Last Friday a Wall Street Journal feature article discussed Amish contractors who build homes for the non-Amish. The story covered some of the special problems faced by these contractors, such as the fact that they generally cannot sign contracts.
Other problems can affect their businesses. The Amish builders are not allowed to have telephones, so potential customers have problems contacting them. They are not permitted to own vehicles, so they have to employ drivers to take them to their job sites. Many of them will not take out insurance coverage. But counterbalancing these issues is the fact that customers often like to employ them to build their homes, since they perceive that the Amish will usually do high quality work.
Some Amish builders specialize in constructing homes by framing the buildings with heavy beams that use mortise and tenon joints, rather than framing with milled lumber and nails, the so-called “stick-frame” construction style.
Since customers are often highly impressed with the quality of the workmanship, they refer others to their Amish builders. These enthusiasts of Amish quality workmanship maintain that their construction projects are not done like “the anonymous and sometimes sloppy work of mass home builders,” in the words of the newspaper. “In an industry known for unreliability and corner-cutting, the Amish—a community known for its work ethic—can be refreshing.”
Cindy Wagner, a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana, used an Amish contractor to erect a home and was most impressed with the results. While the price was comparable to the quotes of other builders, she waxed enthusiastic to the paper about the Amish builder she had chosen. “They were there every day, regardless of weather, and they did exactly what they said they would do—and more….The craftsmanship was beautiful.”
Also, the Amish builders often (but not always) undercut the prices quoted by their non-Amish competitors. They achieve their cost savings by employing family members, by not buying insurance, and often by not using sub-contractors. They frequently work around the rules of their society with stratagems such as relying on the cell phones of their drivers to assist them in communicating with customers.
The story features numerous examples of satisfied owners of Amish-built homes; it includes a few photos of Amish men constructing mortise and tenon buildings. It concludes with only one sour note: that it can be difficult to contact, or sometimes to even find, an Amish builder.
In the past few years, the Wall Street Journal has covered other societies that are included in this website. In March 2007 it featured a popular Wal-Mart store located in a Zapotec community of Oaxaca, and six months later it ran a story about the use of cell phones by Hutterites. Someday, perhaps the paper will discuss the nonviolence of the peaceful societies.