Some things are inevitable; leaving homeowners in the lurch with certification isn’t one of them.

Beginnings come with an end. Bear that in mind when you open this.” So say the opening lines of the instructions on a packet of Crazy Dragon frozen pork dumplings.

I love that the marketing people for the food company chose to impart some words of wisdom as well as some most excellent pork dumplings. It’s hardly an exclusively Eastern philosophical statement, though. In English it is that “All good things come to an end”. In scientific terms this is simply a statement of the second law of thermodynamics.

This complements the first law of thermodynamics which can conveniently be stated as “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” For the record the dumplings cost $9 at Coles!

Even though it’s the subject I came closest to failing at university, I do know that the laws of thermodynamics limit and control almost every natural and human process, from the heating of your house, to the making of soap, to the mess in your bathroom, to environmental degradation and the rise and fall of empires.

I once read an article discussing why we needed libraries now that we have the Web. The answer simply is that in 1000 years the American age will have ended and Google will be gone. In 10,000 years, the Internet will likely be gone and chaos or something else will have risen to take its place. I’m not saying that as a political statement, it’s simply that history tells us that empires do not last. A thousand years is the best an empire has done so far; it’s limited by thermodynamics. And in the absence of the net, libraries, in fact many of them, are humanity’s best hope for preserving knowledge and wisdom.

I am one of the few structural engineers in Australia who knows something about nailplated trusses and who works as an independent consultant. So, every few months I get a call from a desperate homeowner whose home is either under construction or completed years previously.

One of two things has happened. In the first scenario, their builder has gone broke, the paperwork is not with the certifying authority, and they are unable to determine who the truss and frame supplier is. In the second scenario the building was completed some time ago but the paperwork for final occupation was not completed and in the meantime the truss and frame fabricator has either gone broke or retired.

These people are hoping that I can certify the construction and then they can move on and formalise the occupation.

Think about it from my point of view. I am being asked to take responsibility for the construction and the safety of a building for the occupants and future purchasers, so I need to have certainty that it is structurally adequate; I need to reverse engineer the thing. And to do that I have to know everything about the construction, reproduce the engineering design of timber/nailplates/connections/bracing and check that they comply with Australian standards.

It’s a task that would take weeks and, even if I was interested in doing it, a major problem is that not everything is visible, timbers are usually not stamped with their grade, and the nailplate suppliers hold the design properties of their plates as confidential information.

Although I really do feel for these people, I have to turn them away and they are left in a bureaucratic wilderness in which their structure is effectively uninhabitable.

In the first scenario, the obvious solution is that the nailplate suppliers hold a live database of all the jobs that their fabricators have produced. And so at least the homeowner can then be put into contact with the supplier.

In the second scenario, history and the laws of thermodynamics tell me that your business will eventually wind up. If you doubt this, Japanese construction company Kongo Gumi, established in 578 AD, is the oldest continually operating company in the world. If this is the best we can do despite thousands of years of human civilisation, your business will ultimately close, too.

So, when it happens, it would be nice to think that homeowners, in the forlorn situation described above, are left with some option. And the best way to achieve that would be that when you know you are about to close, send your software database to the nailplate supplier for their safekeeping.

In either scenario, this information is a resource and there is a potential to charge for it. So, there is value in this openness and information conservation. And, as a basic human good we should do what we can to support homeowners who, for various reasons, have become disconnected from their truss and frame supplier.

While it still exists, I’ve used Google and it tells me that the laws of thermodynamics can also be stated as:

0th Law:  There is crap.

1st Law:  You can’t get rid of it.

2nd Law:  It gets deeper.

3rd Law:  An empty toilet is wishful thinking.

That’s so depressing that the only solution is to eat some Crazy Dragon dumplings!