is a high-end store in Asia, so I know their guys aren’t skimping money off the top but some of the smaller firms probably are. And these renovations are so inexpensive that most people — in Shanghai at least — redo their homes every two years or so. That can be seen in the last two apartments I lived in where the plaster started bubbling, cracking and falling off the walls and ceilings after I lived in them for about a year (I lived in my first place for about 18 months and my second place for two years).

I’ve lived in my current place for about nine months and so far everything is okay — if that’s due to the fact that it was just renovated right before I moved in I don’t know. I hope it’s because my landlord, who is a great person, got better materials. If the system is going to change any time soon is also another question we don’t have the answer to. I think it’s really only going to happen when money makes it more worthwhile to drive the creation of a DIY renovation culture in China (though I am not sure if this will drive labourers and contractors to spend more money on building materials).

What about anybody else who’ve lived in China or other countries? Do you also have stories like this?



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Filed under China Business, China Society

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